HC Deb 26 July 1982 vol 28 cc754-97

4.2 pm

The Minister for Social Security (Mr. Hugh Rossi)

I beg to move, That the draft Housing Benefits Regulations 1982, which were laid before this House on 8th July, be approved. With this it might be convenient for the House to consider also the following: The draft Housing Benefits (Permitted Totals for Local Schemes) Regulations 1982. The draft Supplementary Benefit (Housing Benefits) (Requirements and Resources) Consequential Amendments Regulations 1982. The Housing Benefits (Subsidy) (No. 1) Order 1982 (S.I., 1982, No. 903), dated 2nd July 1982. The Housing Benefits (Subsidy) (No. 2) Order 1982 (S.I., 1982, No. 904), dated 2nd July 1982. The Housing Benefits (Rate Support Grant) Order 1982 (S.I., 1982, No. 905), dated 2nd July 1982. The Supplementary Benefit (Housing Benefis) (Miscellaneous Consequential Amendments) Regulations 1982 (S.I., 1982, No. 914), dated 6th July 1982.

Mr. Speaker

By leave of the House, we shall discuss the seven orders and regulations together.

Mr. Rossi

As those hon. Members who attend our debates know only too well, social security regulations tend to be lengthy and difficult to understand. I am afraid that our latest arrival, housing benefit, is from the same mould. However, we can take comfort from the fact that we are not introducing a brand new benefit. The current rent and rate rebate and allowance schemes serve as a useful starting point and the House may find it helpful in its consideration of the regulations if I concentrate on explaining the changes that we are making in housing benefit. I shall spend rather less time on the supplementary benefit amending regulations and financial orders as they are consequential to the housing benefit reform.

There are two main strands to the housing benefit regulations. First, there are the changes that are necessary to achieve the unification of the current dual provision of help with housing costs through the rebate and allowance schemes and supplementary benefit. The problem of which benefit to choose—rent rebate or supplementary benefit—has long confronted claimants with an invidious dilemma. However, harmonisation of two separate schemes that were started at different times with different underlying principles has not proved easy. It has inevitably meant dropping the features of one scheme or the other to achieve unification. Secondly, we have examined the current schemes that have run for about 10 years with a fresh eye and have taken the opportunity to make what we believe to be some useful changes and adjustments.

I shall refer to some changes in more detail as I come to the relevant regulations. However, the House might find it useful now to be given an overall view by my drawing together the improvements in the existing rebate and allowance schemes. First, we are widening the definition of rent eligible for rebate. Under the new scheme, it will be possible to give rebates for the first time for charges for the use of furniture included in the rent, most service charges such as garden maintenance, lifts, communal rooms, communal laundry facilities, radio and television relays, porterage and warding service and rents where two homes must be maintained temporarily because of domestic violence or moving home.

Secondly, we are widening the classes of tenants who can claim rebates to include service occupants and licensees, caravan and houseboat dwellers, including site and mooring charges, hostel dwellers for 14 days or more, business tenants living in mixed hereditaments—for the domestic element—students in university accommodation exempt from the Rent Acts and "shared" owners who rent part of a dwelling.

Thirdly, we have created some new disregards—those items of income that need not be taken into account when calculating entitlement to benefit. They include TOPS travel allowances, parental contributions towards the maintenance of children in advanced education and pensions paid to the victims of Nazi persecution, where there will be a £4 disregard for the first time. The harmonisation of the two systems and the improvements that I have outlined have had to be achieved on an overall cost neutral basis utilising savings in administrative costs that we have achieved for that purpose.

In drafting the regulations we have, of course, drawn heavily on the advice and views of the local authorities, for they bring to such matters the essential practical experience of administering the current schemes. While some associations may still have reservations in principle about the scheme, they would all acknowledge that a genuine consultative process has taken place on the detail of housing benefit. Similarly, the regulations have been sent for comment to several voluntary organisations active in the area who have responded with some helpful comments. I am pleased to place on record the help that we have received from local authorities and voluntary organisations alike. The House may be assured that we have considered their views most carefully.

I turn now to deal with the housing benefit regulations in greater detail. I shall not detain the House on each regulation. Some—for example those dealing with the basic method of calculation—are almost unchanged. My intention is to cover changes of substance.

There are some important changes in definitions made by regulation 2, for example, definition of rent, to which I have already referred. Regulation 3 provides for the commencement of housing benefit in two stages.

As hon. Members know, we have arranged that the simplest cases shall, from 22 November 1982, cease to be eligible for help with their rent and rates from supplementary benefit and shall instead receive a full, 100 per cent., rebate of rent and rates from the local authority. These "simplest cases" are local authority tenants who are living with their partner or dependent children and whose weekly supplementary benefit exceeds the amount of their housing requirements. The remaining cases will be transferred to the authorities in April 1983 at the time that full housing benefit starts. I am sure that this makes sense administratively, and I am glad that most authorities have agreed with me.

Regulations 6 and 7 deal with eligibility for rate rebates and rent allowances by adding new groups that are now excluded from the rebate and allowance schemes. These are the groups that I have already mentioned.

Regulation 9 is one of the corner-stones of housing benefit. It provides that authorities shall, on receipt of a certificate of entitlement to supplementary benefit from the Secretary of State, treat any person named as eligible for housing benefit without further investigation except as to the amount of eligible rent and rates.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Edge Hill)

Does the Minister agree with Shelter's estimate that 220,000 people who now receive rent or rate rebates will no longer qualify?

Mr. Rossi

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will elaborate on that point a little later. I am not sure that I agree entirely, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman will catch Mr. Speaker's eye and deal with the matter.

Regulation 10 picks up a point raised in Committee and subsequently pursued by the Campaign for the Homeless and Rootless, among others. It is essentially directed at the problem of short stay hostel dwellers, where there is some evidence to suggest that, under the current schemes, lengthy qualifying periods have been imposed before such people have been accepted as occupying a dwelling as their home. Having considered the representations made on this point, I decided that the qualifying period should not exceed 14 days and entitlement should then be backdated to the date of application so that no benefit is lost. We consulted the local authority associations on this point, and I am glad to report that they accepted that this approach was a reasonable one in the circumstances.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)

The Minister says that the local authority associations are happy with these proposals, but is CHAR?

Mr. Rossi

The voluntary organisations would have preferred not to have had 14 days as a qualifying period but, as the hon. Gentleman will know, under the existing schemes it has been open to local authorities to make up their own qualifying periods. Some have gone for as much as six months or even longer, which has caused many problems. It has been a matter of negotiation and trying to hold a fair balance between the pressures of voluntary organisations and what the local authorities consider they can practically cope with administratively. Fourteen days has been the shortest period within which local authorities feel that they can cope.

An individual can stay in a hostel for one or two nights, move to another hostel for another two nights, on to a third, and so on, and cart even do so within Greater London. We are dealing with people who are exceedingly mobile. It is difficult for local authorities to catch up with them and to deal with the paperwork. Therefore, it has been felt that 14 days' residence is a reasonable period in those circumstances.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Does the Minister accept that this is a little harsh on some of the groups of people who, because of hostel rules, have to move after two or three days? There is a built-in catch, and they can never get the 14 days, much as they would like to, because of the type of accommodation in which they have to live, which means that they have to move. Will the Minister also accept that the existing supplementary benefit regulations were supposed to deal with people on a day-to-day basis, although we know that in many circumstances they were not able to do so?

Mr. Rossi

It is difficult to deal with the problem of people who are that mobile and whose mode of life is such that they often move from place to place. We have discussed these questions in Committee, as the hon. Gentleman will recall. The regulations will be monitored in their operation. Clearly if, as we learn from experience, we find that improvements of the kind suggested by the hon. Gentleman can be made, we shall do so.

We must take new steps slowly. This is an innovation and a considerable improvement on the position that has obtained until now. We are doing what the local authorities say is the irreducible minimum as far as their administration is concerned.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

The Minister has just informed the House that the reason why the claims of certain groups cannot be fitted easily into the scheme is their way of life. My hon. Friend was suggesting that the Government's rules about length of stay in Government hostels are such that people are moved on every third day. Therefore, can the Minister give an undertaking that he will look at the rule now so that those in a spike can stay in that one place long enough to qualify under the new scheme?

Mr. Rossi

With regard to hostel dwellers who rapidly move from place to place, the supplementary benefit will be payable to them from the first day of residence. The 14-day period applies only to those who go to a local authority seeking housing benefit.

Mr. Field

The problem that many people have in finding housing is that of producing the rent, or being able to have the rent underwritten. The rules in Government hostels, which were reasonable in the past, mean that people are moved on quickly. If the Minister cannot give an undertaking at least to look at these regulations, it will mean that he is guaranteeing having a mobile group of claimants for ever and a day. If he sticks at the two-week rule, which he has persuasively put to the House today, surely we must change the rules under which people are turfed out on the third day of their stay in a Government spike.

Mr. Rossi

The position of these people with regard to supplementary benefit will remain the same. However, when these people are in for a longer period than just two or three days, they may apply to the local authority. For example, they may go into a YMCA hostel and want to remain there for a while. They can go to the local authority if they are in that place for more than 14 days, and can claim for housing benefit rather than rely on supplementary benefit, which they would have to rely on if they were in Government hostels and subject to the two or three-day rule.

The question of rules and regulations relating to Government hostels, is something that is outside our discussions and raises a great many different issues relating to the purpose of those hostels, how they are organised and why they are run in a particular way. That is not the subject matter of this debate, but we can examine these things to see whether an improvement can be made. I cannot give any commitment that a change will arise out of what we are doing now, because what we are doing today is not strictly relevant to those criteria.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

What CHAR and the Labour Party are rightly complaining about is that the Government are making a new class of citizen. At the moment, those who need help ask for supplementary benefit and receive it for their housing and other needs. The Minister is now saying that, with the 14-day rule, a claimant can qualify for housing benefit and supplementary benefit. There is a group of people who will never be able to achieve 14 days and will have to be treated specially by supplementary benefit because supplementary benefit will give them housing assistance. CHAR and many others are concerned that we are making a new group of citizens who will be treated less well in practice than they were treated in the past.

Mr. Rossi

I do not accept the gloss that the hon. Gentleman and CHAR put on the situation. As he and CHAR know, at the moment it is entirely at the discretion of local authorities whether to give rent allowances or rent rebates to people in hostel accommodation. We are removing that discretion to a considerable degree. We are saying "You must give a housing benefit, a rebate or an allowance, to people who are in for longer than 14 days". That is a great improvement on the present position. The hon. Gentleman should not pretend that we are being difficult or hard. We are improving a situation that has existed for a long time. I am saying that, for technical and administrative reasons, at a time when the new scheme is coming in and when local authorities have to assimilate many changes, it is not reasonable to ask them to deal flexibly, when they are not in a position to do so, with people who move around, for whatever reason—either because their accommodation will not keep them longer, or because they choose to move around. It is not right to ask local authorities to deal with those people under housing benefit. Those people will continue to be treated, as always, under supplementary benefit until we can improve the system. That is surely eminently reasonable and fair.

Mr. Field

I thank the Minister for his undertaking to look at the matter after today's debate. However, I want to stress what my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) was saying. The Minister is making new rules enhancing the status of all hostel dwellers, providing they are not in hostels run by the Government. Natural justice surely demands that the Government put their own house in order when they are asking others to do so.

Mr. Rossi

I said that, outside the context of these regulations, it will be possible to consider the matter in the continuing reviews that we always carry out of the facilities and services offered by the Government. That will continue to be done, but without any commitment on my part that there will necessarily be changes.

I want to make it clear beyond peradventure that hostel dwellers will continue to get their housing costs with their supplementary benefits. The change that we are making—the 14-day rule—applies merely to those hostel dwellers who do not wish to be treated in that way by housing additions to their supplementary benefit, but who wish to claim for housing benefit. To do that, asking the local authority for help in the local authority-organised scheme, they must have a qualifying 14-day residential period.

I come now to regulation 13, which the House will rightly expect me to spend some time on, because it deals with the needs allowance, which forms the basis of benefit calculations. There is a slight awkwardness on timing here. It is not until July that all the necessary information is available for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to decide whether, and by what amounts, the needs allowance shall be increased from the following November. He also has, by statute, to consult the Advisory Committee on Rent Rebates and Rent Allowances on his proposals.

The rates which appear in the draft regulation are those which he proposes to use from next November, but before making the appropriate regulations he will naturally consider carefully the views of his advisory committee. Should he decide to amend the rates, it would be necessary, in turn, for us to decide whether to bring forward an amending housing benefit regulation in the autumn. Clearly it is desirable that we should adopt, at the start of housing benefit, the existing needs allowances, and continue them for the full year until November 1983.

However, one new figure will not appear in my right hon. Friend's regulation, and that is the 75p per week which will be added to the needs allowance, where the eligible person or his partner or both of them are of pensionable age. I announced in Committee that I propose to make this addition with the twin objectives of reducing the number of losers and the number of topping-up cases—to use the latest jargon, "housing benefit supplement" cases. I am pleased to say that it has proved possible to make this addition from April 1983, and so reduce the number of losers at the start of housing benefit.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Will the Minister enlighten us further about the needs allowance scheme? Is he saying that the needs allowance for this year is being extended for a longer period than would normally happen? If so, how much money are the Government saving?

Mr. Rossi

No. Perhaps I did not make myself clear. For this first year, we are to continue along the lines of the announcement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. He has to consult ACRRRA before he can make his regulations stating the figures for the needs allowance. He does not get the information that he needs until July. Therefore, he has not yet consulted ACRRRA. I have put in the figures that I hope will become the allowances in November and that ACRRRA will accept. In other words, the figures are based on the information that we have just received. That will assist the House considerably more than if I had given last year's figures.

If, for some reason, ACRRRA decides that it will not accept the new figures for the needs allowance and, as a result of the consultations between my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and ACRRRA, it is necessary to alter the figures I shall then have to introduce a regulation amending the figures now before the House. That is all that I am saying. It will still be November to November. I hope that what I have said makes the situation a little clearer.

Regulations 16 and 17 deal with eligible rates and eligible rent. No change has been made in the former, but we have been able to make two important improvements in the latter, affecting furniture and service charges. First, it was strongly represented in Committee, by both Labour and Conservative Members, that deductions should not be made for furniture when determining the amount of eligible rent. We agreed to consider the arguments made in the context of available resources. The money required, around £1 million, has now been found, and I am therefore pleased to include this feature in the regulation. Secondly, regulation 17, in conjunction with schedule 3, makes the majority of service charges eligible for assistance. I know that both these changes are welcomed by the local authority associations and the voluntary organisations.

Regulations 18 and 19 are concerned with a particularly difficult area of harmonisation, that of non-dependant deductions. Both schemes, that is the current rebate allowances schemes and supplementary benefit, provide for deductions to be made in respect of non-dependant members of a household when calculating the claimant's benefit entitlement. However, the circumstances in which deductions are taken are different, and the supplementary benefit levels of deductions are appreciably higher than those taken under the current schemes.

Clearly under housing benefit there had to be a consistency of treatment. It seemed to me that the existing local authority schemes had a better structure than the supplementary benefit scheme, and I have adopted it. Therefore, no deductions will be made for 16 and 17-year-olds, whether in or out of work even though, in the latter case, they are under supplementary benefit. A modified deduction will be taken from those aged 18 to 20 years. A full deduction will be made from those aged 21 to pensionable age. A reduced deduction will be made for those of pensionable age. Receipt of supplementary benefit results in a reduced contribution.

In one respect I have not adopted the local authority structure. Currently, two deductions are made where there is a non-dependant couple in the household unless they are of pensionable age or receiving supplementary benefit. It seemed fairer to me to follow the supplementary benefit practice of taking only one deduction in respect of that family unit. I hope that the House will welcome that improvement in the local authority schemes.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Will the Minister confirm that that is the cheapest option that was put to him and that it is particularly unfair on the 16 to 17-year-old youngster whose parents are in work?

Mr. Rossi

No. The scheme was not adopted because it was the cheapest. I had to choose one course or the other and it seemed to me to be fairer to choose that which had the greatest relationship to everyday life. It seemed to me that 16 and 17-year-olds should be treated as dependent upon their family, not as non-dependants, whether or not they had a small source of income of their own.

It also seemed to me that 18 to 20-year-olds should not be regarded as having to make, or making in practice, the same kind of contribution towards household expenses as somebody over the age of 21 would be expected to make if still living at home with his or her parents.

When I considered pensionable age I believed that there should be another reduction. Therefore, the full amount is payable by active adults between the age of 21 and pensionable age if they are still members of the household of parents who are on supplementary benefit. I thought that that was a reasonable and sensible approach because it related more to life as lived than did perhaps the supplementary benefit system.

When I came to consider the levels of deduction, it seemed to me that the supplementary benefit rates were more realistic. The full deduction from those aged 21 to pensionable age from November 1982 under supplementary benefit will be £6.55 a week. Such a level of deduction is not, in my view, unreasonable, given the class of people with whom we are dealing. Therefore, with the necessary adjustments, the levels of deduction have been set out in the regulations.

There is one other allied change that I should explain at this point, although it is a supplementary benefit matter rather than a housing benefit one, and that is the matter that the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) touched upon.

Once it was decided to make no deduction under housing benefit in respect of 16 and 17-year-old non-dependants, the question arose of whether the supplementary benefit housing addition— £0.10 a week from next November—to the non-householder scale rate should be continued in those cases.

It would be quite illogical to make a specific addition to supplementary benefit in order that the recipient might make the appropriate contribution to housing costs and then not make the appropriate deduction when the householder claims supplementary benefit or housing benefit. Therefore, the addition will be withdrawn from this age-group. We anticipate that the numbers of young people of this age-group receiving supplementary benefit will fall considerably once the youth training scheme gets fully into its stride, but I emphasise that any remaining savings from the withdrawal of the housing addition are being ploughed back into housing benefit.

However, I recognise that the loss of the addition next April may cause difficulties in some low-income households. Therefore, I propose to lay, after the recess, a transitional regulation under which 16 and 17-year-old recipients of the non-householder housing addition at the beginning of next April will retain the addition until they cease to receive supplementary benefit. Therefore, no one will incur immediate cash loss as a result of this change.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Will the Minister read that passage again so that it can be clearly understood? Will he tell us on what date people will leave school next Easter? Will next Easter's school leavers qualify for those transitional provisions or not?

Mr. Rossi

I am simply saying that the object of the transitional provisions is to ensure that no one who is receiving the cash at the moment will have that cash taken away when the scheme comes into operation. I should have thought that that made the position clear.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

I do not know the dates of the Easter holiday at the moment, but if it starts between 24 and 27 March, all those people entitled to leave school at Easter would presumably qualify for those transitional arrangements, whereas if the Easter holidays start in April they will not qualify.

Mr. Rossi

Easter is a moveable feast. Everything will depend upon whether people are receiving supplementary benefit on the date that the scheme comes into operation, whenever Easter may or may not fall.

Mr. Keith Best (Anglesey)

I think that I have followed my hon. Friend so far, but if I have not I am perfectly happy to be corrected. As I understand it, he is saying that the sum of £3.10 a week will not be available as a housing benefit for 16 and 17-year-olds because it is not anticipated that they will hand that over to the householder, whereas for the claimant over the age of 21, who is residing in a household but is not the householder himself, the deduction will be £6.55. How much of the housing benefit will be received by the non-householder? Presumably, it should correlate with the amount of the deduction.

Mr. Rossi

I am not sure that I follow what my hon. Friend is trying to ask me, because I was distracted for a moment.

To put the matter as simply as possible, take the case of someone who claims housing benefit and has living in the household people who are classified as non-dependants. In other words, the householder who is paying the rent is not supporting or maintaining those people. They are treated as contributing to the household expenses. Under the scheme the housing benefit is reduced by a fixed amount in order to reflect the fact that a non-dependant is assumed to make a contribution towards the household expenses.

In respect of a non-dependent person between the age of 21 and pensionable age, the deduction made from the housing benefit, on the assumption that there is a contribution to the household, will be £6.55, irrespective of what the non-dependant may be earning. However, if the non-dependant is receiving supplementary benefit, a reduced deduction will be made from the housing benefit to reflect the fact that the person living in the household has all his living expenses, but not his housing expenses provided for him. The figures are given in the regulations. However, I have tried to explain the general principle.

From time to time concern has been expressed that the introduction of housing benefit might lead to difficulties for claimants, because local authorities might be slow in dealing with claims. We have discussed that with the local authority associations and, as a result, regulation 28 provides that authorities must determine a claim within fourteen days of being furnished with such information and evidence as it reasonably requires for the purposes of determining that claim, or, if that is not reasonably practicable, as soon as possible thereafter. Similarly, in a certificated case—where the person is receiving qualifying supplementary benefit—an authority must determine the amount of the rent allowance within 14 days of receiving the certificate, provided that it has the necessary information, and must make interim payments in rent allowance cases if it is not possible to resolve matters within the time limit.

Mr. Best

I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me for interrupting him again, but does that mean that those who are dependent on the 14-day rule have to be in residence for 28 days before they can get anything? Surely they will have to be there 14 days before they can qualify, and if the local authority has to make its determination within a further 14 days they may have to wait 28 days before receiving anything.

Mr. Rossi

That is not so, because the provision will be back-dated. That is an improvement, because if a tenant applies today for a rebate or an allowance, there is no limit on the time that the local authority could take to process it. However, we have negotiated, and the local authority associations have agreed, that some time limit should be imposed. Therefore, we say that an application should be processed within 14 days unless there is some overriding consideration that makes that impracticable. For example, sudden illness might strike the town hall and that would give those working there a let-out. However, they will strive to process the application in accordance with the regulations, and if they do not do so, and they have no let-out, they may be liable for maladministration.

Mr. Jim Craigen (Glasgow, Maryhill)

The hon. Gentleman says that he has discussed the matter with the local authority associations, but did he and his Scottish Office colleague take account of the view expressed by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities that the scheme should be postponed to allow more time for staff training and reorganisation? I think that the date of April 1983 was suggested.

Mr. Rossi

CoSLA was represented on the working group that considered the details of the regulations and it was consulted throughout. I have seen CoSLA representatives in London twice. I am aware that CoSLA disagrees with the scheme in principle and would prefer it to disappear. Therefore, it has suggested several reasons for postponing its operation. However, when we have asked for the detailed reasons for postponement and the practical administrative difficulties, it has not produced any convincing argument. The English and Welsh local authorities can bring the simple case part of the scheme into operation in November, and I see no reason why the Scottish local authorities cannot do what the English local authorities can do.

Mr. Craigen

It might be a case of Scottish backwardness, but might not some of the English local authorities be a little over optimistic? Might they not tend to underestimate the problems involved in the changeover?

Mr. Rossi

No, Sir. I had not wished to detain the House by going over the same ground. However, we are talking about those receiving supplementary benefit. That is assessed not by the local authorities, but by local offices. They send a certificate to local authorities and, provided that there are no non-dependants—because then different circumstances would arise—and provided that, for example, husband, wife and dependent children are on supplementary benefit, the local authority would merely have to cease collecting rent and rates. That is all. I fail to understand the problem. I do not believe that Scottish local authorities are in any way more backward than English local authorities. However, the Scottish local authorities are very canny, and if they can find a Way of postponing the introduction of the scheme, they will do so. CoSLA was unable to produce any convincing administrative reasons for being unable to implement the scheme, although it made it clear that it did not like it.

Mr. Alton

There is also concern among some of the English local authorities. For example, the rebates office in Liverpool will have to deal with another 58,000 cases. Unless more staff are made available—which has implications for the rate support grant settlement—it estimates that it will be extremely difficult to implement the proposals in November.

Mr. Rossi

Again, all those issues have been discussed with the local authority associations. We have undertaken to meet all their additional costs in implementing the scheme, including the additional costs that may be incurred by training staff. The local authority associations are perfectly happy with that.

Mr. Alton

Are local authorities happy to implement the proposals by November?

Mr. Rossi

Yes, Sir. I am talking not about the main scheme, where there may be complications, but about the simple case in which we certify that a tenant is on supplementary benefit. I am discussing only council tenants, who have no non-dependants living with them. The local office will say that as they are on supplementary benefit they should not be charged rent or rates. All that will happen is that the local authority will stop sending out bills. Instead, it will collect the money from us. Therefore, local authorities will have considerable help with their cash flow problems. Instead of having to chase up those who fall behind with their rents because they are finding ends hard to meet on supplementary benefit, they can rest assured that they will not have such problems.

Mr. Alton

What would prevent a local authority from increasing the rents of those on rent direct and from not then increasing the council rents of those not on direct payments?

Mr. Rossi

It would not find it administratively possible to do so. However, if that were to happen, we would react swiftly—[HON. MEMBERS: "How?"] If we cannot deal with that point under existing legislation, we shall have to introduce new legislation or regulations to prevent such a situation.

I turn to a key area of housing benefit upon which a great deal of attention has been focused, that is, the review of housing benefit decisions. Opposition Members argued strongly, at various stages of the Bill, that there should be a formal right of appeal to an independent body, preferably the supplementary benefit appeal tribunal. My view was, and remains, that we should build on the good practice of some authorities and provide for a review by elected representatives and I promised to consider setting that out formally in regulations. This I have done. The House will see from regulations 44 to 50 that a person's rights in this area are set out in full, and it may help if I summarise what they are. First, an authority must notify the person of the determination in writing, give certain basic information about the determination, and inform the person both that he has a right to a detailed statement of how the benefit has been calculated and that he has the right to make representations.

Secondly, an authority must provide a written statement explaining the calculation within 14 days of a request for one. Thirdly, providing a person makes representations within six weeks of notification of the determination, the authority must consider the representations, review the determination, alter or confirm it, and notify the person in writing giving the reasons. Fourthly, if within 28 days of being told of the outcome of the representations a person has requested a review, an authority must arrange for a review board hearing. The review board will be composed of councillors, but it will be acting independently of the authority.

Mr. Alton

How will it be possible for councillors who are members of the local authority that made a decision then to sit independently? Does that not follow the mistakes of the police complaints procedure where the police investigate the police? Does it not identify too closely the watchdog with the burglar?

Mr. Rossi

The councillors will be considering and reviewing decisions made by their officials. They will be dealing with matters of fine detail—the amount of rent, the calculations and so on. All those decisions will be made by officials. If someone is dissatisfied with the determination that has been made he has at the moment no right of appeal. The complainant does not even know how his rent or rate rebates are arrived at. He is just told the decision. Under the new system full information will be given. A person will be able to question and challenge the decision to see whether mistakes have been made.

If the applicant believes that mistakes have been made he can formally ask for a review in writing, and that review will not be carried out by the same officials. They must refer the matter to the elected representatives, who will constitute the review board. That is a safety measure. Otherwise, who on earth will do it? One cannot trouble the courts or the Secretary of State with every quarrel and dispute that there may be about a rent or rate rebate calculation. We have adopted a system of allowing a second look by somebody different. I know that some of the voluntary organisations do not like the idea of elected representatives doing that job, but I disagree with them. My experience of a local authority, and of people whom I know serve upon local authorities, is that it will carry out that function impartially. It is very much a matter for locally-elected representatives.

Sir Albert Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

Will the councillors know the individual, and will the hearings be in public? There is a feeling that the presence of the press may be embarrassing to some tenants.

Mr. Rossi

It is not necessary for these matters to be held in public. The personal financial details of an individual will be under consideration.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

An individual may apply for supplementary benefit and be told that he does not qualify. He appeals under the supplementary benefit rules and loses because he is told that he qualifies for housing benefit. The local authority then tells that person that he does not qualify for housing benefit because he should be on supplementary benefit. If that person obtains supplementary benefit he has a passport to local authority housing benefit. Who will adjudicate between the two sets of appeals?

Mr. Rossi

I assure the hon. Gentleman that that position could not arise, because all issues of entitlement to supplementary benefit will be dealt with by the independent statutory adjudicating authorities. A person's entitlement to supplementary benefit has nothing to do with local authorities. They will not and cannot pronounce upon that. They are interested only in the operation of the housing benefit scheme. If they are told that the person is on supplementary benefit and his income is certified by my Department the local authority must accept that fact. There is no way in which it can get out of it.

Regulation 48 sets out the procedure of the board, number of members, the right of a person to be heard, and so on. Fifthly, the review board must hear the review within six weeks of the request, decide whether to confirm or alter the determination, record its decision and reasons in writing and communicate to the authority and to the person. Sixthly, the authority must alter the determination if the review board has come to the view that it should be altered.

I believe that hon. Members will accept, from the account that I have given, that we have gone a long way towards meeting the anxieties that have been expressed on this score. As I said in Committee, we shall also arrange to monitor the working of the new system. In my view, it will work well and fairly, as it does now informally in a number of authorities, but I accept that we have a duty to keep in touch with developments in this sensitive area of people's rights, and I can assure the House that we shall.


That is important because people are losing the right to appeal to an independent body. What monitoring of the scheme will be carried out?

Mr. Rossi

I emphasise that nobody is losing any right to appeal. A new right is being created to a new review body. We shall monitor the scheme by asking local authorities to make returns periodically on the numbers of requests for review that they receive. We shall study those and see in how many cases the review has been successful. We shall analyse those figures.

I am sure that hon. Members will be in close touch with their constituents, and will not be slow in drawing matters of that kind to my attention. All matters will be taken into account if I find that the system is not working as well as I hope that it will.

Mr. Field

The Minister has misled the House. Those on supplementary benefit who wish to appeal against that part of their benefit which covers rent can appeal to an independent tribunal. That right will now be lost. My main point is that monitoring is crucially important. The collection of statistics may not give the consumer's response to the appeal, which is most important. I guess that many tenants appearing before a tribunal and seeing councillors will feel that it is a fix. How will the Minister discover whether the consumers feel that it is a fair way to deal with their grievances?

Mr. Rossi

If constituents feel that they have not been dealt with fairly by one body or another, my experience is that they are not slow in making their dissatisfaction known in one way or another. There is no reason why they should not continue to do so for this scheme, as for any other scheme in which they feel they have received a raw deal from an official body.

Mr. John Home Robertson (Berwick and East Lothian)

Is the Minister saying that if a claimant wants to get real justice he should approach his Member of Parliament? Is he really suggesting that the proposed procedure is an improvement on the one that is presently administered through his Department for supplementary benefit claimants?

Mr. Rossi

I am not saying what the hon. Gentleman suggests. I am saying that we shall monitor the system extremely carefully in the way that I have described. However, life is such that claimants will go to their Members of Parliament on local authority matters as well as parliamentary matters. That is a good litmus paper for deciding whether a system is working well. I do not want to encourage the public to trouble their Members of Parliament with local authority matters. I appreciate that they have enough to handle already. However, that way is open to them if they consider it to be appropriate. There is always recourse to the local authority commissioner, the local ombudsman. That system was established by Parliament to deal with complaints of maladministration by local authorities. I am reasonably confident that it will reach our ears if, generally speaking, the review boards do not perform their functions as efficiently as we hope they will.

Mr. Craigen

If the colour of the litmus paper changes, will the Minister alter the arrangements? I am more concerned about whether councillors will be readily available to participate in some of the appeals machinery. They are lay people and their time is taken up with many other council duties.

Mr. Rossi

We embarked upon this scheme only after consultation with local authority associations. We asked them whether they would be prepared to take on the burden and we found that they were ready and willing to do so. There are many local authorities that carry out this function now. About 20 years ago—I know that it is a long time to think back—I was the housing chairman of a local authority. The authority operated one of the first differential rent schemes in Britain. There was a management sub-committee and its members were councillors. Those of us who were asked to serve on the sub-committee were quite willing to do so. I think that we dealt with the matters that were brought before us well and impartially. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Sir A. Costain) that there was the greatest confidentiality.

The local authority had a high reputation among its electors and it continued to enjoy that reputation because it showed that it cared and that councillors would take the trouble willingly and readily to resolve any problems that arose. Local authorities stand only to gain by undertaking the task and doing it as conscientiously as possible.

There is one last area of housing benefit regulations that I should cover. At regulation 51 we provide for the protection against losses through taper changes of more than 75p a week at the start of housing benefit. As I explained in Committee, this protection is to be temporary and the regulation provides for it to end after a year. The resources so released will finance, in part, the additional 75p on the needs allowance for pensioners.

Before turning to the supplementary benefit amending regulations, it may be convenient if I dispose, fairly briefly, of housing benefit financial matters. The Housing Benefit (Permitted Totals for Local Schemes) Regulations make no change, in principle, in the amount that authorities are permitted to spend on local schemes. The Housing Benefit (Subsidy) (No. 1) and (No. 2) Orders and the Housing Benefit (Rate Support Grant) Order set out the financial arrangements for housing benefit. Essentially they provide for local authorities to receive by way of subsidy the extra benefit costs arising from housing benefit and their additional administrative costs—as we promised repeatedly during the passage of the Bill.

It will come as no surprise to hon. Members that the detail of the orders has been the subject of careful discussions with the local authority associations. I think it fair to say that they have no objection to the contents of the orders, although, of course, the detail will have to be kept under review.

I do not propose to spend long on the consequential supplementary benefit amending regulations. A change of this magnitude is bound to require a number of alterations in the supplementary benefit regulations.

There are two matters which I think worth drawing to the particular attention of the House. First, at regulation 2(12) of the requirements and resource consequential amendments regulations, there appears housing benefit supplement, our old friend "topping-up". The regulation, in effect, provides that a supplement shall be paid if the claimant has net housing costs to meet which are greater than the amount by which his resources exceed his requirements for supplementary benefit purposes. This supplement will be calculated and paid by authorities, although formally it will have to be awarded by a supplementary benefit officer. It is a supplementary benefit and carries with it all the associated rights.

The second area is that of rent arrears. One of the beneficial side effects of housing benefit is that the scope for rent arrears to build up among supplementary benefit claimants will be much reduced. But arrears can occur. For example, a claimant may fail to pay over the sums that have been deducted in the calculation of eligible rent because of the presence of non-dependants in the household, or a claimant may arrive on supplementary benefit with sizeable arrears of rent.

Having taken the views of the local authorities, we have provided in regulation 4(5) of the miscellaneous consequential amendment regulations that from November 1982 £1.30 a week shall be deducted from supplementary benefit and paid over to the landlord in defined circumstances. These are that the claimant is at least 13 weeks in arrears with his rent and the landlord has requested direct payments, or, if less than 13 weeks in arrears with his rent, the benefit officer is of the view that it is in the overriding interests of the claimant and his family that the deduction should be made. A deduction will be made only if there is sufficient supplementary benefit in payment to cover it.

Mr. Alton

The Minister will be aware that the Department of Health and Social Security is often in arrears with its payments to local authorities. Is he able to give a guarantee that payments to local authorities will be made rapidly? Secondly, if money is held back for 13 weeks, it may take 26 weeks before it is paid to a private landlord. During that period it will be possible for notice to be served on a tenant to quit and for him to he evicted. Has the hon. Gentleman had a chance to consider the implications of a delay of 26 weeks?

Mr. Rossi

There have been negotiations with local authorities on the payments that are made to them and they are happy with the arrangements that we propose. They consider them to be a great improvement on the arrangements that they have to make themselves to collect rent moneys direct from their tenants.

Mr. Alton

As I have said, it could be 26 weeks before a private landlord received the money.

Mr. Rossi

Before a tenant can be evicted the landlord has to apply for a court order. If the tenant makes it known to the courts that he is sorting out his housing benefit and supplementary benefit, the usual practice of the courts is to adjourn the matter or to make a temporary order that will enable the administration to be sorted out so that the eviction does not take place. When rent is likely to be paid the courts are unlikely to make an eviction order.

Mr. Alton

I have written to the Minister's Department about one of my constituents, Mrs. O'Neill of Lilley Road, Liverpool, and explained what has happened under the present regulations. I have taken up the matter with the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration. Surely it would be better if, instead of making the situation worse by the introduction of the regulations, the Minister were to take into account the genuine cases of hardship that can be caused.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. I must help the House. This is a limited debate of three hours. The Minister has been more than generous in giving way. Some of the interventions have almost exhausted the Minister's right to speak in the debate.

Mr. Rossi

I shall look carefully at Mrs. O'Neill's papers when they come before me and consider whether the circumstances fit in with what we are discussing now. Sometimes we find that they do not quite do so. I shall take your hint, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and not give way again.

Before leaving the regulations, both housing and supplementary benefit, I ought to comment briefly on the overall financial effects. It has been a complex task keeping track of the many changes and the associated costs and savings, but I can assure the House that we have taken pains to ensure that the final outcome is indeed cost-neutral. That is, all identified savings, including those arising on DHSS staff savings, have been put back into the pool to distribute elsewhere in the scheme.

Indeed, we may have a surplus to spend in 1984–85. By then the cost of giving the transitional protection to 16 and 17-year-olds, which I anounced earlier, will have greatly diminished and the resources released will be available for housing benefit. An attractive possibility would be to increase the needs allowance for children and so give a little extra help to working and one-parent families. But it is too soon to give any firm commitment.

Mr. Field

What about pensions?

Mr. Rossi

We have already increased the needs allowance by 75p. We are now considering whether money will become available so that we can give similar benefit to families with children. However, I can give no commitments.

Mr. Field


Mr. Rossi

That must be the case.

As I said at the outset, these regulations are long and complex. If my account has also been long—the House is somewhat accountable for that—I hope that I have shed some light on the complexities. I commend the regulations to the House.

5.13 pm
Mr. J. W. Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

After one hour and eight minutes the Minister announced that he would not give way again. I am grateful that he has allowed me to make a brief intervention. I hope that he will not lose his train of thought while I make some brief remarks.

The Opposition agree with the concept of a unified housing benefit to get over our constituents' problems of dealing with different agencies and Departments, but I part company from the Minister on everything else that he said. It is for that reason that we shall oppose the regulations. I cannot go over all the reasons why I want to put the case for opposing the regulations. The Minister kicked off with a list of the advantages and a few changes that would flow from the system, which would benefit claimants—it is right that there are advantages—but he was not evenhanded, so my hon. Friends and I will have to outline the other side of the coin.

The Minister apologised for the complexity of the regulations. The idea of a unified benefit system, which the regulations are not but they are a step towards it, was to simplify and rationalise the system of rent and rate rebates and the housing side of supplementary benefit. I thought that the idea was to make life simpler for the claimants, but that has not happened. There are signs that some local authorities in England are just waking up to the fact that they are taking on board a massive task of administration in November and next April.

The Minister talked about consulting the local authorities. Has he talked to representatives of the National and Local Government Officers Association? The increased burden will fall on that end of local authorities. That could happen when the annual pay claim is made by local authority workers, who are constantly attacked by the Government. There could be difficulties. Therefore, my first question is: has NALGO been involved in the consultations?

It is typical of the Government and of the Minister to tell us about the little gains, but not that 2 million households—850,000 of those households are pensioner households—will lose money each week when the scheme comes into operation. I know that there are some puny safeguards for pensioners, to limit the weekly loss to 75p, but when the transitional safeguards are withdrawn in April 1984, 500,000 households will be more than 75p a week worse off. Two million households overall will be worse off under this so-called gain, which has been introduced to simplify a complex system.

It is typical of the Government that again they are redistributing poverty systematically among the poor. That is done under the guise of reform—a no-cost change. However, the no-cost changes under the Government always seem to work out, as the supplementary benefit change in November 1980 appeared to work out, so that there are more losers than gainers. At the end of the day the Government are in credit.

I do not intend to fill up my time with too many statistics, but I must put to the Government some figures on matters raised at the beginning of the Minister's speech. They turn on the percentage increase for non-dependants and the way in which the figures have been changed, over inflation, in the so-called operating changes. The figures vary between 50 and 70 per cent. There is a massive increase in the system's needs requirements for non-dependants over and above inflation.

About 250,000 households on rent rebate and 150,000 on rate rebate are affected badly by the change. About 336,000 households will lose an average of £1.14 a week, which is a saving to the Government of nearly £20 million.

On the plus side of the change, because of the way in which the Government have almost rigged the increases above inflation, it looks as though 32,000 households will gain, on average, £2 a week, at a cost to the Government of about £3.3 million. In other words, in this one area, in the changes taking place in November and April in the percentage increase for non-dependants over and above inflation, it seems that the Government are saving £16 million. That matter was not discussed in Committee. The Minister did not refer to it. I should like confirmation of those figures, if not during the debate today, which is time limited, then as quickly as possible, preferably before the recess. Under the scheme the £16 million does not appear to be redistributed in the new housing benefit.

This simplified system is complex beyond belief. No wonder the Minister referred to only about seven or eight of the 51 regulations. The poor will lose by the million. The regulations will mean that many poor people who are sick, disabled or single parents will lose the right to a higher rate of supplementary benefit, because they will not be able to get on to supplementary benefit in the first place. That is the result of introducing the housing benefit.

Moreover, I understand that as a result of examining the regulations and the documentation that is attached to them, those people, including pensioners, who are floated off supplementary benefit to housing benefit will lose the automatic right to other benefits, such as dental and optical treatment. Some people, but not pensioners, will lose the right to free prescriptions. The loss of the automatic passport will mean that eligibility for single payments and free milk will also be affected.

The passport effects are not being carried over from supplementary benefit to housing benefit, yet the people who are affected are the poorest in the country. The floated-off people are referred to throughout the regulations as certificated cases. They have been certified by the Government to take a cut in family support through the Welfare State because of the way in which the regulations have been drafted and the way in which housing benefit interacts with supplementary benefit.

To confuse matters even more, regulation 51 mentions housing benefit supplement, not housing benefit or supplementary benefit. It is the invention of someone in the DHSS. It was always referred to in Committee and on Report as topping up. Many claimants refer to themselves as being "on the supplementary". They ask "Have you been to the supplementary?" They talk about various matters in queues at the Post Office and say, "Supplementary? Yes, I'm on it." That can mean supplementary pension or supplementary benefit, or will it mean housing benefit supplement?

Someone in the Department has taken a word that is meaningful to him but which means nothing to people outside. It reminds me of the following: Officials are highly educated, but one-sided; in his own department an official can grasp whole trains of thought from a single word, but let him have something from another department explained to him by the hour, he may nod politely, but he won't understand a word of it. Franz Kafka wrote that.

All hon. Members, even you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and our constituents will be confused by the word "supplement" being attached to housing benefit. The regulations do justice to the name of Franz Kafka. They are draft regulations. The Minister has not signed them, so I wrote "Franz Kafka" in the appropriate space in my copy. The regulations will be a maze for millions of people who do not stand a chance of receiving the benefits which the House intends they should have.

I understood the Minister to give a concession about 16 and 17-year-olds. My hon. Friends challenged the Minister to read his brief again, but he did not, and so became involved with interventions. Nevertheless, he seems to have made a concession. The change is wrong in principle. Sixteen and 17-year-olds and their families are being told "You are not expected to contribute to the family's housing costs. You are adult, you can get married, you could be at work", although they will not be in these cases, "but you are not required to make a direct contribution towards household expenses."

It may surprise some Ministers and Conservative Members, but it is not unknown for children who are unable to contribute adequately to the running of the household to be thrown out, even in 1982. Depriving 16 and 17-year-olds of the non-household addition will not stop some parents from claiming some money from those youngsters to pay for household expenses. My argument relates to parents who are at work. They tell their youngsters to stand on their own two feet. The say "You get your money from the supplementary and make a contribution towards the running of the household".

The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. Tony Newton)

I do not wish to dismiss out of hand whet the hon. Gentleman is saying, but I wish to draw his attention to the fact that we are debating housing costs, not the making of a contribution towards the running of a household. That is an important distinction. I imagine that in the majority of households young people, whether in work or not, contribute to their general maintenance costs, such as food, but are not expected to contribute to the rent. The hon. Gentleman is making a little too much of the problem of housing costs.

Mr. Rooker

I accept the Minister's point about food. That the addition was given specifically and separately for housing costs, and that it will no longer be given, is a matter that cannot be passed over without comment. It may have a serious effect on some households. I am not putting the case out of proportion. I do not know whether homelessness will increase as a result of the regulations, but it has certainly happened in my constituency, even without this change. It is important to make that point, as the change is substantial.

When the disability allowance was discussed, disabled teenagers were mentioned with regard to the interaction between the non-contributory invalidity pension and housing benefit. It is difficult enough now for youngsters to work out whether they should be on supplementary benefit or NCIP. The introduction of housing benefit costs could make that even more complicated. Perhaps the Minister will address himself to that matter. Youngsters on housing benefit will probably lose entitlement to single payments. That is important for disabled teenagers.

I have used the term "certificated cases". The Secretary of State will send a certificate to local authorities for those who are to be floated off or not required to pay rent or rates. Why cannot claimants have a copy of that certificate? There appears to be no provision for that. The certificate may be useful to obtain unofficial passport benefits, such as cheap hairdos, when a supplementary pension book is displayed. The certificate relates to the claimant. On principle and in terms of good government, the claimant is entitled to a copy of it.

Is there a chance of anyone who is in rent arrears when the changeover takes place in November or April losing a week's benefit? That problem has been put to me. I do not have the details. I should make the debate too complicated if I went into that matter now. Nevertheless, I should like an assurance that there is no possibility that in November or April—because of the different dates for operating the social security system and local authority rent days—people will lose a week's benefit.

I, and I suspect many hon. Members, object on principle to people being on rent direct, although I can understand and see its advantages. Rents are likely to continue to rise under the present Government. I cannot foresee their not doing so in the light of inflation and the rising cost of living. If rents continue to rise, my constituents will still pay, even though their supplementary pension books will not have had the additional rent costs added to them, possibly for months afterwards, because of shortages of staff in local social security offices.

As a result of the change to rent direct that problem will not arise. People will not have to worry about getting into debt or spending money on rent rather than on food and heating. Although that is an advantage, it is also a means of forcibly controlling the budgets of millions of families in a way more reminiscent of the "Big brother knows best" attitude than of a genuine attempt to achieve a good, workable Welfare State. Despite the advantage, there is something distasteful in the attempt to control the family budgets of millions of people in such detail.

I shall not refer in detail to many of the regulations, but I must deal with regulation 17, relating to unsuitable accommodation, in a context to which the Minister did not refer. The subject was dealt with in Committee, but at that stage we did not have the regulations. It was pointed out that a local authority may deem that a person's house is too big for his needs because it is too expensive and the rates and outgoings are too high. The occupant may be a widow living in the family house after her family has left. Why should she have to leave? I hope that the Minister will deal with this, as regulation 17 provides enough get-outs for local authorities to start to squeeze such people if there are many of them in the area due to the nature of the housing and the demographic structure.

That must be compared with regulation 22, which I shall quote, as it is very short. It states: Except in a certificated case —that is, a floated-off case an authority may, if it considers an eligible person's circumstances are exceptional, grant to him an amount of a housing benefit additional to that to which he is entitled under the other provisions of these regulations. What are the controls on that? I do not wish to block local authorities being generous in their interpretation of the regulations, but when one compares regulation 22 with the possible implications of regulation 17, one is entitled to ask how the House will learn of the way in which local authorities operate those regulations. The effect could be disastrous for many families. It could also be extremely unfair as between local authorities in the many cases in which the boundary runs, say, down the middle of the high street. If a local authority deliberately seeks to be generous, can the Government send in the district auditor to stop it? How are we to know how regulation 22 will be handled?

I shall not go into detail about the regulations relating to caravan and houseboat owners, incomes from boarders or discharged prisoners, as I do not wish to hog as much time as the Minister did, and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) will be able to deal with them if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Does the Minister believe that the regulations meet the claim of the original consultation document that they would simplify and rationalise the system? Claimants will still have to deal with the local authority and the DHSS. The Child Poverty Action Group described the regulations as Byzantine in their complexity. They are a labyrinth. I see that the Minister has still not returned. I do not know whether he has been taken ill after making such a long speech. He admitted that the regulations were highly complex, but he did not make it clear that they would make more than 2 million families poorer than they now are.

Two final examples will show how bad the regulations are and why we oppose them. We make no bones about that. We do not support the regulations, although I put on record at the beginning that we wish to move towards a genuine unified housing benefit.

The Minister did not deal with the minimum payment of supplementary benefit. The regulations lay down a minimum payment of lop. I shall quote briefly from the comments of the Disability Alliance. If the Minister has already seen the document, I hope that he has an answer, as it puts into perspective some the probing questions asked by Opposition Members.

The Disability Alliance says: The regulations as drafted do not clarify the position of people who are entitled to less than the minimum payment of supplementary benefit to top up their other income. There will be no problem if a combined payment is possible. However, if a minimum amount of supplementary benefit cannot, in a particular case, be combined with another social security benefit, it cannot be paid. Under the new regulations as drafted, someone entitled to a payment of supplementary benefit of less than the minimum payment of 10p that is not payable cannot be certificated to housing benefit. In order to be certificated, one must be entitled to 'qualifying supplementary benefit'. That is defined as benefit payable. Housing benefit supplement could provide the answer. However, in order to qualify for that, one's resources must be sufficient to meet one's requirements. A person who is entitled to supplementary benefit has, by definition, insufficient resources to meet their requirements. It would be stretching the meaning of the language to include these people in housing benefit supplement. We hope that this problem can be solved in a straightforward way. That is an important problem caused by the effect of the regulation relating to minimum payment of supplementary benefit and it shows the complexity of the regulations as they affect the poorest people in this country. If the Minister cannot give us an answer on this today, he will certainly have to find one.

The Minister made a feeble attempt to help claimants in the terrifying situation that he has created. I refer to the misnamed "right of appeal". I notice that in the regulations it is not described in that way—and rightly so, because whoever drafted the regulations knows full well that it bears no resemblance to what any reasonable person would understand as a right of appeal. The present supplementary benefits system provides a genuine right of appeal. In these regulations, however, I take issue with the very title of schedule 5, which is "Constitution of Review Boards", when it should refer to the constitution of "further review boards", as that is how the boards' activities are described earlier in the regulations. They will be reviewing a review that is first carried out by officials. Only later will elected councillors become involved through the boards and conduct a further review.

So far, I have not come across anyone who regards the provisions of schedule 5 and the regulations as a good way to solve this problem. I understand that the Shelter Housing Aid Centre, the Disability Alliance and the CPAG have all criticised them. All those groups are familiar with the normal reasonable rights of appeal that now exist—they do not always work out reasonably, but the procedure at least is accepted as reasonable by most people—but they have all criticised the procedure laid down here.

Schedule 5 provides that a review board appointed by an authority shall consist of not less than three … persons"— that is, three elected local authority councillors. The problem arises because regulation 48 states that only two councillors are necessary for the review board, and one of them has to be in the chair, but the consent of the claimant must be obtained for that procedure.

It may come as a surprise to Ministers to learn that councillors in our large cities are overworked. There is a great deal of pressure on their time. In cities such as Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester there are meetings every week of what are called lettings and tenancy sub-committees. They deal with rent arrears and many other problems. People queue by the dozen to get into Bush House or one of the other committee rooms in the council offices in Birmingham on Monday and Tuesday evenings. That is a massive extra workload on a councillor's normal council activities and his role as ombudsman in his constituency, but on top of that we are placing on him the burden of the review board. In many cases there will only be two councillors present on the board, because that is all that the officials need to summon up.

I know what it is like to serve on an education committee. Unlike the Minister, I have never been an elected councillor. I have never served on Birmingham city council, but I have always considered that an advantage, because in representing a part of Birmingham in this House I can put the other side of the coin. Too many of my colleagues have been councillors.

I was a co-opted member of an education committee for a short time and occasionally served on the appeals panel for discretionary awards. I know the trouble that officials have in obtaining the minimum number of people to attend. I was not a councillor and had less responsibility than many of my colleagues on the further education subcommittee. Therefore, I know that officials will accept the lower number. Once they have Mr. A and Mr. B promising to attend, that will be the end of the matter.

Claimants will arrive—perhaps with no representation, even though entitled to have someone—to complain about some aspect of the council's dealings with them. They will be told that the hearing can be held immediately, provided they agree to there being only two councillors, one of whom will be in the chair.

If the claimants insist on the statutory right to be heard by three councillors, they will be told to come back another day. They will be told that the councillors are busy, that there is a long queue and that it may be a month or more before a hearing can be arranged, possibly because the councillors are on holiday. The claimants will no doubt agree to the hearing being held with only two councillors. The pressure on claimants will be enormous to accept an unjustified system that is more reminiscent of procedures in an East European State. It ill-behoves the Government to talk about putting in a right that does not exist for our citizens.

The review boards will have no case law to refer to. They will not be able to compare one local authority with another. Members of Parliament will not be able to do that. The various pressure and action groups who help tenants and people who have complaints about housing benefit will have difficulty in comparing one local authority with another. Nothing will be written down. There will be no system such as exists with the social security commissioners, where case law is laid down and councillors are guided by officals on procedures and precedents.

It was once said by Aneurin Bevan that the test of progress in society was its impact on the individual. Every piece of legislation that comes before the House should be judged on that basis. These regulations will not have a good effect on individuals. Two million families will lose as a result of them. In many ways the regulations are undemocratic and unfair. The incoming Labour Government who will surely follow this tardy Government will clean up the regulations, democratise them and restore the rights that have been taken away from the people of this country.

5.44 pm
Mr. Tom Benyon (Abingdon)

I am grateful for this opportunity of contributing to a debate on what is surely one of the most important topics facing us today—the uprating of social security benefits. It is sad that the importance of the subject is not reflected in the attendance in the Chamber.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) said that he did not believe that the upratings would have an overall good effect on individuals, but we should look at the other side of the coin and not just one aspect of the upratings. He was optimistic about the possibility of a future Labour Government and all that they would do. That stretched the credibility of the entire House to its outer parameters.

Politics is about priorities of expenditure. Many good things have come from these upratings and it is therefore difficult to see haw anyone can fairly say that we are a party of hard Tories who smack of sharp actions and rhetoric.

The cost of the upratings is about £3 billion. We shall be spending £30 billion in 1982–83 on social security benefits. That is about 26 per cent. of all public expenditure. We have given full price protection to the weekly benefits and made good the 2 per cent. shortfall from 1981. I am pleased that that has been done. The supplementary capital limit has been increased to £2,500, and although I do not believe that that is enough., an increase is welcome.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

In introducing the housing benefit regulations the Government claimed that there would be nil cost. The hon. Gentleman appears to be referring to the uprating orders that were dealt with last week.

Mr. Benyon

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but is he saying that I am out of order?

Mr. Bennett


Mr. Rooker

This is a free debating Chamber, but none of the issues so far mentioned by the hon. Gentleman are covered by the regulations under discussion

Mr. Benyon

I am grateful for that intervention. However, I shall proceed with my speech. There are various aspects on which I must criticise the Government. The £10 Christmas bonus, which has been included in the uprating procedure, has not been increased.

Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman has now mentioned the £10 Christmas bonus. Is he unaware of what these regulations deal with? The matters he mentioned were dealt with in the uprating orders that were debated for three hours last week. It was at a late hour, but I attended the debate and I can assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that they were debated. We are now dealing with the housing regulations. Surely it is out of order to deal with a series of uprating provisions—which the hon. Gentleman even calls uprating provisions—on the regulations now before us.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

This is a wide debate, but I was hoping that the hon. Gentleman would relate his remarks to the regulations before us.

Mr. Benyon

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The matters that we are currently debating are all concerned with supplementary benefit and with its uprating in the widest possible aspect. I hoped and believed that my speech was not out of order, and I intend to proceed as I set out.

By their very nature, supplementary benefit and housing regulations are enormously complicated, extremely unfair and arbitrary in the way that they fall on claimants. In many cases, they provide benefits to those who do not need them while providing no benefits to those who are in urgent need and assistance. Usually, they are enormously expensive and horrendously complicated to administer. They are unwieldy and in many aspects of their administration appear to benefit the administrators and draftsmen.

The Government should take an early opportunity to do what they can to rationalise the current structure which has grown up like Topsy over many years. The system has developed piecemeal, with each complicated part built on an incredibly unwieldy, existing machine.

I appreciate that the Government face a lengthy and over-crowded legislative programme during the remainder of this Session and the beginning of the next, but I hope that they will find time to make a start on linking the benefits and the tax system to create a more coherent and sensible system than currently obtains.

The work already done by my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) in this regard is of considerable value, and I shall listen to his speech with great interest, as I am sure that it will deal with this matter in great detail. I hope that the Government will take time, which I am sure will be well spent, to rationalise what is currently an extremely expensive and enormously complicated system.

5.52 pm
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)

I rise to oppose some of these regulations because they fail in the principal task enshrined for them in the new Social Security and Housing Benefits Act.

When combined housing benefit was proposed by organisations such as the Supplementary Benefits Commission, the argument was that it would lead to a major simplification of the system. Anyone who attended the Committee that dealt with the Act or who listened to the speeches on Second or Third Reading must have realised that the benefits would not simplify the system, and anyone who has listened to the Minister today trying to explain the regulations will not have been convinced that they have done so.

I challenge the Minister to say how he intends to incorporate the regulations in a simple DHSS guide to claimants next November so that they will be understood. I suspect that he will not be able to do so. How does he intend to inform claimants of their rights so that they can understand the system?

The Minister has two tasks. He must inform people on supplementary benefit what will happen to them this November and he must inform everyone else what will happen next April. The test of the regulations is whether that information can be set out simply and clearly in a leaflet that most people will be able to understand.

I understand that at present local authorities are sending on a week's training course some of the rent officers who will administer the scheme. I believe that the citizens advice bureaux are having difficulty explaining how the scheme will work. I suspect that when constituents approach hon. Members in November and December seeking advice on the new system, we shall also have difficulty. The first essential is to produce leaflets that will clarify and explain, and unless the Government do so they will have failed in their task.

How many people will be worse off in the transitional period? My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) asked what would happen in the week that people changed from receiving supplementary benefit and passing it on to the housing department to having the money transferred for them. More often than not, people receive their supplementary benefit on a weekly basis and have their paying-out day determined alphabetically. As a result, they think of their benefit as running from Tuesday to Tuesday or Thursday to Thursday.

Most housing departments also collect rent on different days. Many of them collect it on a fortnightly basis and even, in some instances, on a monthly basis. Quite often, a person pays rent one week in arrears and one week in advance each fortnight or two weeks in arrears and two weeks in advance every month. I seek an absolute guarantee that if someone is paid supplementary benefit on a Tuesday and pays rent on a Thursday there will be no possibility of his losing money during the transitional period. However, I suspect that considerable anomalies will arise, and the loss of half a week's rent, or even more, is a considerable sum for such people.

I also hope that the Minister will turn his attention to the question of rent-free weeks. That is a major problem. In an earlier debate, the Minister's predecessor said that, administratively, it was too difficult to deal with this question. These are only so-called rent-free weeks. Most local authorities charge rent not over 52 weeks but over 50 weeks, and, in some instances, over 48 weeks. That is a simple administrative device to avoid rent collection during the summer holiday period and at Christmas.

Supplementary benefit is always paid over 52 weeks. Therefore, in practice, most people on weekly supplementary benefit have been underpaid the amount needed for rent until they reach the so-called rent-free week when they receive the rent money from suspplementary benefit that makes up the underpayment. This November, many people will have accumulated one or one-and-a-half rent-free weeks. I hope that the Minister will give a clear undertaking that no tenant will lose any money. That is the least that the Government can do.

I have referred to the problems of people going on to rent direct. It is also appropriate to consider the problems of them coming off. Not only is it important for the Government and local authorities to notify people that they are now on rent direct, but it is equally important that they notify people as soon as they cease to be eligible. There are many instances where people lose their entitlement to supplementary benefit and do not pay their rent for two or three weeks because of a misunderstanding. As a result, they get into arrears. If someone loses his entitlement to housing benefits, it is important that he should be informed straight away so that he knows that he must start paying rent immediately. The administrative process of coming off rent direct must not take two or three weeks and cause someone to get into arrears.

Although I have repeatedly asked this next question, I have never received a satisfactory answer. At present, paying rent gives individuals some flexibility, and if a person on a low income is receiving supplementary benefit he often needs that flexibility. I do not approve of people getting into rent arrears, but when it comes to ensuring that children have sufficient to eat or are properly clothed after a disaster or problem has cropped up the ability to be late in paying rent gives a family a great deal of flexibility.

Under the new regulations the individual will not receive the rent money and therefore a considerable degree of flexibility will be lost. The Government must offer proposals to allow some flexibility when there is a sudden crisis—perhaps when a child damages or rips a pair of trousers or shoes or when, for one reason or another, food does not last for as long as was expected. Many such disasters can happen to households. At present, those on supplementary benefit have three areas of flexibility—gas money, electricity money and the rent. That flexibility helps families a great deal. By paying housing benefit direct, the Government will remove that flexibility. It will still be possible for people to borrow from the gas or electricity money, but they will have lost the ability to borrow from the rent. I hope the Government will examine the matter seriously.

The Minister was challenged in his speech about the right of a local authority or any other landlord to demand, where a tenant was more than 13 weeks in arrears, an automatic deduction from supplementary benefit to pay off the arrears. I hope that the Minister will assure us that that would happen only with the consent of the individual, and that that consent would be pressed for and asked for only if the deductions were reasonable. Many hon. Members have encountered cases where people have been told that they will be evicted, or that their gas or electricity will be disconnected unless they agree to these deductions. Normally, deductions from any one source are reasonable, but when people are asked to agree to deductions from supplementary benefit for rent, gas and electricity they often find that they do not have enough money to make ends meet. Therefore, I hope the Government will give assurances on that issue.

It was found that that there will be 2 million losers. The Government then built into the scheme that the maximum anyone could lose would be 75p. This will mainly apply from next April because it is those who are on housing benefit at the moment, as opposed to supplementary benefit, who will be affected. However, it is important that the Government knew that there would be 2 million losers and tried to limit the amount to 75p. Unfortunately, the regulations will come into effect at the same time as the local authorities will be forced to introduce a rent increase. Therefore, many people will lose the 75p and, in addition, will have to pay the rent increase. Of those who are to lose the 75p, it is guaranteed that they will be protected for the first 12 months. Will the Minister also guarantee that if there are changes in the circumstances of those individuals—if they move house but have to pay roughly the same rent, or if another name is added to the rent book but there is no change in the income of the household—they will still be protected as existing losers, or will they lose that status? That is extremely important.

In his opening remarks the Minister referred to the non-householders, the 16 and 17-year-olds. He said that they would not lose all that much. Indeed, he almost claimed that some would gain. He then admitted that he would introduce a special regulation for the transition, because of the effect on some individuals. Over two or three years the 16 and 17-year-olds will be losing significantly, or the Government would not have felt it necessary to introduce a transitional regulation.

The Minister then told us that it will apply to all 16 and 17-year-olds who receive the non-householder allowance before 1 April. I asked him about the Easter leavers. Next year, Easter Monday will be on 4 April. Those who finish the spring term on the Friday before Palm Sunday will presumably qualify because they will have had one week in March at the old rate of benefit, but those who finish on the Thursday before Good Friday—the last day of their term—will not qualify. I hope the Minister will examine this matter and make it clear that he will do as much as he can to ensure that Easter leavers next year qualify for the transitional provisions and are not excluded.

I turn now to those who live in caravans or houseboats. I understand from the regulations that those who are buying a caravan or houseboat on a mortgage are covered, as are those who are renting. I hope the Minister will confirm that those who are purchasing in other ways, such as hire purchase, will also be covered.

At the beginning to the debate we heard an intervention about hostel dwellers. I must record my worry that the supplementary benefit regulations and the housing benefit regulations, as applied to the homeless, are becoming increasingly discriminatory and are creating a new group of people. That development must be regretted.

In order to leave other hon. Members a reasonable amount of time, I turn finally to the appeals procedure. The appeal regulations are inadequate. The Opposition have repeatedly urged that appeals should go to the supplementary benefit appeals procedure rather than be left with the local authorities. The Minister repeatedly insists that there will be no clashes between the two sets of regulations. I give the example of a woman who applies for supplementary benefit but is refused because the supplementary benefit officer claims that she is cohabiting. The woman would go to the housing department and ask for housing benefit. The housing department would tell her that she could have the housing benefit if she were passported by supplementary benefit, but if she were not passported it could not take her income into account. For the purpose of the housing regulations she would be the tenant, but she would have no income.

It would say that it could not give her benefit. Such an individual can easily be caught between the two benefits. The social security officer says that the woman is cohabiting, but the housing department says that the woman's name is on the rent book, that she is the tenant and that it is she who is entitled to the housing benefit. The Government will discover a considerable number of cases where the appeal will be against the two sets of regulations and where it will be logical for there to be one appeal hearing rather than to say that a person must first appeal to the supplementary benefits appeal tribunal and that then the person may have to appeal to the housing benefit officer. If they disagree with each other there is no obvious way of resolving the dispute.

My hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr described the difficulties of getting councillors to carry out the appeal procedure. I agree that that will be a difficulty. He described a case where two councillors turn up for an appeal when there should be three. He described the pressure that can be applied to the person who is appealing to accept only two.

We should also consider the pressure that is applied to the councillors. If one councillor is present, the official, who is keen to deal with the proceedings in fairness to the people who are appealing, might say to another councillor who he happens to see in the council building "Would you mind sitting on the appeal?" The councillor might say "I do not know anything about it". The official could then reply "It does not matter that you do not know anything about it. The chairman of the appeal knows all about it so all you have to do is sit there and put in an appearance." Therefore, the chairman would deal with the appeal. Very often, he may have strong views about the rights and wrongs of claiming benefit. We all know that there are individuals who make comments about scroungers and so on. An individual could have such strong views and might try to impose on the appeal a decision that is both unfair and arbitrary when, if there were a proper appeal procedure which demanded three individuals, possibly with clearly different backgrounds, a much fairer appeal would take place.

These regulations do not simplify the system, which was the original intention. They are riddled with unfairness. The House would do well to vote against at least two of the regulations.

6.10 pm
Sir Brandon Rhys Williams (Kensington)

I welcome the regulations as perhaps the first step in a journey of 100 miles. The Supplementary Benefits Commission campaigned long, and, I think, convincingly for the notion of a new benefit to replace housing assistance provided within the supplementary benefit scheme with rent and rate rebates and allowances provided by local authorities. The commission recommended that a new housing benefit should be introduced. Now we have the unified housing benefit scheme. Moreover, the Social Security Advisory Committee says: We welcome it as a much improved system of help with housiing costs. I did not have the benefit of serving on the Standing Committee. I should like therefore to deal with some general aspects of the scheme. Following my sincere welcome for the scheme, I hope that the Minister will not object if I raise questions following doubts that make me wonder whether this is the final answer to the housing problem. I have been concerned for some time with what I would call the redistribution of income industry. This seems to be growing in numbers and complexity when the operations of the computer should be making it a smaller, more immediate and more comprehensible industry. These regulations show what happens when one starts out from Speenhamland and bases benefits on need rather than on the concept of citizenship or universality.

I have listed some items that one would hope to see when a new housing benefit is introduced. It should be simple to understand and easy to administer. The Minister remarked in his opening speech that the regulations are lengthy and difficult to understand. My hon. Friend also said that it is difficult for local authorities to deal with the paper work. There can be no controversy about that. It is the ne plus ultra of complexity and uncomprehensibility. I care intensely about the take-up of benefit. We admire people who are too proud to claim benefits to which they are entitled. We are sorry for people who are perhaps too ill educated or too handicapped to know where they should go to claim that to which they are entitled. It is wrong that the House should introduce a type of benefit where the take-up will inevitably be limited by the difficulty of substantiating claims. There are all the problems of embarrassment in disclosing matters to the local authority together with the complexities of form-filling and duplication. These were the principal reasons for the relative failure of the allowances introduced by the Housing Finance Act 1972, which projected such high ideas only for them to founder because of lack of take-up.

I have taken account of what hon. Members have said about appeals. Members of the public other than those on supplementary benefit who are entitled to claim under the regulations will feel embarrassment if they are obliged to disclose all their personal circumstances before local councillors.

I should like to see a housing benefit that gives direct assistance to the private rented sector, particularly at the lower end of the scale. This sector has been dwindling in an alarming manner, in my constituency as much as anywhere. I hope that it will not continue to dwindle. A housing subsidy for private rented sector rent cannot be obtained in the same manner as one can claim mortgage interest relief. Nor does one gain the benefit of the subsidies that flow naturally if one occupies council accommodation. Unless efforts are made to extend the take-up of the new allowances deliberately into the private rented sector, I am afraid that the effect will not be as great as one might have hoped in preventing further decline.

One essential is that the new scheme should not serve to perpetuate local differences in rent levels. This difference is stimulated to some extent, I believe, by the fact that people paying high rents who are entitled to a supplementary benefit are unable to get their rents paid in full without question in almost every case. It is only a matter of humanity, where people are stuck in accommodation with no means of paying their rent, other than by applying for supplementary benefit, that society must help. It is no doubt a by-product of the lack of fluidity of the housing market that a housing subsidy system has to be produced that is inevitably tailored to local variations. Should not the Minister consider a long programme of phasing out the differences that exist? Accommodation in one area can be identical in facilities to that in another but very different in the amount of rent paid.

One might have hoped that this benefit would settle for good the whole question of housing benefits and subsidies. It does not. I do not wish to attach blame to the Minister, whose exemplary opening remarks showed an unusual but highly commendable combination of absolute mastery of the subject and unfailing courtesy to the House. It is rare to find a Minister prepared to show that combination of qualities. I do not wish my hon. Friend to be hurt by my suggestions. I hope that he will think about them for the future.

Why cannot national insurance benefits be included with the scheme? There is concealed within the structure of national insurance benefits a housing allowance. A single person, under national insurance, is entitled to £29.60 while a couple is entitled, not to twice £29.60, but to £47.35. Obviously, for the second person, it is deemed not to be necessary to repeat the whole of the allowance that is paid for the first. The same total could be produced if it was decided that each person, whether single or a couple, was entitled to £17.75 but that there should be a common household element of £11.85 which was given, once for all, to the single householder or to the householder in a pensioner couple. If the national insurance system in future stated plainly that each person is entitled to the same benefit but that the householder is entitled to make a special claim, it would be seen that national insurance already includes a household benefit which at present is £11.85 a week.

Why cannot mortgage interest rebates be included? There are ways in which that reform could and should have been introduced. This is a necessary form of benefit but at present a most unfair one. People have taken out mortgages at different times for different amounts. Some people have no mortgage. The effect of the benefit is uneven. I would prefer that the tax lost through the mortgage interest rebate should be distributed by direct assistance to building societies or by permitting claimants to draw the new housing benefit instead of mortgage interest rebates.

Why was this not made a citizenship benefit instead of being tied to income and need? If necessary, the personal allowance in the tax system could have been poached upon to provide the necessary revenue neutrality. Most taxpayers are above the eligible level of the new benefit. The existing eligible claimants are not taxpayers. It would have been possible to have run together those two forms of allowances—the personal allowance and the new housing allowance—without signifcant overlapping. An opportunity has been lost but it will no doubt recur.

I ask myself, why not amalgamate the work of the Supplementary Benefits Commission completely with the housing and social work departments of local authorities? Is it really necessary for the DHSS to maintain 700 or 800 offices all over the country that to a great extent duplicate the work of the local authorities in the personal assessment of need and in offering care, support and assistance at local level?

Finally, why not use tax returns as the basis of calculation of entitlement? There is much duplication inherent in the regulations because they will require local authorities to do work that, to a great extent, will already have been done by the Inland Revenue, but because there is a gulf fixed between the DHSS and the Inland Revenue the work must be done twice. That is a mistake that we should not be making in the computer age.

That leads me to my last point, which is why not wind up the Department of Health and Social Security altogether by taking away the responsibilities for health and reconstituting it as a separate Ministry, taking the entire cash responsibilities of the Department and amalgamating them with the Inland Revenue, and taking the entire responsibilities for care and the work that is done by the local offices and amalgamating them with the responsibilities to be put upon local authorities? I realise that those are big questions for the Minister to answer in this debate and I fear that he may not do so. Nevertheless, he will hear the questions from me again and in the end I shall force him to reply.

6.21 pm
Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Edge Hill)

I join the hon. Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) in thanking the Minister for the courtesy that he extended to the House this afternoon. It might be said that, having heard the number of assurances that he gave, especially on matters such as the 16 or 17-year-old non-householders, he will now be known as the "Minister without commitment", because that was the expression that he used several times when asked for assurances during his speech.

Many of us are worried about the regulations because we see them as a sleight of hand. The Minister talked about them "coming from the same mould". He will not mind if I put a different interpretation upon that expression. It strikes me that they come from the same mould as the 5 per cent. reduction in unemployment benefit that the House agreed not long ago. One might say that the regulations are from the same mould, but that some are more mouldy than others. If hon. Members examine the 51 regulations in detail, they will come to the same conclusions as the hon. Member for Birmingham. Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) and others—that they are Byzantine in their complexity and bewildering to the average person.

Some arguments have already been covered this afternoon but I wish to talk about the complexity of the regulations and their impact on the poorest. I also wish to comment on how they will affect my constituency, which is in a deprived and under-privileged part of Britain.

Like many other hon. Members, I agree with the concept of a unified housing benefit, but this scheme does not satisfy the demands that those of us who believe in a unified housing benefit would put forward. We find the scheme cumbersome and confusing. One need only take one example from the regulations. Page 8 has all the simplicity of a Rubik cube. One would have to be a Philadelphia lawyer or a member of the Audit Commission to understand what paragraph 4 means. It states: No amount shall be applicable under this regulation where any member of the assessment unit is a person to whom section 8 or 9 (persons affected by, or returning to full-time employment following, trade disputes) applies.". (13) In regulation 20 (special cases)—

  1. (a) paragraphs (1) to (5) shall be omitted; and
  2. (b) in paragraph (6)—
(i)for sub-paragraph (c) there shall be substituted the following sub-paragraph: — (c) in consequence of the acquisition the aggregate of any amounts which would, but for this paragraph, be applicable under regulations 16, 17 and 19 (excluding any amount applicable under regulation 19(1)(a)in respect of water charges) exceed the amount of the eligible rent for the purposes of regulation 16 of the Housing Benefits Regulations immediately before the acquisition;", (ii) for the words "restricted to that applicable" there shall be substituted the words "restricted to the amount of the eligible rent". That is pure gobbledegook and to expect the average person to understand it is asking too much. It is especially ironic when one considers that, in the Government's words, the new scheme would be easier to understand and operate and be uniform throughout Great Britain. If that is easier to understand than the present regulations, heaven help us all.

Some years ago, when I was chairman of district D committee of Liverpool city council, we tried to achieve a unified housing benefit along the lines of that described by the hon. Member for Kensington to try to increase the take-up of benefits. We conducted a survey of council tenants and found that about one-third were illiterate and therefore incapable of filling in even simple forms. How the Minister or the House can expect the average member of the public, many of whom do not have a grasp of such detail, to understand and to take up the benefit, I do not know. The regulations are a recipe for confusion and bewilderment.

The average corporation tenant will have the same sneaking suspicion that I have—that the regulations have been couched in language that will have the effect of reducing the number of claimants and recipients. That is in line with the 5 per cent. cut in unemployment benefit and that argument is borne out by the effect of the regulations. It is worth mentioning, as the hon. Member for Perry Barr said, that 2 million households will lose up to 75p a week from their rent and rate rebates and allowances. That will include 850,000 pensioners. More than 1 million householders, many of them pensioners, will make a financial gain, but only at the expense of the 2 million losers who must pick up the tab. Robbing Peter to pay Paul, when both are in need of as much help as they can get, is no way to help those most in need.

Who are the 2 million who will have the money taken from them? They are about 10 per cent. of United Kingdom households, people who will be in work but who are at the lower end of the incomes scale. The regulations serve to reinforce poverty, with the poor paying for the even poorer.

Regulation 9 deals with the payment of housing benefit during absence from home. It is not clear to me whether recipients of supplementary benefit can receive payments of housing benefit during temporary absences from home. It could be that, having been encouraged by the Government and the Prime Minister to go off and seek their fortune elsewhere and to become a nation of Dick Whittingtons, they could lose their housing benefit.

I reiterate that the right of appeal against local authority decisions on housing benefit should be independent of council members. Like the Minister, I was a housing committee chairman of a local authority, in which more than 70,000 council tenants lived. Each Friday morning, I chaired the committee that dealt with evictions and appeals. Frequently, as the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) said, only one or two members of the committee would be present and someone who knew nothing about the cases would be dragged into the meeting. Those people were unduly influenced by the officers of the local authority. It causes some anxiety that a councillor, who has many pressures on him, is likely to be unduly influenced and will not be as independent as the existing DHSS mechanism. That is why I wish the matter to be dealt with by the DHSS, as it is at present, or perhaps by the rent tribunal. It must be dealt with by a body that is independent of the local authority, because the system has the same pitfalls as the police complaints procedure, where the police investigate themselves. It identifies the watchdog with the burglar much too closely and council tenants will have no confidence in it.

As the regulations stand, there cannot be direct payment to private landlords until after 13 weeks of arrears have amassed. This could mean that if that agreement to pay rent direct to a private landlord does not come until the end of the twelfth week, it could be 26 weeks before the private landlord is paid. There are cases similar to the one to which I referred earlier, in which a constituent of mine had to go to the Parliamentary Commissioner on this matter. She was facing eviction because the DHSS had failed to pay the rent that it had agreed to pay direct to the landlord.

It is wrong that someone should be dragged through the legal process. As the Minister said, it may be that at the end of the day the court decides in favour of the tenant, but it should be unnecessary for that to happen. That is why he should look again at the question of the 13-week rule. Similarly it cannot be right that councils sometimes have to wait weeks for the DHSS to pay them the money that they are owed by their tenants. That is another matter that the Minister must clarify further.

This has been an inadequate debate when we consider the implications of these regulations, and this has been a bad two weeks for the worst-off in Britain. Attacks on their standard of living have come fast and furious. First there was the 5 per cent. cut in unemployment benefit, and now there are 51 regulations which make 2 million of our poorest citizens even poorer. About 220,000 householders will lose their rebate entirely. The Minister must deal with this point, which I raised earlier.

Shelter says in its report that it should not be overlooked that 220,000 households lose their rebates entirely. Those people will be worse off. Equally, unless a commitment is given to uprate the rebate needs allowance in line with inflation, many others will lose too. These regulations are part of a package of cuts that represent a mean and miserable attack on the least well-off and least able to pay in our society.

I am conscious that the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best) is anxious to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that when he does so he will be able to tell us how some of the gobbledegook that I read out earlier can be translated into Welsh—as I understand that he is studying that language—or into Urdu, Hindu, Gujarati, or one of the other languages used by the DHSS.

Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones (Watford)

Or English.

Mr. Alton

I wish to draw the attention of the House to how these regulations will affect a place such as Liverpool, where one-fifth of the citizens are out of work. Two weeks ago, they suffered the cruel blow of the 5 per cent. cut in unemployment benefit. Today we are reducing the help given to about 25,000 council tenants in Liverpool who are employed, but the lowest paid. The regulations will, on average, cost them a further 75p a week.

As a direct result of these regulations, the Liverpool rebate section will have to be expanded to deal with the 58,000 extra people transferred from the DHSS. That will cost ratepayers more money and the regulations will add to the £10 a week that has been added to council rents since the Government were elected. That £10 a week is a staggering 117 per cent. increase over the past three years. No wonder that council tenants believe that the Government are their enemy.

This second cruel blow will no doubt be supported by Conservative Members, five of whom could have made all the difference if they had defied the Government a fortnight ago. I hope that they will not sleep easy in their beds tonight and will examine their consciences carefully as they vote yet again to inflict misery and suffering on those least able to cope.

6.35 pm
Mr. Keith Best (Anglesey)

I can follow the hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) in his concern for the non-direct payment until arrears build up for 13 weeks because I have had similar experiences, and a similar case in my constituency to that which he set out. However, I do not follow him in his somewhat vitriolic attack on the regulations. He will understand if shortage of time prevents me from translating them into Welsh, Urdu or any of the other languages that he mentioned. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) said, one ought to try to translate these regulations into English first of all.

There is always a danger with regulations that they become a claimant's bane and a lawyer's paradise. I hope that that will not happen with these regulations. They represent a bold attempt by the Government to try to simplify housing benefits. Whether that comes to fruition will be judged only with the benefit of hindsight. It is premature for hon. Members to criticise them out of hand until we have seen how they will work.

I hope that all hon. Members will learn about the complexities of these benefits and be able to interpret them with the same intimacy that my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security demonstrated. His constituents are fortunate in being able to come to him and know that they will receive a definitive answer on the regulations.

I wish to concentrate on three parts of the regulations where, on the face of it, there appears to be unfairness, but where, on closer scrutiny, this may not be the case. These aspects will need to be monitored carefully, but we hope that they will not act unfairly against claimants. The first of these questions is that of the non-householders' contribution. I refer to the 16 to 17-year-olds who are in receipt of supplementary benefit. Those who are non-householders will no longer receive a housing cost addition of £2.55p. The reason advanced by my hon. Friend the Minister was that deductions will no longer be made from supplementary claimants who are householders for non-dependants who are 16 or 17. That is fine as long as the householder is in receipt of supplementary benefit, but where the householder is not in receipt of supplementary benefit there will clearly be an overall reduction in household income. There is no money available for the 16 or 17-year-old to pay to the person not in receipt of supplementary benefit, but who is the householder. Therefore, that householder will not receive anything for the cost of providing housing for that 16 or 17-year-old claimant.

It might be said that this is discrimination against the 16 or 17-year-old because housing will be more difficult to find. It might further be advanced that it will drive these people out of the household because the householder will say "I will no longer provide a roof over your head because you cannot provide any payment for the accommodation that I provide for you." That is a potential, but not a likely, scenario.

One must bear in mind that 16 or 17-year-olds about whom we are talking are members of the household. This does not apply to the ordinary lodger because the person has to be a member of the household for the regulations to apply. Clearly there is a familial if not a higher moral responsibility on the householder, in the circumstances when the 16 or 17-year-old claimant is a son or daughter, to provide accommodation.

Mr. Rooker

The hon. Gentleman is making a valid point which follows on from mine. However, let us consider the position of a houshold with two brothers, one of whom is working and one of whom is not. The householder is working on low wages—he is not on supplementary benefit—and one brother is contributing to the family budget. Unspoken bitterness may emerge in such a family. That may be wrong, but the potential is there because of the regulations.

Mr. Best

I do not accept that it will create bitterness. Any family with one relative unemployed in those circumstances will not hold it against him. They will be even more determined to try to help him.

My second point concerns regulation 10, hostel dwellers and the 14-day rule. This is not for those in receipt of the supplementary benefit—it applies only to those who are not in receipt of supplementary benefit, who then have to be in one place for a period of continuous residence of 14 days before making a claim. The local authority has 14 days after that in which to decide on the case. That will lead to a minimum of 14 days and a maximum of 28 days before any claim can be processed. It may lead to unfairness. Although the claim can be backdated, it will be unfair if the money is not forthcoming for a maximum of 28 days.

Again, the House should consider the reality. What money are we talking about? It is easy to come out with glib phrases and say that people will be deprived and that there will be hardship because they will not receive the money for about 28 days. We should remember that we are talking only about the housing costs element in hostel accommodation, not the board element, which in most cases is the major part. We are talking about £30 at the most, or a figure of that nature.

Third, I want to say a word about regulation 48 and the appeals procedure. I do not have time to develop my thoughts on this matter, but I hope that my hon. Friend in winding up will deal with it, because a number of hon. Members have mentioned it and its potential unfairness. I accept, as my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security said, that it would be difficult to do it any other way. Councillors can be independent—they can be lions under the throne of their chief executive—and not entirely subservient to him. However, what about precedent? The advantage in supplementary benefit appeals is that one can refer to existing cases in forming a precedent. How will that operate? Will it go from one local authority to another, or will it be restricted to one? We are worried about that, because we do not want this aspect of housing benefit to become subject to extensive judicial review in the courts, and thus be even more complicated.

6.41 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. Tony Newton)

I hope that the House will understand if I rattle through as many points as I can in the time that is available to me between now and 7.2 pm, when the debate is compulsorily ended by the business motion.

First, let me make a general observation. I hope that hon. Members will understand if I do no take as seriously as they might like some of the comments that have been made about the complexity of these amending regulations. First, they are amending regulations, and anyone who has been in this House more than five minutes knows that they are even worse than regulations starting ab initio. Secondly, there is no set of regulations in the whole of social security which would be widely understood by most of the claimants seeking benefit. For instance, if people could claim their retirement pension only if they understood the national insurance regulations, as amended, we should not have to pay as many pensions as we do. Too much emphasis has been put on the complexity of these regulations.

I come to the speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker). He talked about the complexity, and what I just said in that respect applies to him as well as to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton). He asked whether NALGO had been consulted. The answer is "No". We have consulted local authorities, and we have properly taken the view that it is up to them—not central Government—to consult NALGO about a scheme that local government is to operate.

Secondly—in a broader and more important sense—there has been much talk about losers. Clearly, in the time that is available, I cannot go over all the ground that was covered extensively in Committee, and, to a degreee, in my hon. Friend's opening speech. However, we have made it clear on a number of occasions that, for reasons that the whole House understands, even if no one likes it, this change is a package which has had to be conducted on a nil cost basis. That meant, inescapably, that there would be some losers and some gainers. To a degree, of course, it is in the interests of those speaking from this Dispatch Box to emphasise the gainers, and of the Opposition to emphasise the losers. We have seen a good deal of that game today.

Mr. Rooker

It is not a game.

Mr. Newton

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman understands the sense in which I use the word. I do not suggest for a moment that it is not a serious argument. All I am saying is that a balanced approach has perhaps not been taken in many of the speeches. It is important to keep the losers in perspective.

There are just under 2 million losers, as hon. Members have said. Against that it should be recognised that no one with income below the needs allowance will lose because of changes in the tapers. I hope that we all agree about that. The distribution of the losers shows that 40 per cent. of them are losing less than 25p a week, 25 per cent. are losing between 25p and 50p a week, and the remainder are losing up to 75p a week. I do not say that those amounts are trivial to the people involved, but we are not talking about large sums. Nearly half the losers in that category are losing less than 25p a week. Of course, the main losers are in categories with higher incomes than those that we are discussing. The average loss is 39p a week.

It is important to remember that the gainers largely include some of the very worst off, and that their gains are significantly more substantial. Indeed, the average gain is approaching £1. The gainers include more than 1 million pensioners, whose position will be improved by the system, and about 80,000 other people who are on supplementary benefit. It is important to remember that, of course, there are losers and gainers, but that the gainers are among the poorest sections of the population and those whom all hon. Members want to help.

The hon. Member for Perry Barr mentioned the housing addition for 16 and 17-year-olds. That point was taken up by both Labour and Conservative Members. I must be honest and say that there are possibilities—indeed certainties—of both gains and losses here. The view that one takes depends on the emphasis that one puts on various possibilities. My hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best) spoke of one possibility. Let me pose another. Let us consider the household where the parents receive supplementary benefit and the young person is in work but, for some reason, does not contribute to the rent. There is the possibility of bitterness there if the young person does not contribute and the parents do not choose to have a row about it. The parents will be worse off because an assumed contribution will be taken from their benefit. That problem will disappear under the new proposals. The addition will not be made, and the problem will not arise. Of course, not all the cases will be like that—but nor will they all be like the ones postulated by my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey. It would be a fine judge of human character and the practical realities of day-to-day life who could be absolutely certain how the balance would fall between the various cases.

That is all that I shall say in this connection, except to reply to the hon. Member for Perry Barr who asked whether we were ploughing back all the savings from various bits of that non-dependant addition package into other parts of the package. The answer is a firm "Yes". I am advised that we are ploughing back any savings from that package into the package.

Mr. Rooker

Is the Minister confirming the figures that I used—a gross saving of nearly £20 million and a cost of just over £3 million? So there was a £16 million saving. Were the figures that I gave correct, because of the percentage increase in the addition for the allowance for non-dependants?

Mr. Newton

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I shall write to him before the end of the week and give him a commentary of the figures that he used, rather than attempting to debate the matter now. What I can say now is that savings within this package have been reapplied within the package. Although we have been forced to do it on a nil cost basis, I may say—in the hope that no Treasury Minister is listening—that no one is keener than the Minister of State and I to make sure that any savings that we could identify, and which were available for being ploughed back, were ploughed back. Some of the matters described by my hon. Friend today, including the accelerated increase in the needs allowance for pensioners, reflect the efforts that he has made.

With regard to the point raised by the hon. Gentleman about the Disability Alliance, I am advised that we have not seen the letter that he evidently has. Certainly I have not, and I am advised that officials have not either. Rather than comment on the complex point that he raised, I should like to follow it up after the debate, both with him and with the Alliance as soon as possible.

The hon. Gentleman raised the point about certificated cases and whether the claimant should or could have a copy of the certificate. I realise the force of that sensible point. The certificate is the means by which the local authority is authorised to pay the benefit. It is a legal document. It may be complicated in some respects and I am not sure that the claimant would benefit all that much from having a copy of it. However, he will receive a notification from the Department of Health and Social Security's local office explaining the way in which help will be given. As a "passport" piece of paper, I would hope that that meets the need identified by the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Gentleman raised several points about eligible rent and whether or not people would be discriminated against by local authorities deeming that their accommodation was larger than they required. My hon. Friend the Minister did not comment on that earlier in an effort not to make his speech more extensive than it was forced in the circumstances to be. If the hon. Gentleman looks at regulation 17 he will see that we have taken particular trouble to allay fears that people will be harshly treated in this respect.

Authorities can operate the provision where a person's dwelling is larger than that which he and other people in the accommodation reasonably need, or where the costs of the dwelling are unreasonably high—that is, where either the claimant is living in a needlessly expensive location or, in rent allowance cases, where too much is being charged for the dwelling. We can all agree that some such power is needed in order to prevent obvious possibilities of abuse.

I understand the concern expressed by hon. Members that that power should not be used by authorities as a weapon to force people into smaller and perhaps unsuitable accommodation. If hon. Members look carefully at regulation 17(2), they will see that authorities shall not make a deduction if there is no suitable alternative accommodation available, or if the circumstances of the claimant make it unreasonable to expect him to move. The regulation cites examples of those circumstances. In particular, a deduction should not be made if the age and health of the claimant or his family would make the upheaval of the move an unreasonable burden.

I accept, as so often in such matters, that one cannot be 100 per cent. certain that no problems will arise. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that if we become convinced that this regulation is being operated in an oppressive way, we shall look again at the terms of the regulation to ensure that that is prevented.

The hon. Gentleman raised the question of regulation 22 and the use of discretion. Authorities already have discretion in relation to the rents scheme. That is not new. I think that I am right in saying that this proposal extends the discretion in relation to rates as distinct from rents. However, the regulations limit the amount of extra benefit that can be pail by way of local schemes using that discretion. In the permitted totals regulations it is provided that authorities can spend up to an extra 10 per cent. in that way. I hope that will reassure the hon. Gentleman that that is a reasonable degree of discretion in line with what happens already but one that is not wholly untrammelled and that could readily lead to abuse. I am reminded that that discretion is entirely in the direction of improving, not detracting from, that which the Government have laid down.

If the hon. Gentleman objects to any discretion at all which leads to variations between the local schemes, it would probably lie between us as a matter of political judgment whether the Government should attempt to lay down every last dot and comma for local authorities, or whether they should leave a degree of discretion to councils and councillors to decide what they would like to do in local circumstances. [Interruption.] There are alway differences in the House as to where those lines should be drawn. However, after some of the things that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have said about some of my hon. Friends over the past year or two, I would have thought that they might have welcomed some local authority discretion in this area.

The hon. Gentleman raised a point about the minimum payment of supplementary benefit. As I understand it, it is right that a person with less than lop entitlement of supplementary benefit will not get a certificate. However, such persons will be entitled to housing benefit supplement, provided that they meet the necessary conditions, to ensure that they do not lose. Housing benefit supplement is supplementary benefit and carves with it all the same rights to other benefits as go with supplementary benefit. Therefore, subject again to looking in more detail at the point that he has raised, I am reasonably confident that the fears expressed in the letter are somewhat exaggerated.

I shall return to the subject of appeals if I have time, but may I now pass to some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Stockport North (Mr. Bennett)? Both in an intervention in the Minister's speech and in his own speech he raised the question of next year's Easter school leavers. No Easter school leaver next year will get the protection of the housing addition. All people who leave school in the Easter term will be excluded from supplementary benefit until the Monday after Easter Monday, regardless of when they leave. I must also say, quite openly, that our intention is to protect those who will be receiving a housing addition at the time when the changeover takes place. I am not sure that I would even feel it justified to extend that protection, given that it would limit what we could then spend the same money on.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Will the Minister confirm that he is cutting the benefit of next Easter's school leavers by about £2?

Mr. Newton

I do not understand the use of the word "cutting" in that respect. Those school leavers will not have received benefit by that time and, by definition, will not have received a housing addition. If the hon. Gentleman is asking me whether they will receive less benefit than the same school leavers this year, the answer is "Yes." However, that is not at all the same as cutting the benefit currently enjoyed by somebody who has already left school and who is receiving a housing addition. [Interruption.] It is not casuistical. It is logical, sensible and in line with what my hon. Friend said in his opening speech about the reasons for this arrangement.

The hon. Gentleman raised several points regarding explaining the new scheme to claimants. Claimants will receive a notification explaining the way in which help will be given with their rent. Obviously, we shall do our level best to make it as simple and understandable as we can. Those with experience of Department of Health and Social Security leaflets—and other people's leaflets as well—will know that that is often a difficult task, even with schemes with which everybody is familiar. I do not promise that we shall get it all right first time, but we shall try hard to make it as simple and as understandable as we can.

The hon. Gentleman raised several points that I shall have to deal with rapidly, including the question whether the payment of rent direct required the consent of the claimant concerned before it could be put into operation. It does not require the consent of the claimant in circumstances where the benefit officer regards it as being in the claimant's interests. I emphasise that we are here talking about not normal weekly rent payments but the problem of clearing arrears. In general, it is in the claimants' and the authorities' interest and that of everybody else that arrears should not continue to build up and remain unpaid. We envisage that the powers would be used in such circumstances.

There is little time left, but I wish to say at least something about appeals. Almost every hon. Member who has spoken has expressed concern about the idea of an appeals panel that consists of councillors. I cannot go much beyond what my hon. Friend the Minister has said, but as an elected representative I was slightly depressed by the general implication that elected members of district and borough councils could not be trusted to do a responsible job. As the leading elected body in the country, it is extraordinary that the House should reflect so much distrust on those who are elected to other important bodies. In my experience, if elected members of district councils are asked to do such a job—just as they are asked to undertake other comparable tasks, including that of education appeals—they will do so conscientiously and to the best of their ability. I see no reason to doubt that.

As in any appeal machinery, defects may arise that we did not expect. That is why my hon. Friend and I say that we shall monitor it carefully. However, some of the points of conflict that the hon. Member for Stockport, North identified are possible conflicts not between different appeal machineries, but between different sets of regulations and different points in the regulations. Such conflicts can arise and sometimes do arise in regulations covering all areas, regardless of the appeal machinery. In that case, we should sort out the problem by introducing new regulations and not expect the appeal machinery to arbitrate, perhaps, between conflicting provisions.

The regulations are complicated. There may well be teething problems, but the basic aim of the scheme—which was welcomed at the outset—is good, and I hope that the House will accept the regulations.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 297, Noes 235.

Division No. 289] [7 pm
Adley, Robert Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Aitken, Jonathan Fletcher, A. (Ed'nb'gh N)
Alexander, Richard Fletcher-Cooke, Sir Charles
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Fookes, Miss Janet
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Forman, Nigel
Ancram, Michael Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Arnold, Tom Fraser, Rt Hon Sir Hugh
Aspinwall, Jack Fraser, Peter (South Angus)
Atkins, Robert(Preston N) Fry, Peter
Atkinson, David (B'm'th, E) Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)
Baker, Kenneth (St. M'bone) Garel-Jones, Tristan
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Banks, Robert Glyn, Dr Alan
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Goodhart, Sir Philip
Bendall, Vivian Goodhew, Sir Victor
Bennett, Sir Frederic (T'bay) Goodlad, Alastair
Benyon, Thomas (A'don) Gorst, John
Benyon, W. (Buckingham) Gow, Ian
Best, Keith Gower, Sir Raymond
Bevan, David Gilroy Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Gray, Hamish
Blackburn, John Greenway, Harry
Blaker, Peter Griffiths, E. (B'y St. Edm'ds)
Body, Richard Griffiths, Peter Portsm'th N)
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Grist, Ian
Boscawen, Hon Robert Grylls, Michael
Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W) Gummer, John Selwyn
Bowden, Andrew Hamilton, Hon A.
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
Braine, Sir Bernard Hampson, Dr Keith
Brinton, Tim Hannam, John
Brooke, Hon Peter Haselhurst, Alan
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'n) Hastings, Stephen
Browne, John (Winchester) Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
Bruce-Gardyne, John Hawkins, Sir Paul
Bryan, Sir Paul Hawksley, Warren
Buchanan-Smith, Rt. Hon. A. Hayhoe, Barney
Buck, Antony Heath, Rt Hon Edward
Budgen, Nick Heddle, John
Bulmer, Esmond Henderson, Barry
Butcher, John Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Cadbury, Jocelyn Hicks, Robert
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Chalker, Mrs. Lynda Hill, James
Chapman, Sydney Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Churchill, W. S. Holland, Philip (Carlton)
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n) Hooson, Tom
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Hordern, Peter
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Clegg, Sir Walter Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldf'd)
Cockeram, Eric Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)
Colvin, Michael Hunt, David (Wirral)
Cope, John Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Cormack, Patrick Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Corrie, John Irvine, Bryant Godman
Costain, Sir Albert Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)
Cranborne, Viscount Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
Crouch, David Jessel, Toby
Dickens, Geoffrey Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Dorrell, Stephen Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Dover, Denshore Kaberry, Sir Donald
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Kershaw, Sir Anthony
Durant, Tony Kimball, Sir Marcus
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John King, Rt Hon Tom
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke) Kitson, Sir Timothy
Eggar, Tim Knight, Mrs Jill
Elliott, Sir William Knox, David
Emery, Sir Peter Lamont, Norman
Eyre, Reginald Lang, Ian
Fairbairn, Nicholas Langford-Holt, Sir John
Fairgrieve, Sir Russell Latham, Michael
Faith, Mrs Sheila Lawrence, Ivan
Farr, John Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Fell, Sir Anthony Lee, John
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Lester, Jim (Beeston) Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW)
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Lloyd, Ian (Havant & W'loo) Rossi, Hugh
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Rost, Peter
Loveridge, John Royle, Sir Anthony
Luce, Richard Rumbold, Mrs A. C. R.
Lyell, Nicholas Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
McCrindle, Robert St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
Macfarlane, Neil Scott, Nicholas
Macmillan, Rt Hon M. Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st) Shelton, William (Streatham)
McQuarrie, Albert Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Madel, David Shepherd, Richard
Major, John Shersby, Michael
Marland, Paul Silvester, Fred
Marlow, Antony Sims, Roger
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Skeet, T. H. H.
Marten, Rt Hon Neil Smith, Dudley
Mates, Michael Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Maude, Rt Hon Sir Angus Speed, Keith
Mawby, Ray Speller, Tony
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Spence, John
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Mayhew, Patrick Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Mellor, David Sproat, Iain
Meyer, Sir Anthony Squire, Robin
Miller, Hal (B'grove) Stainton, Keith
Mills, Iain (Meriden) Stanbrook, Ivor
Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon) Stanley, John
Miscampbell, Norman Steen, Anthony
Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Stevens, Martin
Moate, Roger Stewart, A.(E Renfrewshire)
Montgomery, Fergus Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Moore, John Stokes, John
Morgan, Geraint Stradling Thomas, J.
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes) Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester) Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Mudd, David Temple-Morris, Peter
Murphy, Christopher Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
Myles, David Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Neale, Gerrard Thompson, Donald
Needham, Richard Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Nelson, Anthony Thornton, Malcolm
Neubert, Michael Townend, John (Bridlington)
Newton, Tony Townsend, Cyril D, (B'heath)
Normanton, Tom Trippier, David
Nott, Rt Hon John Trotter, Neville
Onslow, Cranley van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S. Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Osborn, John Viggers, Peter
Page, John (Harrow, West) Waddington, David
Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil Wakeham, John
Parris, Matthew Waldegrave, Hon William
Pattie, Geoffrey Walker, B. (Perth)
Pawsey, James Wall, Sir Patrick
Percival, Sir Ian Waller, Gary
Peyton, Rt Hon John Ward, John
Pink, R. Bonner Watson, John
Porter, Barry Wells, Bowen
Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Wells, John (Maidstone)
Price, Sir David (Eastleigh) Wheeler, John
Prior, Rt Hon James Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Proctor, K. Harvey Wickenden, Keith
Pym, Rt Hon Francis Wiggin, Jerry
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Wilkinson, John
Rathbone, Tim Williams, D.(Montgomery)
Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal) Wolfson, Mark
Renton, Tim Younger, Rt Hon George
Rhodes James, Robert
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Tellers for the Ayes:
Ridley, Hon Nicholas Mr. Anthony Berry and
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Mr. Carol Mather.
Rifkind, Malcolm
Abse, Leo Alton, David
Adams, Allen Anderson, Donald
Allaun, Frank Archer, Rt Hon Peter
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack George, Bruce
Ashton, Joe Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Atkinson, N. (H'gey,) Gourlay, Harry
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Graham, Ted
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Grimond, Rt Hon J.
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (H'wd) Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Beith, A. J. Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Hardy, Peter
Bennett, Andrew (St'kp't N) Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Bidwell, Sydney Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Bottomley, Rt Hon A. (M'b'ro) Haynes, Frank
Bradley, Tom Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Bray, Dr Jeremy Heffer, Eric S.
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Hogg, N. (E Dunb't'nshire)
Brown, R. C. (N'castle W) Holland, S. (L'b'th, Vauxh'll)
Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'y S) Home Robertson, John
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) Homewood, William
Buchan, Norman Hooley, Frank
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. Horam, John
Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n & P) Howell, Rt Hon D.
Campbell, Ian Howells, Geraint
Campbell-Savours, Dale Hoyle, Douglas
Cant, R. B. Huckfield, Les
Carmichael, Neil Hughes, Mark (Durham)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Hughes, Roy (Newport)
Clarke, Thomas C'b'dge, Jay, Rt Hon Douglas
A'drie John, Brynmor
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S) Johnson, James (Hull West)
Cohen, Stanley Johnson, Walter (Derby S)
Coleman, Donald Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rh'dda)
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Jones, Barry (East Flint)
Conlan, Bernard Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Cook, Robin F. Kerr, Russell
Cowans, Harry Kinnock, Neil
Craigen, J. M. (G'gow, M'hill) Lamond, James
Crawshaw, Richard Leadbitter, Ted
Crowther, Stan Leighton, Ronald
Cryer, Bob Lestor, Miss Joan
Cunliffe, Lawrence Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Cunningham, Dr J. (W'h'n) Litherland, Robert
Dalyell, Tam Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Davidson, Arthur Lyon, Alexander (York)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli) McCartney, Hugh
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Davis, Terry (B'ham, Stechf'd) McElhone, Frank
Deakins, Eric McKelvey, William
Dean, Joseph (Leads West) MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Dewar, Donald Maclennan, Robert
Dixon, Donald McNally, Thomas
Dobson, Frank McWilliam, John
Dormand, Jack Marks, Kenneth
Douglas, Dick Marshall, D (G'gow S'ton)
Dubs, Alfred Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)
Duffy, A. E. P. Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Dunn, James A. Martin, M (G'gow S'burn)
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Eadie, Alex Maynard, Miss Joan
Eastham, Ken Meacher, Michael
Edwards, R. (W'hampt'n S E) Mellish, Rt Hon Robert
Ellis, R. (NE D'bysh're) Mikardo, Ian
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
English, Michael Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Ennals, Rt Hon David Mitchell, R. C. (Soton Itchen)
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Evans, John (Newton) Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw)
Ewing, Harry Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Faulds, Andrew Moyle, Rt Hon Roland
Field, Frank Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick
Flannery, Martin Newens, Stanley
Foot, Rt Hon Michael O'Halloran, Michael
Ford, Ben O'Neill, Martin
Forrester, John Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Foster, Derek Palmer, Arthur
Foulkes, George Park, George
Fraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'w'd) Parker, John
Freud, Clement Pavitt, Laurie
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Pendry, Tom
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Pitt, William Henry
Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Stott, Roger
Prescott, John Strang, Gavin
Price, C. (Lewisham W) Straw, Jack
Race, Reg Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Radice, Giles Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Rees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S) Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Richardson, Jo Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Tilley, John
Roberts, Allan (Bootle) Tinn, James
Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N) Torney, Tom
Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock) Urwin, Rt Hon Tom
Robinson, G. (Coventry NW) Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Robinson, P. (Belfast E) Wainwright, E. (Dearne V)
Rooker, J. W. Wainwright, R. (Colne V)
Roper, John Walker, Rt Hon H. (D'caster)
Ross, Ernest (Dundee West) Weetch, Ken
Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Wellbeloved, James
Rowlands, Ted Welsh, Michael
Ryman, John White, Frank R.
Sandelson, Neville White, J. (G'gow Pollok)
Sever, John Whitehead, Phillip
Sheerman, Barry Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Sheldon, Rt Hon R. Williams, Rt Hon A.(S'sea W)
Shore, Rt Hon Peter Williams, Rt Hon Mrs (Crosby)
Short, Mrs Renée Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Silkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford) Wilson, Rt Hon Sir H. (H'ton)
Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich) Wilson, William (C'try SE)
Silverman, Julius Winnick, David
Skinner, Dennis Woodall, Alec
Snape, Peter Woolmer, Kenneth
Soley, Clive Wrigglesworth, Ian
Spearing, Nigel Wright, Sheila
Spriggs, Leslie Young, David (Bolton E)
Stallard, A. W.
Steel, Rt Hon David Tellers for the Noes:
Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles) Mr. George Morton and
Stoddart, David Mr. Allen McKay.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Housing Benefits Regulations 1982, which were laid before this House on 8th July, be approved.

It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to the Order this day, to put forthwith the Questions necessary to dispose of the motions relating to housing and social security.

Forward to