HC Deb 12 November 1985 vol 86 cc420-1
10. Mr. Favell

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement on board and lodging allowances for under-25-year-olds.

Mr. Newton

I refer my hon. Friend to the announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in his speech to the House yesterday.

Mr. Favell

Will my hon. Friend remind the House of the amount of the allowance? Will he tell the House what happens when a young person on the allowance finds a job, which he reports to the social security office?

Mr. Newton

The current limits on board and lodging payments range from £45 a week in some areas to £70 a week in others, to which must be added the personal expenses allowance of just under £10. The plain fact is, I am afraid, that that means that large numbers of young people could not afford to pay for the same accommodation if they were in work, which is thoroughly unsatisfactory and one reason why we have taken action.

Mr. Frank Field

Does the Minister recall that it was a constituent of mine who took the Government to court, when the old regulations were ruled unlawful? As experts have already commented that the new regulations will probably meet a similar fate, will the Government withdraw them and come back to the House with primary legislation?

Mr. Newton

I see no reason to withdraw the regulations that have just been laid, because, as I understand it, they meet exactly the points that were raised in the High Court case. The basis of that court case was that the board and lodging limits and the time limits, had they been specified in the regulations, would have been lawful. That is the basis on which we have acted.

Mr. Fletcher

Is my hon. Friend aware that his swift action in investigating severe overcrowding and allegations of lodging allowance fraud in Edinburgh has been warmly welcomed by my constituents? Would it not be helpful to the recipients of lodging allowances and the taxpayer, as well as eliminating racketeering, Rachman-like landlords, if a simple form of local licensing were introduced for the premises concerned?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend will understand that I cannot speak so readily for the position in Scotland, but local authorities in England and Wales have power to take steps to license houses in multiple occupation, and we encourage them to use that power. The point that concerns me is that we must ensure that the social security system does not virtually encourage the kind of exploitation and abuse about which he is rightly concerned.

Mr. Meacher

Will the Minister recognise that it is wholly invidious to expect Members of Parliament to vote on new board and lodging regulations which are now effectively sub judice? Is it not also improper for the Government to try to presume upon the decision of the Court of Appeal, especially since they have twice now been forced to back down because of-illegalities? Will he say why the Secretary of State is so obsessed with pursuing tiny amounts of alleged board and lodging fraud, which he then fails to prosecute, when at the same time the Government are so lenient about tax fraud, now running on a scale at least 100 times greater?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman is doing both himself and his party a disservice in talking about tiny amounts of fraud, when it has been discovered in one of our local offices that over half those claiming benefit were not resident at the address for which they were claiming. If that is to be the approach of the Opposition, heaven help the social security bill which they will face if they ever get the chance to run the system.