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Single Payments (Furniture)

Volume 76: debated on Monday 1 April 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will now make available to the House the report of the Social Security Policy Inspectorate on the single payments for furniture.

We have today arranged for copies of the report to be available for hon. Members in the Vote Office and also for copies to be placed in the Library.Because the rules on single payments for furniture, in particular those relating to the availability and suitability of alternative furnished accommodation, had proved difficult to operate, the Social Security Policy Inspectorate was asked to study the criteria for making such payments to unemployed claimants. It was asked in particular to report on the circumstances in which claims were being paid and refused; how the adjudication authorities were interpreting the provisions; what effect the decisions had on claimants and to what extent awards of large single payments were or were not apparently justified.The inspectors found that the staff had difficulty in operating and explaining the provisions, in particular in establishing the reasons for the move and whether claimants should be expected to remain in their previous accommodation; since the fieldwork was carried out the chief adjudication officer has, following a decision of a tribunal of social security commissioners, issued revised guidance to local adjudication officers which has helped to resolve the most difficult areas of interpretation.The report concludes that it is difficult to establish and apply fair and consistent tests to decide who should receive payments for essential furniture on moving into unfurnished accommodation. Of particular note, the inspectors found that large single payments for furniture tend to go to young single people and people previously living with parents or other relatives; 60 per cent. of the payments were made to claimants who, in the inspectors' view, could reasonably have been expected to remain in their existing accommodation; most of them who received a payment would have still taken the tenancy even if payment had been refused; in only two cases did the inspectors consider that the single payment had not been properly spent.Publication of this report should assist the Social Security Advisory Committee in its consideration of the Supplementary Benefit (Single Payments) Regulations 1984. The Government will consider the rules governing single payments for furniture further in the light of the committee's report but does not intend to make changes before publication of the Government's proposals for the future of the supplementary benefit scheme although some changes may be needed before a full-scale overhaul of the scheme is implemented.We have sent copies of the report to the Social Security Advisory Committee. In view of the widespread interest in this matter, we have decided to publish the report and copies are available to the public (price £3.20) from the Department's leaflets unit at Canons Park.