HC Deb 17 April 1989 vol 151 cc11-2
14. Mr. Bowis

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how far up the income scale family credit goes.

Mr. Moore

Family credit is not just for those on very low wages, and thousands of people have not yet realised the high levels of income that they can have and still get family credit. The level depends on the number of children in the family and their ages. For example, a family with three children aged three, eight and 11 could be taking home up to £141 a week and still be eligible for family credit, and if the children were all teenagers the amount could be over £170 a week; both those amounts are net pay after tax and national insurance deductions.

One of the main objectives of the major advertising campaign which has just begun is to ensure that people are more aware of the high levels of income at which family credit is payable and how it applies to their families.

Mr. Bowis

My right hon. Friend's answer highlights the fact that many people do not realise that they qualify for family credit. What is the current take-up in terms of expenditure, and, given my right hon. Friend's answer about the advertising campaign, can he reassure me that if there is a much greater take-up in the future, the speed with which settlements will be made will be at least as good as now, if not better?

Mr. Moore

My hon. Friend confirms the point identified in the research—people's failure to understand that they are eligible—which we are trying to address in the advertising campaign. In answer to his specific questions, the expenditure take-up is running at 65 per cent. at the moment. In regard to the clearance times, when we introduced family credit, we set up a target of 18 working days. I am happy to tell my hon. Friend and the House that in March the department averaged 17.1 days in clearance time of which only five days involved departmental work and the rest was incurred when we had to receive information from employers.

Mr. Frank Field

Now that the Government have launched the advertising campaign, which I welcome, will the Secretary of State tell the House what level of take-up of benefit the Government will consider satisfactory?

Mr. Moore

I shall continue to pursue as hard, as fast and as carefully as I can all those who are eligible. After one year we have reached 65 per cent. of the approximate expenditure, a very sizeable achievement, as the hon. Gentleman knows. While I thank him for his generosity in welcoming our campaign, I prefer to aim for a sizeable increase in take-up and I am not prepared to put a precise figure on the advertising campaign at present. I know that the hon. Gentleman will delight in joining me in welcoming the more than doubling in expenditure on families on low incomes in comparison with FIS.

Mr. David Nicholson

As my right hon. Friend has made clear, family credit is an excellent benefit in that it is well targeted. However, is he aware of the strong pressure on both sides of the House for its take-up to be increased? Could an improvement be made by simplifying the application form?

Mr. Moore

We have just been through a process of simplifying the form. The new form is shorter and is not difficult to fill out. The research that has been done—it has been placed in the Library at the request of the Opposition —shows that the length of the form was never seen as a key problem in take-up. I think that my hon. Friend will agree, when he looks at the new form which was published last week, that it is a considerable improvement on the earlier one.