HC Deb 15 March 1983 vol 39 cc118-9
7. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Secretary of Slate for Social Services how the levels of unclaimed social security benefits are calculated; and if he will estimate the current total of unclaimed benefit.

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

The method varies. The FIS calculation is described in "The Take-Up of Family Income Supplement: Note on the Estimate derived from the Family Finances Survey", copies of which are in the Library. I will place in the Library shortly a note describing the calculation for other social security benefits for which there is a significant take-up problem. I cannot add further to the information that I gave to the hon. Lady last month about amounts of unclaimed benefit Mrs. Short: I am obliged to the Minister for that reply. In the reply that he gave me on 4 February he said that the amount of unclaimed supplementary benefit, which was known only up to 1979, was £355 million and that there was another £55 million for other unclaimed benefits. Is it not high time that he and the Department explained to those claimants who are clearly living in poverty, because they are not getting what they are entitled to, how and where to claim, and made sure that the money that has been voted by the House is used for that purpose?

Mr. Newton

We are trying in a number of ways to improve the take-up. The hon. Lady will know that we have completed a large television advertising campaign on FIS. As a result of our efforts last year, one-parent benefit take-up has risen substantially. Attendance allowance claims were up by 16 per cent. last year and mobility allowance claims were up by 22 per cent. We are doing well on important matters.

Mr. Rooker

Given that benefit rates have increased by approximately 40 per cent.since 1979 and that there has been a vast increase in the numbers requiring means-tested supplementary benefit, is it not a reasonable assumption that, in terms of supplementary benefit, there must now be well over £500 million a year—approximately £10 million a week—unclaimed by people who deserve it and which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) pointed out, the House has deemed they should receive?

Mr. Newton

I should not care to confirm the hon. Gentleman's figure, but it is likely that the figure is higher than the £355 million in 1979.

There is one matter that I did not mention when answering the supplementary question asked by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short). We have just issued guidance to local authorities about a system that we hope will identify virtually all pensioners claiming housing benefit who might also be eligible for supplementary benefit. I hope that that, too, will improve take-up.

Mr. Viggers

If large amounts of benefit are unclaimed—and no doubt they are—is that not a strong argument for simplifying benefits wherever possible?

Mr. Newton

Yes, but a balance must be drawn between simplifying benefits and making them fair to individual claimants. That is a matter with which all Governments have to wrestle.