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Supplementary Benefit (Application Form)

Volume 35: debated on Tuesday 18 January 1983

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what recent representations he has received regarding the size and complexity of the new form for application for social security benefit.

About a dozen representations from local authorities, bodies providing advice services or representing workers, and individuals, were made in the six weeks prior to the form's introduction on 6 December 1982. The hon. Gentleman has, of course, followed up the representations that he made at that time.

Does the Minister not realise that far more representations are coming to individual Members of Parliament than the number to which he has referred? Is this not the result of the form-filling that is required? I think that the form contains 104 questions. This is a deterrent, because many of those who are called upon to answer the questions set out in the form are already depressed by the position in which they find themselves. Does the Minister accept that this position, and the new form, are the result of the Government's economic policies, which are driving hundreds of thousands into over-crowded DHSS offices? Due to the overcrowding, the staff have to give claimants a form to complete so that they will leave the offices instead of remaining in them. Is this not the fact?

No. Our purpose in introducing the form was to try to improve rather than damage the administration of the social security system, not least to ensure that the unemployed who claim supplementary benefit do have to go to two offices instead of one. The form helps also in rural areas, where there were particular difficulties. The number of questions is related to the information that is required—whether on a form or by interview—to assess a claim for supplementary benefit.

Will the Minister say whether, at this early date, any special problems have arisen from one of the very last questions on the form, which asks the recipient whether he or she is a registered blind person? Is that the sort of question that should be left until the end of such a form, or the sort of question that should be on the form in the first place?

The form makes it clear that anyone who experiences difficulties, including blind persons and those who have language problems, will find help available from the staff at the offices. I am not aware that any problems have shown up in the monitoring exercise. If they do, we shall change the form.

I really want to ask a supplementary question to the next question, Mr. Speaker.