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Supplementary Benefit Recipients (Home Helps)

Volume 981: debated on Friday 28 March 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if, in order to give effect to his policy stated in the reply to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe on 24 March, he will now introduce legislation to amend section 29(5) of the National Assistance Act 1948 to render illegal any charge for a home help to somebody living at the supplementary benefit level.

Local authorities have discretionary powers under paragraph 3(2) of schedule 8 to the National Health Service Act 1977 to recover such charges, if any, as they consider reasonable having regard to the means of the recipients of home help services. My right hon. Friend has no plans to introduce legislation to curtail those powers.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services (1) what is his estimate of the number of people living at the supplementary benefit level who currently receive assistance from a home help provided by a local authority;(2) how many local authorities are currently making a charge for the home help service for people living at the supplementary benefit level; and what is the average charge to them.

Detailed information about the charging policies of individual local authorities and numbers of people living at the supplementary benefit level receiving assistant from home helps could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if, pursuant to the reply to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe on 24 March, he will detail the reasons given to him by the Supplementary Benefits Commission for reversing its long-standing policy on payment of home help charges made to beneficiaries; and if he will make a further statement.

The Supplementary Benefits Commission has made clear its view that local authorities should exercise their discretionary powers to make charges in such a way as to waive charges for people living at supplementary benefit level, or at least so that any charges levied do not impose hardship on such clients. The commission believes it would not be fair to the taxpayer to allow central funds to be used through the supplementary benefits scheme to finance local authority savings. Nor would it be fair to condone charging those living on low incomes but outside the scope of the supplementary benefits scheme whom the commission could not help. If it were accepted that local authority charges for home helps should be met by central government, the commission maintains that it would be more sensible and considerably cheaper to make the money available through the rate support grant rather than the complex and administratively expensive supplementary benefits scheme.