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Supplementary Benefit

Volume 21: debated on Monday 5 April 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will now publish take-up estimates of supplementary benefit derived from the 1979 family expenditure survey compared with the 1977 figures; and if he will make a statement.

Information is given as follows, including revised estimates based on further analysis of the original data from the 1977 family expenditure survey (FES).

revised 1977 estimates is the lower take-up figure for this group.

It is too early to judge whether the reformed scheme introduced in November 1980 will have a significant effect on take-up levels. However, we are already seeking actively to promote take-up in the following ways:

—we issue an invitation to claim to retirement pensioners and widows;

—we are revising the Supplementary Benefits Handbook, the layman's guide to the scheme, directed at claimants and their advisers;

—general leaflets and posters are on display at post offices and social security offices;

—from the beginning of this year, leaflet SB1 has been issued to all unemployed claimants.

We also aim to co-operate as fully as possible at local level with take-up compaigns organised by local authorities, to whom in turn we look for help to ensure that the impact of extra work fits in with all the other tasks which local offices have to perform.

In the light of the new information about rates of take-up among sick and disabled beneficiaries, we now propose a further step. I am arranging for the leaflet SB1 to be issued to all sickness benefit claimants on the first review of their sickness benefit claim (not later than two calendar months from the outset). When the statutory sick pay (SSP) scheme comes into operation, the leaflet will be issued on transfer of the case to DHSS when SSP entitlement is exhausted. So far as pensioners are concerned, although the figures show some drop in percentage take-up between 1977 and 1979, the average amount unclaimed rose little in money terms and therefore fell significantly in real terms. The 7 per cent. increase (from £2·90 to £3·1 0) compares with a 27 per cent. increase in the long-term scale rate from November 1976 to November 1978.

The indications are that most of the additional pensioners with unclaimed entitlement are receiving housing rebates or allowances. For them in particular the introduction of housing benefit should improve the position. Our proposals include enhanced tapers for pensioners with incomes below the needs allowance and an improvement in the needs allowance for all pensioners. These changes will lead to some reduction both in the numbers with resources below supplementary benefit level after meeting residual housing costs and in the amounts of potential entitlement of the remainder.

We are actively discussing with the local authority associations possible ways of identifying, and informing, housing benefit claimants who might also have title to supplementary benefit.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services, further to the reply to the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) on 17 February, Official Report, column 160, why no estimate can be made of the numbers of claimants who will cease to be entitled to supplementary benefit following the revised guidance on the interpretation of regulation 7(2) of the Supplementary Benefit (Conditions of Entitlement) Regulations 1981 issued by the chief supplementary benefits officer.

Information is not collected centrally on the numbers of claimants who are enabled to continue to receive benefit by virtue of the '21-hour rule', or on the number of hours per week such claimants actually attend courses, or what those hours include. There is in any case to be no special review of those people who have been receiving benefit under the 21-hour rule; existing cases will be considered only when they come up for review in the usual way. It is therefore not possible to estimate the number of claimants who will cease to qualify for benefit under the chief supplementary benefits officer's revised guidance.