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Supplementary Benefits Commission

Volume 978: debated on Monday 11 February 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will list all the proposed regulations intended to be made under the Social Security Bill and set out in guideline form in the notes on clauses, which, in transferring to regulations the present discretionary rules currently laid down and exercised by the Supplementary Benefits Commission, materially alter the effect of any rules, giving in each case the reason why such a change is considered desirable, and the numbers and categories of those who will lose or gain from the proposed change and the resulting saving or cost.

[pursuant to her reply. 4 February 1980, Vol. 978, c 63–5]: As explained in the annex to the notes on clauses, there is still a need for detailed consideration of the precise terms of the proposed regulations. Converting the discretionary policy of the Supplementary Benefits Commission into regulations is, of course, a difficult exercise and it is far from complete. While, therefore, I can give the following information about intentions, I cannot now give an undertaking that the information will prove to be a comprehensive list of material changes. The Governmen will ensure the effect of regulations which codify the commission's present practice are explained in the notes to them. The material changes from SBC policy reflected in the annex are set out below. In most cases the numbers affected are very small, and no reliable estimate can be made of costs or savings.

Absence abroad (paragraph 4)

1. Because some claimants will be entitled to full benefit for short periods abroad, there will be fewer discretionary payments on their return (e.g. for arrears of rent); but the criteria for such payments will otherwise remain the same (see paragraph 12( b)).

Exceptional needs payments (paragraphs 10–13)

2. The regulations will define "normal requirements", that is the cost for which the scale rates provide, in much the same way as the Commission do at present, and including the repair and replacement of clothing and footwear. The regulations will also specify the expenses for which exceptional needs payments will be made, including the circumstances in which such payments will be made for clothing and footwear. These will be based on the current criteria used by the Commission, but in place of the criterion of "hardship" used in relation to clothing and footwear, there will be a general power to make ENPs in situations not specified by the regulations, where this is necessary to avoid severe hardship and no other authority has a duty to meet the expense.

3. The rule for taking capital into account before making an ENP will be simplified. Readily available capital of more than £300 will be taken into account in considering whether to award an ENP. But if an item costs £20, and the claimant has capital of £315, the ENP will be £5, not £20 as at present. The number of claimants affected by this small simplification cannot be quantified.

4. ENPs will not be made for telephone installation. Since 1972, when local authorities were given a duty to assist disabled people, the present very restrictive powers of the SBC have been very little used.

Availability for work (paragraph 20( d))

5. At present benefit may be withdrawn if there have been repeated incidents of "voluntary unemployment", so long as there are abundant suitable jobs available. This rule will be dropped altogether because of the lack of suitable jobs in many areas. But if a claimant refuses a suitable job and that job remains available it will be possible to withdraw benefit. Very few claimants will be affected.

Definition of full-time employment (paragraph 21)

6. Because the definition will be brought close to that for family income supplement, (i.e. normally 30 hours a week), a very few people working over 30 hours a week will no longer be entitled to benefit.

Young people aged 16–18 at school (paragraph 23( b))

7. Young people aged 16–18 still at school with children of their own will be able to claim benefit for themselves as well as for their child. This will achieve consistent treatment of young people with children while at, and on, leaving school. The cost of this change is very small, and few claimants will be affected.

Travelling expenses in connection with a claim (paragraph 49)

8. The new rules will be more specific than the present general rules which are vague and hence are not well understood or applied.

Responsibility for another person (paragraph 58)

9. Young people aged 16–18 with children, and continuing in secondary education, will no longer be aggregated with their parents where the parents are receiving benefit. This will simplify the benefit position of both parents and the young people concerned. Very few will be affected.

Resources (paragraph 61)

10. There will no longer be a separate disregard of life assurance policies worth less than £800. They will be included in the new overall capital limit of £2,000. This simplifies the rules; there will be no significant saving in benefit.

People without a settled way of living (paragraph 71)

11. People at reception centres will be entitled to supplementary benefit at the lower rate for personal expenses, instead of being paid on an administrative basis. Those without a fixed address who are paid by a local office on a daily basis will receive the same rate whether or not they are over pension age. This is a simplification. Very few claimants will be affected. (At present those over pension age receive a seventh of the weekly rate, but under pension age they receive the sum of the meals allowances.)

Additional requirements (paragraph 74)

12. As with ENPs, expenses for which additions will be made to benefit will be fully specified in regulations instead of being made under generalised discretionary powers.

13. As to heating additions I would refer the right hon. Gentleman to my reply to the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) on 15 January. [Vol. 976, c. 713–4.]

14. Help will not be given to meet the cost of domestic help provided by a local authority because local authorities have power to remit any charge. This will save some £140,000 and about 18,000 claimants will be worse off; the average expense involved is 67p a week but in most cases 50p (or 75p if aged 80 or over) of the long term scale rate is offset against this expense, so that only the balance is met.

Qualifying rules for the long term rate (paragraph 84)

15. The qualifying rules for the long term rate will be simplified. Breaks of up to 13 weeks in the receipt of benefit or where benefit was subject to the requirement to register will be ignored altogether and will no longer delay the completion of the qualifying period. Few claimants will be affected. This change will avoid some record-keeping.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will list all the proposals in the Social Security Bill or the proposed regulations to be made under it which alter or limit the matters which a claimant may take to a supplementary benefit appeals tribunal or which alter or limit the powers of supplementary benefit appeals tribunals to change decisions on supplementary benefit, giving in each case the reason why such a change is considered desirable.

[pursuant to her reply, 4 February 1980, Vol. 978, c. 635]: The Bill provides for initial supplementary benefit determinations to be made by benefit officers instead of the Supplementary Benefits Commission. As at present, there will be a right of appeal to a Supplementary Benefits Appeal Tribunal against all such determinations and the tribunal will be able to make any determination which the benefit officer could have made.The proposed shift of emphasis from discretion to entitlement will mean that many matters which are now the subject of discretion will in future become the subject of regulations.Section 15 of the Supplementary Benefits Act will provide a right of appeal in general terms rather than in terms of a specified list. Certain matters currently specified in section 15 will be dealt with in the relevant sections of the Act, for example in sections 10 and 12.A number of specific changes are proposed. Under section 4 of the Act, payments of benefit in cases of urgent need are at present only recoverable where, in the case of a person in full-time work, the Commission so determines. It is now proposed that all payments under section 4 should be recoverable, and the existing appeal against recovery will no longer apply. This is consistent with other provisions on recovery in the Act.The provisions governing the imposition of a direction requiring attendance at a course of instruction or training (section 10) are to be simplified. The decision will be taken by a benefit officer rather than as at present by an appeal tribunal, and there will be a right of appeal against the officer's decision. This change will emphasise the right of appeal, and it will be more consistent with the role of the appeal tribunal to consider an appeal rather than be responsible for imposing the direction itself.Under section 20 of the Act (recovery in cases of misrepresentation or non-disclosure), determinations of the amount recoverable are at present made by the Secretary of State, with reference to the appeal tribunal in cases of dispute. Consistently with the general framework of the Act, such determinations will become the responsibility of benefit officers with a right of appeal to the appeal tribunal.Under the proposed section 2(1A), where the subject matter of an appeal is more appropriate to a tribunal other than the Supplementary Benefits appeal tribunal, it is proposed that it should be referred to the other tribunal. This will not reduce the claimant's right of appeal in any way.