HC Deb 03 March 1981 vol 1000 cc121-2
12. Mr. Dobson

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he is satisfied with the operation of the new social security regulations; and if he will make a statement.

Mrs. Chalker

While I am not aware of any serious problems so far, we have set up an extensive programme to monitor the new arrangements and to warn us of any difficulties.

Mr. Dobson

Is the Minister aware that the cuts in unemployment benefit to occupational pensioners come into operation on 5 April? If she is aware of that, why has she not arranged for explanatory leaflets to be available in Department of Employment and DHSS offices?

Mrs. Chalker

The leaflets are being printed and should be in the offices in a week's time.

Mr. Squire

In terms of the original question, is my hon. Friend aware that in my local offices the operation is running smoothly and that the expected problems have not materialised?

Mrs. Chalker

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that comment. My experience is that local offices throughout the country have dealt in a first-class manner with the changes under the new supplementary benefit scheme. We always envisaged that minor amendments would be necessary, but these do not undermine the scheme or cast doubt on its value.

Mr. Maxton

Is the Minister aware that as a result of the inability of local DHSS offices to pay special needs payments to discharge electricity debts the South of Scotland Electricity Board is refusing to accept direct payments schemes when a debt is over £150? Is the Minister aware that that means that there will be increasing numbers of cut-offs in Glasgow, with great danger to health and life?

Mr. Ashley

It is disgraceful.

Mrs. Chalker

I am grateful for that information. The figure assumed by other fuel boards is £300. I shall examine the matter, because I understand the implications.

Mr. Rooker

I refer to the supplementary question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson). Has the Minister had any consultation with the private sector about the £35 cut-off? Is she aware that many large private sector firms are encouraging men over the age of 60 to retire early? Does she know that they are being told that for the first 12 months of their retirement they can claim unemployment benefit if they are available for work? Is she aware that neither they nor staff at Department of Employment offices know about the cut-off, which begins on 6 April?

Mrs. Chalker

If the employers do not know about that, bearing in mind the publicity given to this matter when the Social Security (No. 2) Bill was being considered, I am sorry. We shall have to bring the matter to their notice. Employers have been warned, through the press and by other notices. However, I shall examine what the hon. Gentleman says.

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