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Supplementary Benefit

Volume 23: debated on Monday 10 May 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he has yet completed his review of the "21-hour rule" given effect in regulation 7(2) of the Supplementary Benefit (Conditions of Entitlement) Regulations 1981; and if he will make a statement.

My right hon. Friend has been reviewing the terms of the "21-hour rule", in consultation with my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Education and Science, Employment, Scotland and Wales. This has been against the background of the advice recently promulgated by the chief supplementary benefit officer to the effect that under the present regulation the time spent in private study and lunch breaks, as well as actual tuition time, should be taken into account in determining whether a course falls within the 21-hour limit.The question of what elements in a course should count towards the 21 hours under the present regulation should be clarified by the decision of the social security commissioners on an appeal case which is at present under consideration. But my right hon. Friend has decided that, whatever the decision on that appeal may be, the regulation needs to be recast to reflect more accurately the Government's continuing objective of providing the maximum scope for unemployed people to occupy their time usefully whilst seeking work, but at the same time excluding from benefit people who have withdrawn from the employment field to devote themselves primarily to study.My right hon. Friend believes it is right to ensure that the regulation should make it clear that, as previously generally understood, the 21 hours should be interpreted as including only hours of actual classroom instruction, and not lunch breaks or private study. This in itself however would make it possible in some cases for, for example, young people staying on at school to take 2 or 3 A-levels (or their Scottish equivalent) with a view to going on to higher education to be entitled to supplementary benefit. This would not be a proper use of the supplementary benefit scheme.My right hon. Friend has therefore decided to introduce a modified form of the additional qualifying condition which already applies to people over 21, who are at present only eligible for the concession after 12 months unemployment and in receipt of benefit. This qualifying period will be reduced to three months, and applied equally to people of all ages.I should stress that during the three months qualifying period—or indeed at any time—it is, and will remain, open to any unemployed person, under the general rules governing unemployed people's entitlement to benefit, to undertake a certain amount of part-time study provided he is able to demonstrate that he remains available for work.It is my right hon. Friend's intention to introduce these new arrangements with effect from the next academic year. My right hon. Friend is sending today draft Regulations to the social security advisory committee, which in turn will be consulting a wide range of interested bodies.Meanwhile, claims for benefit which have been disallowed in the light of the chief supplementary benefit officer's recent interpretation of the 21-hour limit will be looked at again when the outcome of the appeal to the social security commissioners is known. If it proves necessary in the light of the decision on the appeal, payments will be considered in these cases to anticipate the effect of the new regulations, except that under these transitional arrangements the requirement for a three-month qualifying period will be waived.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what plans he has for amending the supplementary benefit regulations.

My right hon. Friend has asked the social security advisory committee to consider and report on two draft sets of supplementary benefit amendment regulations, one relating to requirements and resources and the other miscellaneous. These regulations in the main seek to clarify existing provisions. They also contain some changes of substance and I have placed in the Vote Office a note which summarises the main proposals.When we have received and considered the committee's report my right hon. Friend proposes to lay the regulations before the House, modified as he may consider appropriate in the light of the committee's recommendations, with a view to securing their passage through Parliament before the summer recess. My right hon. Friend will also lay before Parliament a copy of the committee's report on the regulations and a statement in accordance with the provisions of section 10(4) of the Social Security Act 1980.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many appeals have been made to the Social Security Commission over supplementary benefit; in how many cases leave to appeal has been granted in: (a) under one month, (b)within three months, (c) within six months and (d) over six months; and if he will break down these figures to show the appeals being made by his Department and those by claimants.