HC Deb 14 June 1988 vol 135 cc158-9
7. Mr. Andrew Bowden

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Services what plans he has to extend beyond one year the period of transitional protection for claimants of housing benefit announced on 27 April.

Mr. Scott

Like all transitional payments, these will be phased out as circumstances change and other benefits increase. However, the payments will not be limited to one year, and they may last for several years in cases where the reduction in benefit is substantial.

Mr. Bowden

I am most grateful for that encouraging answer. Will my hon. Friend always bear in mind that he is dealing with a war-time generation of pensioners, especially war widows, some of whom have had their incomes cut this year? Is he aware that some of those war widows are not treated as well as they would be in other nations? I hope that he will bear that in mind.

Mr. Scott

I shall bear that in mind. It is worth mentioning that those on income support will be fully protected during the transitional period. We have introduced a new housing benefit scheme and will monitor that carefully. I am, of course, conscious of the fact to which my hon. Friend alluded.

Mr. Steinberg

Is the Minister aware that a number of old-age pensioners in my constituency receive a coal allowance because they worked in the pits all their lives? Previously, that allowance has not been assessed for housing benefit purposes. Is he further aware that some pensioners have moved to gas-heated houses and receive a monetary allowance from British Coal, which is being assessed for housing benefit purposes? Some of them are worse off by more than £6 a week. As I am sure that the Minister does not want such a vindictive anomaly to continue, will he put it right as quickly as possible?

Mr. Scott

Any concessional coal would be covered by the transitional protection. —[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."]

Mr. Hind

Will my hon. Friend confirm that war pensioners will benefit under the transitional arrangements?

Mr. Scott

Of course.

Mrs. Beckett

Will the Minister confirm that, despite transitional protection, millions of people still face a drastic cut in their standard of living, which will merely be phased rather than immediate? Even if the Government maintain the concessions forced on them this year, will not the substantial rent rises that follow the enactment of the Housing Bill next year mean losses as enormous as those from which the Government abruptly retreated?

Mr. Scott

It must be clearly understood that there will be full protection of housing benfit for rent rises that occur next year. In any case, there is full and absolute protection for income support beneficiaries.

I am absolutely convinced—as, I think, the House is —that the new system of housing benefit is vastly preferable to the one that went before. We have ensured that those affected unduly harshly by the transition will be protected in cash terms. That is surely worthy of praise rather than of criticism.