HC Deb 02 February 1971 vol 810 cc1444-5
11. Mr. Woodhouse

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will take steps to require local authorities to establish a service charged with the tasks of initiating local inquiries to identify cases of hardship, particularly among old people, and of bringing to the attention of each individual case the benefit to which they are entitled as of right.

Mr. Alison

There is a close and growing liaison between social security officers and local authority welfare staff for this purpose, and I am not satisfied that a new special service would be helpful.

Mr. Woodhouse

Does my hon. Friend agree that the basic problem is to find very large numbers of those who are entitled to the support of the social services? Is it not, therefore, time to reverse the onus of responsibility, so that the authorities concerned have a positive duty to take the initiative in seeking out those who need such support instead of waiting for applications?

Mr. Alison

My hon. Friend will be aware that when the relevant section of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act—Section 1—is implemented shortly after 1st April this year this very positive duty will arise.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

While recognising the need for confidentiality to some extent, may I ask whether the Minister is satisfied with the arrangements which might be made by local authorities or voluntary bodies in the distribution of publicity material at the point where persons claim retirement pension?

Mr. Alison

I do not think that we could ever be satisfied until there is 100 per cent. information. This is a very difficult object to achieve. However, the Alf Morris Act will certainly impose a duty of wider communication, and we have no doubt that this will bear fruit.

Sir R. Thompson

Is my hon. Friend aware that some good local authorities —notably Croydon—already operate such a service on an informal basis? If my hon. Friend requires advice or help, will he apply to Croydon?

Mr. Alison

Croydon has a remarkable system of collaboration and co-operation between the health and welfare authorities which sets a pattern, I believe, for the whole country.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

May I ask the hon. Gentleman to have another look at this matter? As he knows, dependence on means-tested benefits turns entirely on the uptake of those means-tested benefits. Clearly, this is the way that the Government are going. Will the hon. Gentleman at least consider whether local authorities might be advised to make clear to persons with whom they came into contact the whole range of benefits to which they are entitled, not only the benefits about which they inquire, which is often the case now?

Mr. Alison

I take the hon. Lady's point, but she will remember that it is not only those who come into contact about whom we are concerned, it is those with whom local authorities have no prima facie need to have contact that we need to discover.