HC Deb 08 April 1968 vol 762 cc862-4
8. Mr. Eadie

asked the Minister of Social Security what administrative machinery will be set up in her Department to deal with matters arising from prescription charges.

26. Mr. Heffer

asked the Minister of Social Security what arrangements will be made, when prescription charges are introduced, to help people on supplementary benefit and low incomes to meet the charges.

27. Mr. Archer

asked the Minister of Social Security whether all those in receipt of supplementary benefit will have to pay the prescription charges and then obtain a refund.

28. Mr. Winnick

asked the Minister of Social Security whether people receiving supplementary benefit will have to call at her Department's local offices to obtain help with the cost of prescriptions.

29. Mr. Will Griffiths

asked the Minister of Social Security by what means people under 65 years of age in receipt of supplementary pension or allowance will be able to obtain from her Department help with the payment of prescription charges.

Mrs. Hart

I am glad to say that it is proposed that the Regulations which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health will be laying before the House after completion of discussions with the professions concerned should provide that most persons receiving supplementary benefits, and those who are living below supplementary benefit level or at about that level who are in work, can be issued with certificates by my Department authorising them and their dependants to claim exemption from the charge, instead of claiming refunds for each prescription. Similar arrangements will apply to war pensioners in respect of charges incurred for treatment of their accepted war disablement.

Mr. Eadie

Is my right hon. Friend aware that one of the criticisms of prescription charges is administrative costs? Would she comment on the administrative costs of this scheme?

Mrs. Hart

The fact that we have now been able to provide for exemptions rather than refunds for broadly the hardship categories will, of course, mean that the administrative costs for my Department are much smaller. This, however—I must tell the House this frankly—has not been my prime consideration: my main object has been to ensure that people on extremely low incomes do not have to apply continually for refunds but can get an exemption from the charges.

Lord Balniel

First, will the scheme for exemptions from prescription charges come in simultaneously with the introduction of the charges? Second, will women retirement pensioners between 60 and 65 be exempt from the charges?

Mrs. Hart

The answer to the first part of that supplementary is that, in a number of cases among the categories which I have mentioned today, the exemptions will come into operation as soon as the prescription charges do. There will inevitably be some cases—for example, the family in work—where we shall have to wait for the first application for a refund in order to provide the exemption. Secondly, in relation to supplementary benefits, there will inevitably be a little time—a month or two—during which we will work through all the cases on supplementary benefit. But the main answer is yes, subject to these qualifications. The answer to the second part of the question is that it will depend, of course, on whether or not the woman comes within the categories which I have already mentioned—whether she is on supplementary benefit or not.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

In her original reply, my right hon. Friend talked about "most of those" on supplementary benefits. Could she give us the percentage and say why all on supplementary benefits cannot be treated in this way?

Mrs. Hart

The only exception—I cannot give a percentage, because it fluctuates—will be, clearly, someone who is on supplementary benefit for a very short period. A transient case, perhaps, who receives benefit this week but not next week or the week after is out of that range, and it would be impracticable to give him an exemption. It is only the short-term and transient cases which will not be included.