HC Deb 29 March 1983 vol 40 cc282-302 10.13 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. Tony Newton)

I beg to move, That the draft Supplementary Benefit (Housing Benefits) (Requirements and Resources) Consequential Amendment Regulations 1983, which were laid before this House on 17th March, be approved. Hon. Members may be relieved to know that this is the last batch of supplementary benefit amendments consequential on the introduction of housing benefit—[Interruption]—well, the last batch of positive amendments; at least, I hope it is. It has undoubtedly been a major task to remove housing requirements from the complex web of supplementary benefit regulations and then to make the necessary adjustments to take account of the housing benefit changes. This final set comprises the usual mixture of technical adjustments and more significant provisions. I intend to confine my speech initially to the latter but, of course, if any hon. Member wishes to raise questions about the more technical provisions or on other points arising from the regulations, I shall do my best to answer them later in the debate.

The first amendment of significance is regulation 2(5) 1(b) in which we have provided for an addition to housing benefit supplement. This arises out of a point which I believe was first picked up by the Disability Alliance. As hon. Members know, the housing benefit supplement protects those who would otherwise be brought below supplementary benefit level after paying that part of their rent and rates not rebated by the local authority. Under housing benefit, supplementary benefit recipients who must pay an inescapable charge for amenities such as heating, have the amount of their charge above a standard amount included in their rebate. The effect is that no supplementary benefit claimant in this position is obliged to find any more than, for example in the case of heating, £5.60 a week from his own resources.

This amendment puts the housing benefit supplement recipient in exactly the same position. Without the amendment contained in the regulations, the income of the person in question could be reduced below supplementary benefit levels. We are keen to avoid that. We do not think that many people could be affected adversely, but there may be about 5,000 of them and they could lose considerable sums of up to £5 or more a week. This regulation is intended to prevent that from happening. Local authorities have been warned already about the proposed changes and asked to be ready to correct the deficiency if and when the regulation is approved.

Next, we have made a number of changes to the provisions for non-dependant deductions—the deductions to be made in the householder's assessment because of the presence of other adults in his household. In regulation 2(6)(b) we have provided for no non-dependant deduction to be made from supplementary benefit housing requirements where the claimant is already having a deduction made in the calculation of his housing benefit. That applies particularly to those who are buying a share in the equity of their home and paying rent on the balance. Their housing costs will be met by a combination of housing benefit and supplementary benefit. It would clearly be wrong in such a case to make two non-dependant deductions. In regulation 2(6)(b) we have provided for no non-dependant deduction to be made where the non-dependant is a full-time student, supported wholly or partly by the claimant or his partner.

Regulation 2(6) (c) makes perhaps the most important change. The regulations provide currently that a full deduction should be made—£4£70 per week—unless the non-dependant is in receipt of supplementary benefit, of pensionable age, or aged under 21. This would mean that some unemployed or sick people whose incomes were a little above supplementary benefit levels only could face difficulties in making their contribution to housing costs. We have therefore provided that the deduction in such cases should be reduced to £2.20 a week, provided that the non-dependant has been in receipt of certain benefits related to sickness or unemployment for at least 13 weeks and has income comprising one or more of unemployment benefit, sickness benefit, maternity allowance, injury benefit or child benefit only. The cost of this concession, together with the parallel concession in the Housing Benefits (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 1983 will be about £2 million a year.

The other main element to note in the regulations is perhaps the transitional protection they provide for those few claimants whose benefit would otherwise be reduced by the provisions of these and the earlier sets of amendment regulations. One in particular is worth special mention because it has been the subject of discussion in the House on several occasions.

Hon. Members will recall that, from 4 April, 16 and 17-year-olds will not be eligible for the non-householder housing contribution. My hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security undertook to make transitional arrangements for young people under the age of 18 who are receiving supplementary benefit when the change comes into effect. This has been done at regulation 2(7) (b). Non-householder claimants aged 16 or 17 in receipt of benefit in the week commencing 28 March—that is to say, the week commencing yesterday—will continue to receive the non-householder contribution for as long as they remain in receipt of supplementary benefit to non-householders.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Edge Hill)

The Minister talked about transitional arrangements. Will he say something about local authorities that cannot implement the new unified housing benefit simply because the information has not been provided by the DHSS to the local authorities? In authorities such as mine, on 4 April, when stage 2 is to be implemented, some 7,000 people will be without unified housing benefit purely because the information has not been made available and transitional arrangements have not been made.

Mr. Newton

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have recently circularised local authorities and our offices about providing for the arrangements to continue so that the existing payments will go on to cover the period until the areas where the transition has fallen behind have caught up. Undoubtedly, there are problems in some places. There are not that many, but enough to have made it necessary for us to issue guidance in the past month.

From that brief summary, the House will realise that the main thrust of the regulations is to tidy up and ease the transition to housing benefit. Despite the differences of opinion about the scheme as a whole and particular aspects of it, I hope and believe that there will be no difference of opinion on the need to do everything possible now to complete the change successfully.

10.21 pm
Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland)

The Under-Secretary of State has beer optimistic enough to say that these are the last amending regulations on this subject that the House will have to consider. How he expects the local authorities to cope with the flood of regulations and circulars that his Department has been sending out or how he expects claimants to understand their entitlements, I fail to understand.

First, I draw the attention of the House to regulation 2(7)(a), which amends regulation 23(1) of the requirements regulations. It corcerns the non-householder's contribution and effects a further cut. The regulation now provides that a non-householder's contribution to household expenses may be assessed at more than £3.10 up to a maximum of £6.55 in the circumstances defined in sub-paragraph (b). The effect of the amendment is to remove that provision and to stipulate that the non-householder's contribution shall always be assessed at £3.10. Although the transitional provision in the new paragraph 23(3)(b) affords some protection to those currently receiving the higher rate, some claimants in future will receive less as a result of the amendment than they would have otherwise. Does the Under-Secretary have any estimate of how many families will lose as a result of that?

Surely regulation 23(1)(b) is fair as it stands. As we all know, in some circumstances it is reasonable to expect a larger contribution to household expenses. A non-householder may be a cause of extra costs—for example, a disabled teenager or a daughter who becomes pregnant. The effect of the amendment, as the Under-Secretary must know, is likely to be hardship for some families on low incomes.

The remainder of regulation 2(7)(b) inserts a transitional provision protecting 16 and 17-year-olds who are currently benefiting from the non-householder's contribution, and would otherwise lose it. The House will recall that from 1 April new supplementary benefit claimants aged 16 to 17 will not be eligible for non-householder housing addition. That means that teenagers whose parents are claiming unemployment benefit, people who have been out of work for less than a year and parents on low wages will lose £3.10 a week to save the Treasury about £29 million over the next two years. Can the Under-Secretary of State tell us how many of these teenagers and their families will lose as a result of the change?

Regulation 2(3) makes two minor amendments to regulation 12. Those amendments are objectionable in themselves, but they raise the more general issue of heating charges. SHAC, the Shelter Housing Aid Centre, claims that there is still a wide measure of confusion among local authorities about the provision for rebating heating and other fuel charges above the maximum limits in certificated cases. In fact, DHSS local offices appear to be giving conflicting advice to local authorities both about the extent to which these regulations will apply and the extent to which local authority decisions will affect claimants' entitlement to supplementary benefit heating additions. In general, claimants are wholly confused by the procedure.

Is the Minister aware that in one current SHAC case a London tenant has spent considerable time trying to work out what the appropriate rebate should be in his case but has failed to receive any response from his local authority to correspondence on the subject over the past three months. It is said that Newham council decided that the whole business of partial fuel charges was too much trouble. Many people in Newham are having a deduction of £5.60 made even though their fixed charge represents only background heating. Is the Under-Secretary of State aware of that? Can he confirm it and, if so, will he promise to investigate? That is only one example of the problems arising out of heating charges.

Regulation 2(5) relates to housing benefit supplement. Once again the amendment is beneficial, but there are considerable problems with housing benefit supplement, as the Under-Secretary of State must know. Already a number of major administrative problems are becoming apparent which will result in many poor people losing out on their entitlement. This is particularly serious because of the absence of any procedure for backdating entitlements to housing benefit supplement.

The administrative problems that have been identified by SHAC are as follows. First, DHSS offices are failing to write the excess income figure on rebate and allowance application forms issued to those people lifted off supplementary benefit in April of this year. Secondly, DHSS offices are refusing to let local authorities have a list of those claimants lifted off supplementary benefit to enable them to check whether all those who are entitled to claim rebate or allowance under the new arrangements have done so. Thirdly, claimants are receiving inadequate information and advice on filling in local authority rebate and allowance application forms, as a result of which some forms are not being returned to the local authority.

Fourthly, circular HB 82(2) inadequately explains the procedures for making a double non-dependant deduction in housing benefit supplment cases. Paragraph 14(7) of the circular has been interpreted in different ways by different authorities and no other advice has been provided to local authorities by the DHSS. As a result, some authorities have recently had to revise computer programmes because they were unaware of the correct procedure to follow. Many other authorities may still be unaware of the problem and, as a result, there may be incorrect assessments of housing benefit entitlements.

Fifthly, there is inadequate advice to local authorities for identifying entitlement to housing benefit supplement among existing rebate and allowance applicants and new applicants who go first to the local authority.

The advice contained in circular HB83(3) is helpful only to pensioner applicants. It was extremely late in being issued to authorities, most of which had not received it before the end of February. As various case studies prepared by SHAC show, failure to identify entitlement to housing benefit supplement can lead to serious losses—for example, £5 a week or more for some pensioner couples with income of about £60 a week.

Regulation 2(6) makes a number of amendments to regulation 22 of the Supplementary Benefit (Requirements) Regulations 1980 relating to deductions for non-dependants. By and large, the amendments are beneficial, but attention must be drawn yet again to the losses that will occur because of changes in the treatment of non-dependant deductions. When the Minister wrote to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) on 16 December 1982, annex B gave a breakdown of losses resulting from the changes.

But, because of double counting, it was not possible to derive a cumulative total for the number of losses. I must therefore press the Minister to say how many people will lose because of the changes in the treatment of non-dependant deductions, and what the average loss will be.

Since the last edition of the yellow book, there have been four sets of amending regulations. To understand these regulations, we must first undertake a complicated scissors and paste job to establish exactly what is being amended. It would be almost impossible for an ordinary claimant to establish from the regulations his entitlement. I hope that the Minister, in the interests of clarity, will introduce consolidated regulations so that we can all understand them.

There will be delays in implementing the regulations. It is abundantly clear that some local authorities cannot implement the new scheme in time. On 2 March the Department issued a circular, HB83(4), making contingency plans for late implementation. The Housing Benefits (Transitional) Amendment Regulations 1983, which were laid on Friday, provide the necessary legal powers. I suspect that there will be an opportunity for a fuller debate on that matter at a later date. In the meantime, the Minister must give details of the extent of the problem. He must come clean with the House and tell us just how badly the scheme is going wrong. The problems are much greater than either he or his hon. Friends pretend.

The problems arise in both certificated and standard cases. Our impression is that it will be widespread in the case of the former, and rather less so for the latter. Some certificated cases were included in the partial start last November, but only those who were local authority tenants and who had no non-dependants living with them. All other certificated cases now come under the scheme. Problems may have arisen, first, because the DHSS local offices had not passed over all the certificates in time, or, secondly, because the local authority, even though it had received all the certificates, had not been able to process all the cases in time.

In the latter case, the main cause of the problem has been the detailed form that has been sent to private tenants. It is a four-page form which is sent by the DHSS local office to the private tenant but which has to be returned to the local authority with some proof of rent payments and the last notice of rent increase from the landlord. It goes into everything under the sun and, by report, has produced an abysmal response. Many forms have not been returned because tenants are confused, and many that have been returned are incomplete. It has been described as one of the major blunders of the scheme.

Any delay in standard cases is attributable to the local authority, not the DHSS. The circular refers to computer problems, one cause of which is the misunderstanding of the procedures for making a double non-dependant deduction in housing benefit supplement cases due to the inadequate explanation in circular 82(2). That has meant that many authorities have had to revise their computer programmes.

I must press the Minister for separate answers to the following questions. First, in how many local authority areas will there be late implementation in certificated cases because the DHSS local office has failed to send out certificates in good time? Secondly, in how many local authority areas will there be late implementation in certificated cases for other reasons? Thirdly, in how many local authority areas will there be late implementation in standard cases?

The Minister should be able to give estimates based on the progress reports from local offices. The House is entitled to ask why the Government have insisted on rushing through the new scheme when it has been clear that many local authorities would not be able to implement it in time. What are the reasons for the haste? It is clear from the transitional arrangements for the areas of late implementation that some claimants will not have the benefit adjusted immediately to take account of any rate or rent rise in April. They will get backdated benefit later, but in the meantime they may suffer hardship. It is also clear that some claimants who suffer taper losses or lose entitlement to benefit completely will be faced with a demand to pay back overpaid benefit. It is clear from the circular that no recovery action will be taken in relation to overpayments in certificated cases when they are not the claimant's fault. Why, then, should standard cases be treated any differently?

Delays in implementation represent only part of the picture of confusion. Organisations such as SHAC which are in touch with many local authorities throughout the country report that they are still receiving inquiries about the new scheme, just a few days before implementation. The story is generally one of an over-complicated scheme in the first instance that is being implemented in too much of a rush which, in turn, inevitably gives rise to last-minute contingency plans when things go wrong.

I shall now deal with losers in relation to the Budget extension of mortgage interest relief. The Red Book shows that the cost of the increase in the mortgage interest relief limit is forecast to be £50 million in 1983–84 and £60 million in a full year. For that money, the 2.3 million losers from taper changes could have been largely avoided. Will the Minister say exactly what it would would cost to eliminate all taper losses? Will he confirm that the £60 million of mortgage relief would almost cover that?

Is it not true that many authorities are still very confused about the implementation of the review procedure?

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)


Mr. Foster

I am sure that my hon. Friend is correct. In one SHAC case, an authority has failed to respond to all requests by a certificated claimant within the partial start for a review of his housing benefit entitlement.

The publicity arranged by the Department for the introduction of the scheme has been severely criticised by local authorities and other housing organisations. In distinct contrast, there has been extensive publicity of the new mortgage arrangements. The national coverage of the new housing benefits scheme, which affects one in three of the population, has been minimal. This document is the Department's effort to inform claimants of their entitlements under the new scheme, and we could describe it—not unkindly—as Comic Cuts without the laughs. It is much less informative than the previous document, and is an everyday story of city folk with people who have names such as Margaret and Winston. But it provides little information to the claimants. We are entitled to ask the Under-Secretary of State, who was responsible for producing the leaflet? While his Department struggles with that, the much-maligned Islington council has managed to produce much more comprehensive information in seven languages.

This is a very complex scheme that was brought in too hastily, so that amending regulations are arriving only slightly more slowly that applications from tenants for benefit.

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

We must put the matter of housing regulations in context. The Government's justification for introducing the new housing benefit scheme was that it would be a major simplification of the system. However, if one considers the regulations or the explanatory memorandum supplied to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, no one could accept that it was a simplification. Almost all local authorities are finding the regulations very complicated, and even the Government's officials managed to make two substantial mistakes in this instrument which led to the withdrawal of the original order and the laying of a new one. That is a further illustration that the entire matter is complicated and difficult to follow. Any hope that it would be a major simplification has not been fulfilled.

During the past two or three months, every time that I have met a group of pensioners, I have been inundated with questions about how the scheme will affect them. When I write to the local benefit office, I receive a reply that has been worked out with much care and sympathy, but it does not make the position clear to those people or to me. They still believe that they have lost out in some way, and in many instances they have lost out in cash terms. They have not only lost money but have suffered confusion and disbelief. That is still the position, although the scheme is supposed to be introduced completely on 4 April. Almost all of those with low incomes wish to know exactly how much money they have to spend and do not wish to run the risk of getting into debt. Most of my elderly constituents are adamant that they have never owed anyone a penny, and they do not intend to do so. If they do not know how much they will have to pay when the scheme comes into operation, they make estimates, and that causes hardship because they do not know how much money to put aside for that purpose. The Government should make the position clear to those people as soon as possible.

Will the Minister tell us how many people will not be brought into the scheme from the starting date in April? How soon after that will they be brought in? Will he give a guarantee that if they have been given too much benefit, in that the losses have not been taken away from them, they will not be asked to repay that money? Clearly it is not their fault. My understanding is that the certificated cases will not be asked to repay the money, but it is surely just as important that non-certificated cases, if they lose out as a result of the Government's tampering with the tapers, should not be asked to make any repayments.

Can the Minister now give us an up-to-date figure of the number of people who will lose? We were told earlier that there were various estimates, and that about 2.3 million people would be involved. Many people felt that that was only a guess. We should now be told the number of people who will lose. What happens to a person who is in a block of flats or perhaps a house which is heated by the local authority and the heating system fails for a week or a fortnight? Will that person get a refund from the housing department to pay for any alternative heating that he has to use, or does he have to apply for supplementary benefit for the heating during that period?

I hope that the Minister will tell us the position about appeals tribunals or local authority appeals. I have a constituent who was very aggrieved about the loss of the rent-free weeks. She attempted to persuade the ombudsman that he should look at the issue. Eventually I persuaded the local authority to allow her to apply to the appeals tribunal. It is arguable whether the appeals tribunal will have jurisdiction over the rent-free weeks, but the local authority told me that it did not intend the matter to go to an appeals tribunal. In other words, the local authority chooses which cases go to an appeals tribunal. How can an appeals body be independent if the local authority decides which cases can be submitted—in other words, which it thinks can be justified? I hope that the Minister will assure us that, in his view, it is not for the local authority to decide whether an appeal should be heard, and that the appeal body should hear the case and make up its own mind.

I hope that the Minister will say something about the interrelationship between the cohabitation rules of supplementary benefit and the appeals procedure over decisions by local authorities to go on paying housing benefits to families. I know of one instance where an individual was accused of cohabiting and the benefit was removed. The people in the case then applied for housing benefit and were told, "You will not qualify for it because you should qualify for supplementary benefit. If you don't qualify for supplementary benefit, you can't qualify for housing benefit", although it was clear that their income was sufficiently low, if their supplementary benefit was removed, for them to qualify at least for housing benefit.

We predicted in Standing Committee that there would be problems here, and I wonder whether the Minister has any evidence on whether that is an isolated case in Greater Manchester—not Stockport—or whether there have been considerable problems in this respect.

Finally, I wonder whether the Government have thought any further about the rent-free weeks, which clearly have caused more difficulty than anything else. This in not a problem to be solved piecemeal by local authorities. It should be solved by clear Government direction. Many people have told me that the rent-free weeks applied only when the scheme was introduced and that the problem is not a continuing one. That is nonsense. It applies to anyone who comes into the scheme for any reason. Depending on the date when a person joins the scheme, he may gain or lose as a result of the rent-free weeks.

This is a major anomaly and a major cause of confusion, and it is time that the Government brought in a regulation to make it clear that local authorities and the Government should provide a common system so that some people do not lose money while others gain. The regulations are absurd. They were supposed to simplify the system, but in fact the already complicated supplementary benefit regulations have become even more complicated.

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

Like the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett), I had great reservations about these regulations when they were laid before the House. When we discussed them on 26 July last year—on a hot summer night—both the hon. Member for Stockport, North and I voiced our feelings about them, but, unlike me, the hon. Member had the benefit of serving on the Standing Committee.

The hon. Member for Stockport, North and the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster) have both expressed accurately and eloquently the main reservations that many hon. Members had last year, and still have, about the operation of the unified housing benefit. The hon. Member for Stockport, North referred to the rent-free weeks. I have received representations from Liberal councillors in Chelmsford about that matter which they say works to the disadvantage of tenants in their area. I have also heard from people elsewhere about some of the effects of the regulations in their own communities, and in particular of the effects of the rent-free weeks. The hon. Member for Stockport, North was right to highlight that issue as one of major concern to many people.

I should like the Under-Secretary to clarify the position of private tenants. I raised this subject with the Minister for Social Security, who replied to our debate on this subject last July. The Minister kindly answered a number of questions during the course of that debate. I would not have relished his role on that evening, and he dealt very fairly with the hon. Members who intervened in his speech, but the position is still not clear, although the scheme will be implemented on 4 April.

What will be the position of private tenants whose rent falls into arrears because of non-payment by local authorities and who might later on be subject to eviction? I fear that if a 12-week period elapses whilst people are in arrears—this is especially relevant because many local authorities will not be able to implement the scheme on 4 April—private tenants may find their landlord taking them to court and possibly trying to have them evicted from their homes. Landlords sometimes try to do that, and these regulations will make it easier for them to do it. I would welcome a reply from the Under-Secretary on that point.

I too have great reservations about the appeals tribunals. The hon. Member for Stockport, North and I both voiced objections last July. How many people will lose out as a result of the enforcement of the regulations? Shelter state that some 2 million people will probably be 75p a week worse off. Can the Under-Secretary tell us whether that figure is correct? Much of that money may be transferred to other groups such as the pensioners who will be better off as a result of these regulations, but is it true that 2 million of the lowest wage earners in the country will be 75p a week worse off? No hon. Member would go out of his way to reinforce poverty, and if that could be among the results of these regulations the Government should think again.

I think that the Minister will agree that when the proposals were first introduced there was some doubt as to whether local authorities would be able to comply with the deadlines imposed by the Government. Local authority associations and many local councillors expressed reservations about their ability to implement the proposals. When I asked the Minister for Social Security last July whether it would be possible to implement the first stage of the scheme by November, he replied: We have undertaken to meet all their additional costs"— costs incurred by the local authorities— in implementing the scheme, including the additional costs that may be incurred by training staff. The local authorities are perfectly happy with that. When I asked whether the local authorities were happy to implement the proposals by November, he replied: 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."—[Official Report, 26 July 1982; Vol. 28, c. 763–4.] I understand from the local authorities that that was true. Stage 1 of the proposals was implemented without great difficulty because all those involved were local authority tenants, so there was no great difficulty in transferring their accounts to local authority computers and paying their rents directly.

The second batch of people coming into the scheme, however, are private sector tenants who previously received rent or rate allowances or rebates. In Liverpool, about 14,000 people are involved. I contacted officials of Liverpool city council today to discover what would be the effect on those tenants. This is what was between the lines of the Minister's comments last July. Although those 14,000 claimants are currently receiving benefit from the DHSS, 7,000 of them will not receive their housing benefit from 4 April—in just six days' time—because the information has not been given to the local authority by the DHSS. That is not entirely the Department's fault as it had far too limited a period in which to implement the proposals.

Forms were sent out to all the people then on supplementary benefit and they were asked to return them to the local authority. Only 7,000 have so far done so. Again, this means that probably the most disadvantaged groups, some of whom will be illiterate and unable to fill in the forms at all, will receive no housing benefit at all from 4 April, so they will be about £10 per week worse off. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that figure. According to my local authority, those 7,000 claimants will on average be between £7.50 and £8.50 per week worse off and it will be June or July before they are on the computer and in receipt of the benefit. What transitional arrangements are the Government making to help those people?

Mr. Mike Thomas (Newcastle upon Tyne, East)

Is my hon. Friend aware that this is not just a problem for Liverpool but is paralleled throughout the country? In Newcastle, for instance, there are serious worries about what will happen after 4 April. The problems that my hon. Friend describes are widespread. This is due not only to the Government, although they bear a large share of the responsibility, but to the simple fact that local authority housing departments are often not so familiar as the social security authorities with assessing problems of this kind and getting the questions answered and the benefits computed.

Mr. Alton

I was about to give other examples as I thought that I heard a Conservative Member suggest that the problem might be confined to Liverpool. As my hon. Friend has pointed out, the same applies in Newcastle. Officials in Leeds told me today that they expect about 5,000 cases not to have been processed by 4 April, so those tenants, too, will be £8.50 to £10 per week worse off. In Maidstone, in the south of England, some tenants—the exact number is not known—will not be able to receive their benefits simply because they have not been able to comply with the guidelines laid down last July. Six or seven months ago, in the debate, many of us argued that this was a sleight of hand and part of the insidious process to try to erode the welfare state.

For example, at about that time there was a 5 per cent. cut in unemployment benefit, and the Think Tank's report had just been mooted. There has also been a decision to wipe out rent and rate rebates and rent allowances and to replace them by unified housing benefit. All those decisions should be seen in the same context, together with the cuts in local government expenditure. Those cuts have led social services departments and area health authorities, such as my own, to cut back. That could be seen as part of a pattern which many hon. Members are worried about.

In addition, the rights of local authorities were being interfered with. They were not properly consulted, As, once again, local authorities were not properly consulted and were not taken into the Government's confidence, a half-baked scheme has been accepted by the House, although it is not now capable of implementation.

The Minister for Social Security (Mr. Hugh Rossi)

I have listened to many of the hon. Gentleman's points, but they are really a gloss on what has happened. He is not right to say that there were not the fullest consultations with local authorities. Indeed, the Government's original intention, as the House knows, was to bring the full scheme into operation last November. However, because the local authorities felt that they could not bring the whole scheme into operation in November, we decided to bring the second part of the scheme into operation in April. It was at their request. They assured us that by then they would be ready to implement the whole scheme.

There were reservations that last November was too soon for the first part of the scheme, but in the event we were proved right and the Jeremiahs were proved wrong. Obviously there will be some teething troubles when people are not returning the forms sent to them, and we shall make arrangements to ensure that those people do not lose financially. However, the hon. Gentleman should not exaggerate the situation in the way that he has done.

Mr. Alton

I was trying not to exaggerate the situation but to put it in perspective. Earlier, I mentioned that I accepted what the Minister had said in the debate on 26 July 1982. He gave an assurance that the local authority element of the scheme would be implemented, and it was. However, perhaps the Opposition did not sufficiently press the Minister on the effects of the second stage of the scheme. That second stage will be implemented on 4 April, and many of us have grave reservations about that. It will not be possible for local authorities to implement it, and most local authorities told the Minister and the Government at the time that they were unhappy with the scheme anyway. The Association of Local Authorities was opposed to it at the time.

However, the Government have often ridden roughshod over local authorities and their rights. They did so in the Local Government, Planning and Land Act, and in the Housing Act. They took away the right to determine whether or not a local authority should be able to sell council houses to sitting tenants. Now they are, in a sense, doing it again. There is a breakdown in co-operation between central and local government, and that has manifested itself in many areas of legislation. It is not just this Minister who is involved. It is part of a pattern that can be seen over the past three and a half years.

I reiterate a point that I made last July. The average tenant finds it impossible to understand how the benefit works. The whole idea was that it would be more simple, but it has turned out to be far more complex. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland spoke about how Islington borough council had been able to translate the proposals into several different languages. In the debate last year I read out a chunk of one of the regulations that was virtually impossible to understand. I suggested that it would be very difficult to translate into Hindi, Gujarati or Urdu. The hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) said that it would be a good thing if they could be translated into English. Those of us who have tried to decipher the regulations know that they are about as easy to understand as a Rubic cube. They are complex and are the sort of things that a Philadelphian lawyer would find very difficult, let alone the average private or corporation tenant.

For all those reasons, I am opposed to the regulations and share the reservations that have already been expressed. I hope that the Minister will be able to reply at the end of the debate to some of my points.

11.4 pm

Sir Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)

I am sorry for the Minister because we are producing form after form and regulation after regulation that are incomprehensible to the average man and woman. They do not necessarily all come from his Department, but many do.

In rural areas such as my constituency with as many as 200 villages some 35 miles from the regional office of the Department of Health and Social Security, to send out forms and expect them to be filled in and returned is about as good as sending me an income tax form and expecting me to fill it in without the help of an accountant. Elderly people cannot be expected to return such forms.

There is great confusion, much of which is caused by local authorities not being up to their job and without the know-how to process such forms. Local DHSS offices, certainly in my constituency, are doing their level best to cover a wide area with no bus routes to the centre and where elderly people are often without a telephone. It is an almost impossible task.

All I would ask is that before we think up any other schemes we should try to make them as simple as possible. We should not send out three or four page forms to the elderly living perhaps 30 miles away from the centre and without a telephone.

My secretary probably deals with five or six such cases a day. Having dealt with them for some 14 years she generally understands what people are getting at on the telephone or by letter. However, she has to put those problems to the DHSS and many of the junior officials do not understand the forms themselves.

All I ask is that country districts should have local offices open on market days when buses come in from the countryside so that complicated forms can be explained to those who have to fill them in. It is too much to ask elderly, deaf and infirm people to travel some 30 to 35 miles to a DHSS office where, if they cannot be seen within an hour or so, they have to leave to catch their bus home and thus waste a day without seeing anybody who can help them.

I understand that in most cases the Minister is trying to help people. In many cases a person will benefit if a form is filled in properly. However, I hope that before the Government begin their second term of office we shall try to simplify the forms and procedures. We should try to think of those who have to fill in the forms who are mostly the ill, disabled and those living long distances from the offices.

11.10 pm
Mr. Terry Davis (Birmingham, Stechford)

In his opening remarks the Under-Secretary of State explained that the regulations are necessary to deal with some of the "anomalies" in the housing benefit scheme; I prefer the word "defects". My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster) explained clearly how some of the defects affect people all over the country.

I want to express great disappointment that the Government have not taken the opportunity to rectify one of the greatest defects in the scheme for tenants of Birmingham city council. I recognise that the problem has arisen because of the way the housing benefit scheme has been implemented by the city council and not as a direct result of the intention of the Government. Nevertheless, the defect has been drawn to their attention and I am not only disappointed but amazed that they are not doing anything about it. It will cause great suffering, as I will show, for tenants of Birmingham city council who come under the housing benefit scheme.

It must be emphasised that the defect affects every tenant in Birmingham covered by the scheme. In most local authorities the rent is paid in advance; in Birmingham it is paid in arrears and it becomes payable on a Monday. It follows that when the housing scheme came into effect on 22 November, which was a Monday, the tenants of Birmingham city council were liable to pay their rent on that day. The supplementary benefit which they received on that day or on succeeding days was reduced by the amount of the housing element. They therefore expected that the introduction of the scheme would mean that the rent for that Monday would be covered by the Department of Health and Social Security. It came as a great surprise to everyone that the tenants of that council would have to find one week's rent out of their basic supplementary benefit without any extra money from the DHSS.

As I have explained, their supplementary benefit was reduced on the day the housing benefit scheme came into operation or on succeeding days. It was reasonable for everyone to think that this was all right because the scheme was taking effect at the same time. However, the housing department wanted to be sure about the matter so it contacted the Department of Health and Social Security, pointed out that people were being asked to pay on Monday, 22 November, the rent for the preceding week and inquired whether this meant that it should look to the tenants for that rent or whether the scheme would cover it, bearing in mind that the tenants had become liable to pay the rent only on the day the housing benefit scheme came into operation.

To be fair, I must point out that a civil servant in the Department of Health and Social Security sent a most helpful letter in reply. I have seen a copy of that letter and it was well intentioned. It is clear that the civil servant believed that Birmingham city council should look to the DHSS and not to the tenants for the one week's rent. Unfortunately, the officers of the city housing department decided that they could not rely on the letter from the DHSS without showing it to the city solicitor. When it got into the hands of the lawyers, the answer came back that, whatever the DHSS thought, the lawyers believed that the tenants were liable for the week's rent because it was the rent for the week before the scheme took effect.

Up to that point I had sympathy with the city housing department. I do not know why its officials thought it was necessary to show a letter from the DHSS to the city solicitor, and why they could not have accepted it in good faith and gone ahead in the interests of the tenants. However that may be, I then lost all sympathy with Birmingham city council. It should have gone back to the DHSS and said that, although it had received the Department's letter reassuring it that the rent was covered by the scheme, it had had legal advice that the Department was not correct.

It would have expected discussions to have taken place between the city housing department and the DHSS in the interests of tenants who by definition have so little income that they are covered by the scheme. Instead, the Conservative-controlled housing committee simply went ahead on the basis of the council's own legal advice and decided typically to clobber the tenants, to charge every tenant covered by the scheme one week's rent and so put them into rent arrears. It then sent out letters demanding one week's rent from all these tenants. Not surprisingly, some tenants went to their local councillors, some came to the advice bureaux of Members of Parliament and others went to the citizens advice bureau. All these representatives took up the problem with the city housing department. The position was then explained to us.

Since I was not satisfied, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Social Services, who happens to represent part of the city of Birmingham. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) made the mistake of writing to one of the junior Ministers, and he tells me that he has not yet received a reply, although it may be in the post. I have received a reply from the Secretary of State so I can tell my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Sir P. Hawkins) that it is not that local authorities do not have the know-how—the city of Birmingham has the know-how; it knows how to clobber the tenants. It is also that the Secretary of State for Social Services will not do anything about it, even though his constituents are affected by the implementation of his housing benefit scheme. In his letter, which I have received within the past 24 hours, he says that it is a matter for the city council and that he will not intervene.

When I wrote to the Secretary of State for Social Services, I explained that I could not believe that he had intended the housing benefit scheme to operate in such a way. I was prepared to accept from the Secretary of State that it was the usual attitude of Conservative councillors in the city of Birmingham which was responsible for tenants being asked to find an extra week's rent and not his scheme. Now he has told me that the only difference between Birmingham and the Department of Health and Social Security concerns the dates of commencement and termination—a perceptive comment by the Secretary of State as that was the whole purpose of my letter to him.

The Secretary of State explains that as the only difference concerns the dates of commencement and termination, and as the tenants will be covered by the housing benefit scheme for the right number of weeks, there is no need to do anything about it. In fact, it is precisely the date of commencement that matters, because it means that tenants are being asked to find one week's rent out of their basic supplementary benefit or supplementary pension.

Many of those tenants are old-age pensioners. Some of the people who have come to me are in their seventies and have never owed a penny in their lives. They are upset at finding suddenly that they have been put into rent arrears through no fault of theirs. In the real world in which these old-age pensioners and I and my hon. Friends live, the date of termination will be when they die because these old-age pensioners will never come off supplementary benefit and pension. They will never live to see themselves come out of the housing benefit scheme. They will never get back the extra week's rent from the housing benefit scheme through not having to pay a week's rent or receive it in some other way from some other benefits. These people have never been in rent arrears in their lives and they have been put there by the combined efforts of the Conservative Government and Conservative city council.

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

I do not know whether my hon. Friend has seen the latest figures from the Birmingham city housing department. It claims that in the last quarter of last year rent arrears in Birmingham rose by £2 million. It is blaming it on the tenants whereas we can see clearly, from what my hon. Friend has said, that it is a paper transaction and is no fault of the tenants.

Mr. Davis

My hon. Friend is right. It is worse than that, because these people are being asked to pay a week's rent. Many of them are old-age pensioners, some of them are families with young children and some are single-parent families. They all, by definition, have great difficulty in making ends meet.

Whatever may be the differences between the Government and the Opposition about the extent to which supplementary benefit can and must be increased, I should have thought that we could agree that the amount of supplementary benefit is calculated so carefully that it does not provide for luxuries. It does not provide the luxury of one week's rent. Those people are now being asked to pay one week's rent out of their basic benefit and pension. That means that an old-age pensioner or a single parent will have to choose between buying food or clothes for the children and paying one week's rent—about £20, which is a lot of money for someone who is living on supplementary benefit or supplementary pension. They will have to pay that amount out of their supplementary benefit for an extra week's rent instead of buying food or something else.

This is an appalling scandal. The worst thing is that the Secretary of State, who represents part of the city of Birmingham, has refused to intervene. The Government must stop trying to play Pontius Pilate and deal with this defect in the housing benefit scheme as well as the others.

11.21 pm
Mr. Newton

In the light of the vigour with which the hon. Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Davis) has just spoken, I shall pick up his point straight away. He will realise that as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wrote to him in a letter dated 24 March, of which I have a copy, there is relatively little that I can add at this stage. We have noted his remarks. I have no doubt also that the Birmingham city council will note his remarks, supported by his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker).

I say almost as an aside that my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi), the Minister for Social Security, tells me that he sent the hon. Member for Perry Barr a copy of the Secretary of State's letter to the hon. Member for Stechford on the day that it was dispatched or a day later. However, there has been either a mistake or a misunderstanding. I undertake on behalf of my hon. Friend that we shall make sure that he has a further copy of it at the earliest moment.

Having said that, it would be wrong for me to attempt to follow further the comments by the hon. Member for Stechford, but in fairness to my right hon. Friend, I ought to place firmly on the public record the major point that my right hon. Friend made in the letter to him. He said: The local administration of housing benefit is the responsibility of individual authorities and not for my Department. As happened in this case, authorities are free to ask my Department for advice, but at the end of the day, they have the final responsibility for implementing the new scheme in their area. If claimants in Birmingham are dissatisfied with the authority's interpretation, they have a remedy in the review procedures under part VIII of the Housing Benefits Regulations 1982. These include the opportunity for a claimant, or their representative, to have their detailed case heard by a review board of local councillors.

Mr. Terry Davis

I wish to put to the Minister a most important point. The defence of the city housing department is that it has no choice and that it is a matter of law. It has been advised by the city solicitor that it must behave in that way. Is the Minister saying that it has a choice? The implication of the Secretary of State's letter is that it can decide for itself how to implement the housing benefit scheme. The hon. Gentleman seems to be taking that line, too. It is of great importance to the tenants of Birmingham whether the Government believe that the city of Birmingham has been wrongly advised on legal grounds and is taking the decision on policy grounds.

Mr. Newton

I cannot say much more than I have already said, which places on the record what my right hon. Friend has already written to the hon. Gentleman, but obviously, in view of the strength of feeling, especially as it has been expressed in the House, both we in the Department, and undoubtedly the city of Birmingham, will have a closer look at what has been said tonight, particularly at the suggestion that the legal advice given to the city of Birmingham is at variance with the implied advice contained in my right hon. Friend's letter. It would be stupid for me to venture into judging between competing advice, both sets of which have been drawn at some stage from legal advice off the cuff from the Dispatch Box.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

If the Minister is suggesting to individuals in Birmingham that they should go to the review body, it would be essential for them to have a copy of the letter of advice from his Department and the legal advice which supported it. Will he make it available to hon. Members so that they can supply it to anyone in Birmingham who wants to go to the review body? Will he also ensure that his officials can be called to a review body to give evidence in support of their letter?

Mr. Newton

I do not want to go beyond what I have already said and give off-the-cuff comments or commitments which could have legal consequences, but I can undertake that we will consider urgently tomorrow the hon. Gentleman's points.

Mr. Rooker

Before the Minister leaves this subject, I should like to put to him a point which is not unimportant for the tenants of Birmingham city council. When he conducts these discussions, for which we are grateful, will he be careful about the involvement of the chairman of Birmingham housing committee, who has been known in the past few months to disclose the personal details of tenants' rent arrears on radio programmes?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Member will not expect me to comment on that. I hope that the House will now allow me to move on to other significant and important points that have been raised during the debate, on the understanding that I recognise the strength with which hon. Members from Birmingham and elsewhere have spoken about this matter and will study carefully everything that has been said in the debate.

The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster) asked several important and relevant questions. He asked how many people stand to lose from the provisions in regulation 2(7)(a). I am advised that only about 300 claimants benefit from the existing provision which is being altered. We have changed it on the basis that, if a householder is having difficulty in meeting housing costs, his proper recourse should be to housing benefit or supplementary benefit. If the housing benefit claim succeeds, the non-dependent deductions will equate to the non-householder contribution, and there is therefore no need to top up the non-householder's supplementary benefit. If the claim fails, there can hardly be hardship on any reasonable interpretation of the word. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the consequences of the change are not as serious as he had initially feared.

With regard to 16 and 17-year-olds, the hon. Gentleman talked of £29 million being "clawed back" by the Treasury. He spoke as if the £29 million constituted an addition of sums, taking two years together: £10 million in 1983–84 and £19 million in 1985. His comments must be viewed against the background that the withdrawal of the non-householder contribution in these cases is part of the general package in which savings from one area are being ploughed back to make improvements elsewhere. While I accept that it is possible for hon. Members to object to the policy, as did the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) in a previous debate on this subject, it is unreasonable to imply that this £29 million is being clawed back by the Treasury from one group of claimants, especially against the background of the transitional protection that we are introducing, and not to recognise that it is being ploughed into the significant gains that are being made by, for example, more than 1 million pensioners within the scheme.

With regard to the identification of people who might be entitled to housing benefit supplement, and the related questions which the hon. Gentleman raised, I hope he will have registered the important statement made by my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security a week or so ago about the advice that we have issued to local authorities—which, as I said at Question Time the other day, we believe should, if applied, enable local authorities to identify virtually all pensioners applying for housing benefit who might qualify for either housing benefit supplement or for supplementary benefit. As I have said, I think that there is a good prospect that this will assist one of the supplementary benefit take-up problems. At least, that is my hope.

If we have made a useful move for pensioners, I must acknowledge that we have not so far found a comparable formula to apply to non-pensioners. However, we are continuing to look for one. If er can find one that is satisfactory and workable, we shall issue comparable advice to local authorities.

The housing benefit supplement should be paid from the same day as the award of housing benefit. That is our intention within the regulations.

As for the number of losers from the non-dependant package, I cannot add to the information that was given in quite an explicit letter from my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security to the hon. Member for Perry Barr during December. The problem is as stated in the letter and the reasons why I cannot go further are similarly as stated.

Mr. Alton

As the Minister can elaborate on those who will gain, it is not clear to me why he cannot elaborate on the reasons why others are losing. I ask the hon. Gentleman to give us rather more details.

Mr. Newton

The December letter was nearly two pages long and I think that the sensible course would be for me to send the hon. Gentleman a copy. The number of losers from the taper changes will be about 2.3 million. I have been asked to state the number of losers from the changes in the non-dependant arrangements, and it is in that area that much greater difficulties arise.

Among many others, there was one good and helpful question from the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland to which I have a simple and clear-cut answer. It is one that gladdens my heart as much as I trust it will his. The hon. Gentleman made a plea for consolidating regulations. We desire these as much as he does and we shall endeavour to ensure that they are produced as soon as possible. I am sorry that I have to spoil the debate by using that how-long-is-a-piece-of-string phrase, but I mean "as soon as possible".

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

I trust that they will be issued free of charge.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman pushes his luck. We shall certainly issue them at the most economical price. Bearing in mind the way in which inflation has decreased under the Government, the regulations will be less expensive than they would have been if the previous Labour Government had introduced them.

I revert as fast as possible to the housing benefit scheme. It is common ground that guidance has been issued to authorities. This is intended to ensure that claimants who suffer delays will continue to receive help with their rent and rates until all the necessary arrangments have been made.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) talked about private tenants. We were anxious to produce the contingency plan in reasonable time because we recognised that private tenants were especially vulnerable to delays in help with their rent and rates. They need cash payments to help meet the liability to the landlords. As the hon. Gentleman said, they face the risk of eviction if they cannot meet it. Our plans are specifically designed to maintain continuity of payment to private tenants, particularly those on supplementary benefit, until the cases can be transferred. Arrears will then be made up.

Mention was made of delays in certificating private tenants' rent forms. Authorities must make interim payments of rent allowances under housing benefit regulation 35 within 14 clays of receiving the certificate from the DHSS unless they have no information about the tenant's rent. Delays in getting back correctly completed rent allowance forms should not stop authorities providing some help in most, if not all, cases, because authorities should have some idea of local rent levels if only from running the existing rent allowance schemes. I do not pretend that there can never be a problem, but it may not be as large as the hon. Member for Edge Hill implied.

I was asked about the authorities which might not complete on time. Our progress reports do not provide answers in detailed category form. Our rough estimate is that about one third of authorities have reported delays in one area of the scheme or another. I do not wish to gloss over the position, but in many years many local authorities do not complete on time their rebate exercises for the existing rent and rate rebate schemes. It is rare for all the exercise to be completed perfectly every spring.

One of the problems in the social security system last year was the result of delays in fixing rent and rates and carrying through the administrative arrangements by some local authorities. We keep an eye on the position. I cannot break down the figures further.

Mr. Foster

The hon. Gentleman has taken us aback by confessing that one-third of authorities will be unable to implement the Act on the relevant day. We knew that difficulties existed, but the Minister increases our fears.

Mr. Newton

That remark is not entirely justified, because much will depend on something about which we cannot give detailed information tonight, although we shall wish to report to the House further when we can. Much will depend on the numbers involved.

Only a relatively small number of claimants may be involved in the case of most authorities. I do not want to give the impression that I am saying that one-third of authorities will fail in a broad sense to implement the scheme in reasonable time. In the same way, many social security officers may be a day or two—or a week or two—late in completing every uprating case in the autumn. There will be some spillover and it would be a mistake to exaggerate the problem. We shall report to the House more fully when we can do so.

The hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) asked about appeals. I agree that it is not for the 'local authority to decide which cases should go to the review board. Regulation 47(1) of the housing benefit regulations 1982 state that the claimant can "require" a review. I hope that that will be observed in all parts of the country.

Representations were made to hon. Members by SHAC, the Shelter Housing Aid Centre. If it provides me with written details of cases, I shall see what I can do. It would be a mistake, and not helpful to the House, to comment on anecdotal evidence.

There is relatively little that I can add about any of the detailed points raised on housing benefit. I wish to conclude in a way that may appeal to both sides of the House—

Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)

Can the Minister reassure the House on one point? He talked about one third of local authorities not being able to start their schemes on time. That may affect some thousands or even tens of thousands of people. What transitional protection will he give to the tenants who will be disadvantaged by the failure of local authorities to implement the scheme on time?

Mr. Newton

I hope that I have already made it clear that we have issued guidance to local authorities providing for the continuation of the help they currently give during any period of difficulty that may arise in some cases for some people. If it turns out—I have no reason to suspect that it will—that the arrangements are not adequate to protect those whom we seek to protect, we will be prepared to consider them further. I wish to put it firmly on the record that it is no part of our wish that anyone should suffer because of delays which, in some cases, are inevitable in some areas where there has been difficulty in the social security system during the past few months. It is no part of our purpose that anyone should suffer, and we shall do everything possible to ensure that it does not happen.

I wish to say something that I hope will be welcome to both sides of the House, and especially to my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Sir P. Hawkins). The Department recognises that a great deal of work remains to be done in simplifying our leaflets and forms. That is recognised throughout Government. My hon. Friend will be aware that only last week the Lord Privy Seal made a statement about the Government's progress in eliminating forms, and their progress in simplifying them. I can fairly claim on behalf of the DHSS—and it will be acknowledged by my right hon. Friends—that that Department is one of the leading Departments in both making progress and seeking to make further progress in that area. I assure my hon. Friend that we shall continue to do so.

Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 55, Noes 6.

Division No. 108] [11.43 pm
Alexander, Richard Mather, Carol
Ancram, Michael Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Berry, Hon Anthony Nelson, Anthony
Bevan, David Gilroy Neubert, Michael
Boscawen, Hon Robert Newton, Tony
Bright, Graham Osborn, John
Brooke, Hon Peter Page, Richard (SW Herts)
Buck, Antony Rossi, Hugh
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n) Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Cope, John Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Dorrell, Stephen Speller, Tony
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Stanbrook, Ivor
Dover, Denshore Stewart, A.(E Renfrewshire)
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Stradling Thomas, J.
Dykes, Hugh Temple-Morris, Peter
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Thompson, Donald
Fox, Marcus Walker, B. (Perth)
Garel-Jones, Tristan Waller, Gary
Goodlad, Alastair Watson, John
Gorst, John Whitney, Raymond
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Wickenden, Keith
Hamilton, Hon A. Williams, D.(Montgomery)
Hawkins, Sir Paul Wolfson, Mark
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Young, Sir George (Acton)
Knight, Mrs Jill
Lang, Ian Tellers for the Ayes:
Lester, Jim (Beeston) Mr. David Hunt and
Lyell, Nicholas Mr. Douglas Hogg.
Major, John
Alton, David Steel, Rt Hon David
Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'y S)
Howells, Geraint Tellers for the Noes:
Hughes, Simon (Bermondsey) Mr. A. J. Beith and
Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W) Mr. David Penhaligon.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Supplementary Benefit (Housing Benefits) (Requirements and Resources) Consequential Amendment Regulations 1983, which were laid before this House on 17th March, be approved.