Motion to Resolve
That this House regrets that the Social Security (Miscellaneous Amendments) (No. 4) Regulations 2009 (SI 2009/2655), the Social Security Benefit (Computation of Earnings) (Amendment) Regulations 2009 (SI 2009/2678) and the Social Security Benefit (Computation of Earnings) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2009 (SI 2009/2679) apply only to public authorities required by law to involve service users and carers, and not to organisations so required by Government policy guidance, nor to charities and voluntary organisations.
My Lords, anyone who has followed the campaign on easing barriers to involvement for people on benefits will realise what a milestone this legislation represents. The Minister has been fully engaged with it, certainly for as long as I have, and I pay warm tribute to him for his work on this issue.
I had originally tabled a “take note” Motion to this order to mark the end of this long campaign to allow all those service users on benefits who help public authorities to plan, design and monitor their services to be able to keep their reimbursed expenses without those benefits being affected. The orders under discussion remove two benefit rules: one on reimbursed expenses and the other on notional earnings. However, as my Motion explains, the new rules enshrined in these orders, although welcome, only cover involvement as prescribed by law, not by policy guidance, and could cause terrible confusion in Jobcentre Plus offices over the payment of benefits.
I shall try to explain the background to these orders as succinctly as possible. All kinds of bodies are required by law, or by policy guidance, to involve service users and, sometimes, their unpaid carers in the health and social care field. These bodies include local authorities, the NHS, universities which train social workers and undertake research, the Care Quality Commission, the General Social Care Council, Skills for Care, the National Institute for Health Research and many others. The rationale is, of course, that people who receive health and social care services are those best placed to make a contribution to improving standards by giving their views on the planning, design and monitoring of those services. The perspective that these people can bring is key to the development of good practice.
Service users assist in a wide variety of ways, such as inspecting residential care services or psychiatric hospitals, helping to train social workers and advising on research studies. They participate in all manner of committees which design and monitor health and social care services. Often, as a matter of policy, those with the greatest needs, such as those with severe recurrent mental health problems and multiple admissions to hospital, are invited to become involved. Government policy has for several years been to ensure that service users and carers are not left out of pocket as a result of involvement, to reimburse these expenses and to offer payment of a small fee where appropriate to incentivise participation. Travel costs from their home to their place of involvement are reimbursed, either for public transport or for their own, perhaps adapted, car. People with a learning disability may need a facilitator—perhaps a speech facilitator—to assist them, the cost of which is reimbursed, as is the cost of a personal assistant for some wheelchair users. So far, so good.
However, difficulties have arisen because many service users involved with public authorities in this way are on benefits, and there are, quite rightly, strict rules about the amount of money that a person can be paid while on benefits rather than in paid work.
When I moved an amendment on this subject during the Report stage of the Welfare Reform Act 2007, the Minister announced that the amount that people who are on means-tested or income-based employment and support allowance could earn for up to 16 hours a week of permitted work was being lifted from a maximum of £20 a week to the same amount allowed for those on contributory ESA, which is now £93 a week. That would apply for 52 weeks only, after which, as with Cinderella at midnight, the original amount of the disregard of only £20 a week would apply.
Welcome though the change that the Minister announced was, it did not alter the fact that, where a small payment was made and the reimbursed costs of travel and possibly of a replacement carer, a child carer, a facilitator or a personal assistant were treated as earnings and totalled with the payment, even the limit of £93 a week was in many instances too low to ensure that benefits were not affected. Many services users and carers who were not aware of the strict earnings rule found that their benefit the following week was reduced, sometimes to nil, simply as a result of their assisting with government policy.
In these instances, many service users and carers quite understandably dropped out of further involvement. If the service user understood the rules and declined to accept any payment or reimbursement, or a lesser amount than that offered, because it might interfere with their benefit payment, the notional earnings rule kicked in, and the amount that the person could have received was deducted as though it had actually been received. These two rules have now been changed by the instruments—hurrah for that.
That is the background in a rather large nutshell. However, not everything in the garden is quite lovely yet. The main problem identified by many consultees on the regulations is that there are public bodies, as well as charities and voluntary bodies, to which the legislation will not apply. This is the reason for my Motion to regret.
I shall give some examples, first, of public bodies to which the regulations do not apply. I gather that the legislation does not apply to involvement in research concerned with the protection and promotion of public health, and research undertaken in or by the Department of Health, its non-departmental public bodies and the NHS. It includes research undertaken by charities, the research councils and universities within the health and social care systems.
In 2005, the Department of Health issued the second edition of the research governance framework for health and social care, which requires that:
“[Research] participants or their representatives should be involved wherever possible in the design, conduct, analysis and reporting of research”.
The director-general of research and development for the Department of Health has written to all NHS trusts and health authorities saying that,
“the national ambition is to double the number of patients taking part in clinical trials and other well-designed research studies within five years”.
The NHS operating framework states that,
“the NHS must play its full part in supporting health research … All providers of NHS care will need to increase their participation in research”.
The Department of Health provides strong guidance for service user involvement, but involvement is not required by law.
Universities are required by law to involve service users and carers in the delivery of social work training courses, but where the same university or further education institution might undertake research or provide a degree-level course in, let us say, psychology, although it is considered good practice to involve people with experience of using mental health services, involvement is, again, not required by law.
A similar dilemma arises for not-for-profit organisations, charities and voluntary organisations that represent people who use health and social care services. The DWP has advised certain charities that where an organisation to which the legislation does not apply is commissioned by another organisation to which the legislation does apply to involve service users and carers in the piece of work, the benefit changes will apply—but not otherwise.
Let us say that Mind is commissioned to support service users to be involved in hospital inspections by a national body that is required by law to do this. Mind understands that benefit rules have changed, so it reimburses travel expenses and pays a small fee within the permitted work limits, and there is no problem. However, when it sets up a steering group of service users to monitor the development of guidance for those coming off medication, it runs into problems.
For example, Elizabeth and Jane are on benefits in view of their long-term mental health problems and are part of a steering group that also took part in the hospital inspections. They are given £12 travel reimbursement plus £20 for the second episode of involvement, although they were offered £40. When they tell Jobcentre Plus what they were offered, however, they have £20 notional earnings and the travel expenses deducted from their benefits because the second episode of service use was not required by law. This puts an enormous burden on Jobcentre Plus staff who have had to undertake research into whether a non-departmental body, institute for further education, not-for-profit organisation or charity is involving service users and carers because it is acting in accordance with its internal policy or on behalf of a public body that is required to involve service users by law.
In paragraph 8.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum to Statutory Instrument SI 2009/2678, under “Consultation outcome”, the department acknowledged that although the proposal is warmly welcomed,
“some have questioned the fact that it will only apply to service user activity in the public sector”.
We are then told that:
“The Department will evaluate the impact of this change before taking a view as to whether it should be extended beyond those service users who are engaged by public bodies”.
This may make service users and carers uncertain about their position, and may make some of them reluctant to take the risk if their benefit income could be docked. Will the department evaluate the impact of this change as soon as possible so that any confusion about which episode of participation by service users the benefit changes will apply to will be kept to an absolute minimum?
I note that the Social Security Advisory Committee minutes of August this year include a paragraph about this very matter. A member of the committee asked specifically about research, and was advised by a DWP official that research was not covered by the regulations, but that in the light of this the DWP would have to look again at payments with regard to research and come back to the committee.
I have three questions for the Minister. First, according to the DWP, the term “service user groups” is intended to cover individual service users and carers who are unpaid friends or relatives. However, public bodies are concerned that the term does not adequately describe the various circumstances of involvement that may often be arranged with individuals rather than groups, and that mention of carers is not always made. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, will speak more on this in a minute. Will clear guidance be given to all Jobcentre Plus officers and benefit advisers so that this information is correct?
My second question is about the term “expenses”. I understand that the DWP has said that the definition of expenses is intended to include all expenses that are required for involvement, including those for travel, a replacement carer, childcare and the cost of a personal assistant, support worker or facilitator. However, social security legislation does not recognise these terms, so guidance to Jobcentre Plus decision-makers will be very important.
My third question is about the term “notional expenses” in the statutory instrument. Should that read “notional earnings”, or are the two terms the same?
Finally, the Minister does not have to urge me not to press the Motion. It would be against the spirit in which we have all worked to bring in these important changes. I reiterate my thanks to him for all that he has done about this so far, and I look forward to the debate and to his reply. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, has raised an important issue. It is one that she has raised several times before in your Lordships' House. I congratulate her because, every time she speaks on this subject, the Government swing a little more towards her opinion.
During the passage of the Welfare Reform Act 2007, the Government started off in Committee completely opposed to the noble Baroness's suggestion, but by Report announced a raise in the earnings disregard level in response to her amendment. By the time the Minister spoke in May 2008 on the same issue when responding to the comments of the noble Baroness on the employment and support regulations, he teased your Lordships' House with a promise that the Government were considering her point further and that an announcement would be made by the end of the year. I assume that the provisions of these regulations dealing with payments made to service users are the result of that further consideration, more than a year and half on. If I have missed an important step in this long journey, I apologise to the House. It is not easy to track the Government’s policy development through Hansard.
It is remarkable that, despite the Government’s apparent U-turn on how payments to the service users covered in these regulations should be treated, the Government have still failed to meet the noble Baroness’s original concerns, many of which my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale, who participated in this debate, fully shared. Service users should be encouraged to participate in improving our public services and any uncertainty about whether that participation may result in the loss of their benefits is not helpful. Service users are, as I am sure we would all agree, a vital part of adjusting public service delivery to the needs of the public. However, instead of recognising that in the treatment of the payments that might be paid, the Government’s provisions today appear to establish a two-tier level of appreciation. Not surprisingly, such as step was criticised by many stakeholders during the consultation and I wonder why the Minister did not consider their concerns valid.
I am sure that the Minister will assure us that he and his department do not consider the contribution made by service users to charities or voluntary services to be in any way less valuable than that made to public authorities. I hope, therefore, that he will explain why such a distinction has been drawn. Are there differences in the levels of payment typically made to service users in each sector? Is there a variation in the amount or quality of work that they undertake? What difference do the Government see between the two groups? Does this distinction between the two different types of service user extend to the amount of hours they spend on this sort of work too?
On reading Hansard from 2007 to try to understand the Government’s thinking on this issue, I was struck most of all by the enormous complexity of the whole system of benefits, work-related activity and disregards. Noble Lords have the advantage of access to briefing papers, helpful diagrams produced by the department and the chance to quiz an extremely knowledgeable and approachable Minister on the subject, but still, some confusion always remains. Imagine how hard it must be for the general public to navigate these waters, chock full of grey areas, inconsistencies and the constant fear of taking a wrong step that might result in benefits being cut. These regulations add yet another complexity to the rules. How do the Government plan to explain to service users just which bodies they may work for and which they may not, without impacting on their earnings disregard?
The Government have managed, despite what I am sure are the very best of intentions, to make life just a little harder for some of the most vulnerable people in our country. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response and hope that my pessimism as to the effect of these regulations will not be borne out.
My Lords, I declare an interest as vice-president of Carers UK. I want first to commend the progress that we have made with involving users and carers in consultation and all forms of policy development. I am long enough in the tooth to remember when it was very different and people looked askance at the idea of having service users and carers involved in policy development. Now it is absolutely up there; the progress that we have made is simply phenomenal and how we do it is the envy of the world. The orders before us today are further evidence of enabling carers and service users to participate in those consultation processes. I echo the noble Baroness’s “hurrah” for that.
Part of the problem that we face today, and which the noble Baroness has so eloquently set out for us, is precisely because of the progress that we have made. It is so much, as it were, in the rubrics of our policy and law now that we—including Ministers occasionally, and officials sometimes—forget how precise wording must be to cover all bases and ensure that service users and carers are not disadvantaged and excluded from claiming appropriate benefits and expenses; or, indeed, excluded from consultation itself. If we do not get these things right, they will vote with their feet and not participate at all. I must endorse how important it is that we cover all organisations and do not rely just on the law.
We have been here before. I remind noble Lords about the Health and Social Care Act, which originally referred only to service users and the public being consulted. We managed to get that changed here in the House of Lords. I am very proud of what we did. We got a very good amendment agreed and an absolute commitment from the Government to including carers in those consultations. However, the regulations before us today now partly contradict this by further limiting the ability of carers to participate.
The very clear definition in the Health and Social Care Act is that “service users” means people who use health or social care services, and “carers” means people who care for service users as relatives or friends. Yet with this clear definition on the statute book, the DWP seems to be using a different definition, which is now referred to as “service user groups”. I understand that the department has said that it intends that “service user groups” includes carers and, therefore, the regulations do not need amending. It has also said that the guidance for Jobcentre Plus would reflect that carers were supposed to be included in that term, but it does not yet do so. In any case, the guidance is insufficient. It is guidance only for Jobcentre Plus, which makes the decisions about whether to cut somebody’s benefit.
I believe that carers will not get that far in some circumstances, unless the regulations make clear that they are included. Local authorities and the other bodies to which the noble Baroness on the Front Bench has referred will look at the legislation and say, “We only pay service users, not carers”. There needs to be better guidance on this. The only way of ensuring that all organisations considering involving carers know that they can compensate them is by writing the regulations properly and including charities, research organisations and organisations such as non-departmental public bodies. We have come so far; let us be sure that we continue the admirable progress. I am sure that the Minister will be able to accommodate us in some way.
My Lords, I want to intervene briefly as I was intrigued by the Motion. My mind went back to 2007, when it certainly seemed that tremendous progress had been made. I congratulate the Minister on the fact that users and carers have been involved to a far greater extent than anybody would have thought when the Government first entered office. However, yet again, we have found an inconsistency. I hope that this debate will take us a step closer to achieving our goal, although I am never certain that another inconsistency will not be discovered. We very much congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, on the beautifully clear way in which she explained how the situation has developed. It seems totally mad that a Government who are so keen on volunteers, voluntary organisations and charities, and have done much to support them, should be responsible for introducing this differentiation, which is not in their favour any more than it is for users and carers. I very much hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us and move us close to parity—if not to complete parity—in all these areas.
My Lords, these regulations introduce very welcome changes, but they seem to have been drafted in rather a hurry and have left some unfortunate gaps which need to be plugged. This seems to be a case of cock-up rather than conspiracy. Nevertheless, they give rise to some unwelcome consequences that need to be addressed. Because I firmly believe that a conspiracy is not involved, I hope that the Minister will have sufficient wiggle room to make the small changes which are needed to make these very welcome regulations nigh on perfect.
Like others, I congratulate and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, for having brought this Motion forward. She has put her finger on an important problem. Now that she has highlighted it, I feel fairly confident that the Minister will be able to take it away and get the necessary changes made to the regulations. Before I go any further, I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, the Minister and the House for the fact that I shall not be able to stay until the end of the debate, although I should very much like to, due to a long-standing commitment. I hope that the House will excuse me in the circumstances. That being the case, I shall try to be brief. The noble Baroness set out the position very fully and I do not want to weary the House by going over the same ground again.
As we have heard, all kinds of bodies are required by the law or policy guidance to involve service users and their sometimes unpaid carers in the health and social care field. As we have heard, people who receive health and social care services are in many ways those best placed to contribute to improving the standards of these services by giving views on their planning, design and monitoring. In my early campaigning days it was a major preoccupation of mine to get recognition for the contribution that service users had to make to the improvement of services. It is good to see that this principle is now widely recognised and firmly established in public policy. Indeed, it has been government policy for several years to ensure that service users and carers are not left out of pocket as a result of their required involvement in the development of services. It has been policy to reimburse their expenses and sometimes offer a payment of a small fee, where appropriate, to incentivise their participation.
However, as the noble Baroness pointed out, difficulties have arisen, because many service users who participate in this way with public authorities are on benefit, and there are strict rules on the amount of money that a person can be paid while on benefit, as opposed to when they are in paid work. Where a small payment is made, travel expenses, the costs of a carer, facilitator or personal assistant are treated as earnings, and the total may exceed the limit set on the amount that a person can be paid in a week while on benefit. These regulations allow the expenses of paid involvement to be ignored, rather than treated as earnings. The notional earnings rule, whereby a person who declines payment—because it might affect their benefit—can have an amount deducted as though it had actually been received, is abolished by these regulations.
This is welcome, but the department seems to have screwed up a bit in translating its good intentions into practice. Public bodies are concerned that the term “service user groups” does not make it sufficiently clear that individual service users are covered by the regulations and does not adequately describe the variety of involvement arrangements made with individuals, rather than groups. No mention is made of carers and others who may support the individual service user.
The main problem identified by many of those consulted about the regulations is that there are public bodies to which the regulations will not apply, or to which they will apply only for certain categories of involvement. They will also not apply to certain charities and voluntary bodies, unless the involvement is commissioned by a prescribed public body that is required by law to involve service users. Involvement in research is also not covered, although it has been recognised for some time that it is good practice to involve service users in research on services.
The Department of Health provides strong guidance for service-user involvement, but involvement is not required by law. Yet the regulations apply only where involvement is required by law. This will place Jobcentre Plus decision-makers in a difficult position. They will have great difficulty in differentiating between involvement required by law and involvement required only by policy guidance and good practice. Errors are bound to be made, and service users will risk their benefits being reduced because their expenses were treated as earnings or notional earnings were applied. The department acknowledges that some have questioned the fact that the regulations will apply only to service-user activity in the public sector. We are told that the department will evaluate the impact of this change before taking a view as to whether the policy should be extended beyond service users engaged by public bodies.
As noble Lords will know, I am vice-president of RNIB, and I declare my interest. We were consulted by an independent consultant about these regulations and we made a number of comments. However, we have been disappointed that they have not been taken into account in the framing of the regulations, nor have they been taken into account in the guidance. Our comments were to the effect that charities should certainly be included. Many of our service users are on benefits but they give inestimable assistance on our committees and working groups and, naturally, we reimburse the expenses they incur in those activities. It seems quite wrong to us that the regulations should not apply to those expenses as they apply to the other expenses where public bodies are concerned. The department has said that it will see whether the regulations should be extended. It seems to me that the case for their extension has been very well made already and I very much hope that the Minister will be able to take these comments into account and have another go at the regulations before they are finally issued.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, for bringing forward this Motion which has given us the chance to talk about these important issues. I also thank all noble Lords who have participated in this short debate. No one has done more to campaign on easing the barriers to involvement of people on benefits than the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas. I have listened with great interest to the points that have been made and I would like to thank all the organisations which contributed to the development of this policy by meeting my officials and taking time to offer advice on the regulations and guidance.
I shall start by explaining how we set about defining what we mean by a service user group in these regulations. Clearly, it has exercised a number of noble Lords. I say in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Low, who, as he explained, has unfortunately had to leave us, that where we have ended up is neither a conspiracy nor a cock-up. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, who said that we were adding complexity by these arrangements, that I do not agree. I believe the ways in which we have constructed them means that the changes are simple. As noble Lords will have gathered from today's speeches, there is a wide range of what could be described as involvement activity. It is not always easy to cover all possible scenarios in regulations or guidance without sacrificing clarity and accuracy. We were keen to make the new rules simple enough for our customers and staff to understand and reduce as far as possible the scope for interpretation by Jobcentre Plus local offices. We also wanted to avoid an obligation on people to provide large amounts of information about their involvement or have to justify what they were doing. The best test is whether it sets out the full limits of the easement.
As a result, the definition in the regulations describes a service user group as a group of individuals who are consulted by, or on behalf of, a public or local authority in Great Britain or Northern Ireland for the purposes of monitoring and advising on a policy of that body or authority. The regulations go on to make specific reference to the key statutes that require such bodies to consult people. This list is underpinned by a catch-all reference designed to include any areas not covered by our list of statutes. It would have been ideal to have a full list of all the individual Acts that require public involvement or consultation but there are simply too many and such a list in our regulations would inevitably need regular updating.
We believe that this definition is clear and straightforward. Effectively, where there is a statutory duty to involve service users, any expenses paid to a service user are now completely disregarded for benefit purposes. It is worth reminding noble Lords that this improvement will help all service users, although this debate has focused much on disabled people for whom these provisions are especially welcome. Disabled people will have particular expenses connected with their involvement; for example, someone who is visually impaired may need someone to read to them relevant papers before an event. Others may need the help of a carer or personal assistant to accompany and assist them. Now every single item of expense will be completely disregarded.
In addition, we were made aware of situations where service users have had notional income scored against their benefit entitlement, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, explained. Our notional income rules allow the department to assume an income in situations where it is reasonable to expect that a person would be paid for a service they have performed. The purpose here is twofold: both to protect people from being exploited and to prevent abuse of the benefit system. Until now, if an organisation wished to involve people as service users but offered a lesser amount of money to comply with the benefit earnings rules, they fell foul of these notional earnings rules. They also caused confusion for people in receipt of benefits who did not know how much they could accept without being at risk of losing their benefits. Our changes remove service users completely from the scope of our notional income rules.
Both these changes will make it much easier for people receiving benefits to come forward and participate without worrying about losing their benefits. We want to encourage that to happen and, under our definition, so long as the service provider tells Jobcentre Plus staff that their involvement is within this definition, that will be enough.
The Motion today is about people who may fall outside the definition. We have been told that some people can and do take part in a broad spectrum of involvement activity not required by law. The real question, therefore, is where we draw the line when it comes to our definition of service user activity. While involvement such as hospital inspections or health research may lack some of the more formal aspects of employment, people are performing a service for which they are often paid, in many cases on a regular basis and at a commercial rate, within the context of semi-formal work arrangements. There is a real risk that widening the definition to bring in more people could be seen as unfair to others who may be doing something just as useful, such as nursing or child minding.
There are other reasons for drawing the line where we have. First, our definition covers all areas where there is a requirement for public service involvement, including those which many will see as being key—for example, health, education, housing, policing, social care and local authority service delivery. Secondly, it sets out the full limits of the easement which will ensure clarity and accuracy for both our customers and our staff. There is extensive legislation that requires public consultation or involvement in this way across the piece, so what we have done will have a very wide impact.
The benefit system has always recognised the important role that third sector organisations play in our national life and already accommodates payments they may make to service users in a favourable way. For example, our rules allow us to disregard any expenses paid to somebody who is engaged by a charitable or voluntary organisation, or is a volunteer, provided that is all that they are paid. People who are being paid as service users would have the advantage of both our system of earnings disregards and, if appropriate, our permitted work rules. As we have heard, the former would allow, for example, a disabled person to earn up to £20 per week before their benefit was affected, and the permitted work rules would allow a person in receipt of employment and support allowance to earn up to £93 for up to 52 weeks before there is any impact on their benefit entitlement. In addition, a one-off involvement in a research project would not generally be treated as work for benefit purposes and any payments would either be treated as income or, in some cases, as capital.
The noble Baroness asked me three questions at the end of her speech, the first of which was whether the use of the term “service user group” is intended to cover individual service users. We cannot envisage a situation where public bodies would just consult a single individual and no one else over how they design and deliver their services. So even though a service user involvement may take place on a one-to-one basis, we would still see them as being part of a wider service user group so that we are content that our definition will be fit for purpose. However, we will ensure that our guidance is strengthened to address this particular point.
In addition—my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley was particularly focused on this point—the expense of engaging a carer or personal assistant to help our customers with their service user involvement is now being treated as a key expense that we would disregard entirely. The carer themselves would be able to claim all their expenses if they were giving their services voluntarily; otherwise any earnings they received from the service user would fall within the existing benefit rules.
The noble Baroness’s second question was about the definition of expenses. Again, I am happy to confirm that the changes we have made will now allow us to disregard all expenses paid or reimbursed to any of our customers who take part in service user activity, and our guidance fully reflects that position. It will cover each item that the noble Baroness instanced.
The final point that the noble Baroness made relates to the term “notional expenses”. She asked whether they are the same as earnings. I am sorry to say that there was a small drafting error in the Explanatory Note attached to the first set of regulations that form the subject of the regret Motion. The note should read that the regulations in question provide a disregard for any expenses and remove our service user group entirely from the operation of the notional income rules. Happily, this is exactly what the regulations themselves now deliver, and I will arrange for the small drafting error in the note, which does not form part of the regulations, to be rectified at an early opportunity.
We plan to evaluate the changes and will involve customers and customer groups, such as Mind, as well as those Jobcentre Plus staff who are administering the rules. As part of that evaluation, I will think further about the arguments put forward by noble Lords this evening for extending the rules and will consider whether anything further should be done. Crucial to that consideration will be that any widening of the rules does not undermine the policy intention, so that, for example, it brings in commercial organisations, or that it broadens unduly the definition of service users set out in the regulations. This will include the points raised by members of the Social Security Advisory Committee.
We believe that the changes these regulations have put in place will make a real difference to those of our customers who, as service users, come forward to take part in this important civic role. We believe that the changes will remove any concerns they may have on the impact of their involvement on their benefit entitlement.
There were a couple of specific points. My noble friend Lady Pitkeathley referred to the need for better guidance for carers. As part of our evaluation, we will consult carers’ organisations and make sure that we provide suitable guidance. The noble Lord, Lord Low, said that the changes will cause confusion. We will work with service providers and public bodies to put together guidance for service users to produce as much clarity as possible. To return to the issue of the treatment of carers, carers who are participating as service users in their own right within the rules are fully covered by our changes. Carers accompanying service users in an unpaid capacity will already have all their expenses disregarded.
I hope I have covered each of the points that have been made. I acknowledge there is a warm welcome for the progress we have made and still some concerns about those areas that we have not covered. I have explained that we will undertake an evaluation of this. I conclude by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, for her engagement and support on this agenda. I know I do not need to ask her not to press her Motion as she has already said that she will not.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this short debate. It is nice to see more than three or four noble Lords in the Chamber for any debate on a DWP matter. I thank the Minister and other noble Lords for their kind remarks. This has been a joint effort.
I am still a little unclear about why we cannot make more progress on research in this health field, which is urged at every turn by the Government. For example, Reward and Recognition, which was published in 2006, refers to effective involvement and states:
“Payment is also an option, and people should be offered reimbursement for any expenses incurred”.
This is all we are asking for: that out-of-pocket expenses are reimbursed in the field of health and social care and in no other field. The Minister talked about the police and all these other things, but we are talking only about the health and social care field and service users on benefits. That involves a narrow group of people and a narrow set of circumstances, but it does include health research, which will not be covered by the regulations.
Will the Minister consider our having another meeting with a Jobcentre Plus official just to see whether this is a real problem that is causing confusion? I note that he says he does not think that it is, but my advisers think that it really will cause a lot of problems. This is the last thing that we need, and I wonder whether he would be willing to consider such a meeting.