Skip to main content

Child Tax Credit

Volume 404: debated on Thursday 8 May 2003

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

11.

If he will make a statement on access to free prescriptions for families in receipt of child tax credit. [111892]

Claimants receiving the child tax credit can get access to free prescriptions if they have an annual income for tax credits purposes—that is, income assessed before any tax credits are paid—of £14,200 or less. This will be the income set out on the claimant's tax credit award notice. If claimants meet the qualifying conditions, and have a tax credit award, they will automatically be sent an NHS tax credit exemption certificate by the Prescription Pricing Authority on behalf of all the Health Departments—that is, the Health Departments in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In the period between receiving their award of tax credits and receiving the NHS exemption certificate, claimants can sign for free prescriptions and use their tax credit award as evidence of entitlement.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for such a comprehensive reply. Can she assure us that no one who previously received free prescriptions under the working families tax credit will lost out under the new child tax credit system? Before Conservative Members comment on the implementation of the child tax credit system, does she agree that the Government have made the most generous investment in families that any Government have ever undertaken? No Opposition party would ever have introduced such generous investment for British families.

As my hon. Friend says, the new tax credits are more generous than any predecessor payment made directly to mothers to support their children. As for access to free prescriptions, the level was set to ensure not only that all those who received free prescriptions through the working families tax credit and the disabled tax credit will continue to do so, but that another 80,000 families will benefit for the first time. I know my hon. Friend's enthusiasm for campaigning on these issues, and I am sure that he will be keen to ensure that constituents of his who newly qualify for free prescriptions will take them up.

What role did the Treasury play in the decision announced yesterday to reduce the renewal period for prescriptions from three months to two months, thereby increasing prescription charges for those long-term sick people who are not on benefit or tax credit by 50 per cent?

That is a matter for the Department of Health, and I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman's comments are drawn to the attention of the relevant Minister.

Notwithstanding the complacent answers that the Paymaster General has given so far, is she aware of the outrage and anxiety that the shambles, chaos and confusion of the Chancellor's burdensome new child tax credit system are causing the constituents of Members on both sides of the House? She told us 11 days ago that 700 staff had been added to the tax credit helpline personnel. To check whether it is now working effectively, my office made 80 calls in 90 minutes yesterday and did not get through to speak to any member of the helpline staff. Will the Paymaster General now get a grip on that failing service and tell us how much the 700 extra helpline staff are costing, in addition to the £53 million of taxpayers' money that she has already spent, and why the helpline is still not working effectively?

The Opposition said that the take-up of the new tax credits would be low and a disaster. They were wrong. The take-up of the new tax credits has resulted in more than 4 million people currently claiming, tens of thousands of applications coming in each week and 1.3 million people on income support and jobseeker's allowance also receiving their payments. Indeed, the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) said, when forecasting that take-up would be low, that he preferred the working families tax credit. That is interesting because, in March 1998, he attacked the introduction of the working families tax credit and said that take-up would be low and that it would not work. The Conservative party's history on this is to deny families money, to attack a system that delivers—