HC Deb 19 December 1988 vol 144 cc7-8
4. Mr. Stern

To ask the Secretry of State for Social Security how many requests for review of a refusal of assistance under the social fund have been received to the latest convenient date; how many such reviews have been completed; and what proportion of those reviewed have led to a reversal of the previous decision.

Mr. Peter Lloyd

By 31 October 54,925 applications for review had been received by social fund officers. They revised their decisions in 30 per cent. of those cases. I regret that information about the number of reviews completed in DSS local offices is not available.

Mr. Stern

Does my hon. Friend agree that the review system is extremely speedy compared with the previous appeals system that applied under the equivalent single payment regulations? Does he also agree that it appears to dispense no less justice?

Mr. Lloyd

My hon. Friend is quite right. One of the merits of the new system is the speed of review. Reviews by social fund officers take a matter of days, and outside reviews by social fund inspectors are completed in an average of 17 days. That compares with 21 weeks for appeal under the old single payment system.

Mr. Tony Banks

But why are one in three of them wrong at the point of application? That is the truth behind the statistics that the Minister has given. They mask a great deal of misery and suffering throughout the country. The Minister is playing Scrooge, but without Scrooge's generosity and open heart.

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman would display his talent for indignation even more if the review did not lead to any changes.

The statistics were intended to show that in 30 per cent. of cases the social fund officer considered it right to think again. That is wholly beneficial in a brand new system in which officers for the first time must exercise discretion, which is one of the merits of the system. That the changes are under review shows that decisions are being thought about hard, and that bodes well for the continuing success of the scheme.

Mrs. Beckett

Does the Minister recall that, whether on review or on initial decisions, some 7 per cent. of those rejected for social fund loans are rejected because they are already so in debt they simply cannot afford to repay a loan? Since by definition those people must be the poorest of all, how do the Government square that with their claim to target help on those in the greatest need?

Mr. Lloyd

I do not think that the hon. Lady's logic is impeccable. The fact that people are already in debt does not necessarily mean that they are the poorest; it means that they are the people who borrowed the most. It would be stupid to bring into the system an additional loan making the debt even harder to repay. In any event, the scheme is so devised that in cases of real hardship the officer can extend the period of repayment so that essential purchases and loan payments can be made.

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