To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what efforts are currently undertaken by his Department to secure that payments for rent in advance and deposits for accommodation are available quickly and reliably from the Benefits Agency.
The administration of the social fund is a matter for Mr. Michael Bichard, the chief executive of the Benefits Agency. He will write to the hon. Member and a copy will be placed in the Library.
Letter from Mr. M. Bichard to Mr. Dafydd Wigley, dated 22 July 1993:
As Chief Executive of the Benefits Agency, it is my responsibility to answer questions about relevant operational matters. I am therefore replying to your recent Parliamentary Question to the Secretary of State asking what efforts are currently undertaken by his Department to secure that payments for rent in advance and deposits for accommodation are available quickly and reliably from the Benefits Agency.
I should explain that help with returnable deposits for accommodation has been excluded from the Social Fund (SF) by direction of the Secretary of State.
However, for rent in advance, help from the SF may be given in the form of a Budgeting Loan (BL), where the applicant has been in receipt of Income Support for 26 weeks, or a Crisis Loan (CL) in other cases; these loans are interest-free. CLs are subject to an overriding condition that the payment is necessary to avoid serious risk to health or safety. An exception to this rule is where applicants who receive a Community Care Grant on returning to the community, after a period of institutional or residential care, also need rent in advance.
Decisions on SF applications are made independently by specially trained Social Fund Officers (SFOs). While SFOs are subject to the law and Secretary of State's directions, they still have considerable discretion about whether to make payment, having regard to the circumstances of an individual applicant. These will include consideration of the nature, extent and urgency of the need.
The Secretary of State has set a number of targets for the Benefits Agency one of which is clearance times for budgeting loan applications. The Agency has continued to meet this target, indeed performance improved over the year 1992–93 by two working days, emphasising the Agency's commitment to customer care. Most CL applications continue to be cleared on the day they are made, reflecting the urgent nature of such an application.
I hope you find this reply helpful. A copy of this letter will appear in the Official Report and a copy will also be placed in the Library.