HC Deb 23 April 1996 vol 276 cc179-80
1. Mr. Pike

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many outstanding appeals there are under the habitual residence test; and if he will make a statement. [24669]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Roger Evans)

Statistics on appeals are collected by the Independent Tribunal Service which does not record the reason for the appeal.

Mr. Pike

Does the Minister agree with the view of the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux that, because there is no straightforward definition of the habitual residence test, many cases have to go to the adjudication officer and are ultimately revised? Is that not an absolute waste of money and time, and does the Minister agree that it prevents people who are entitled to benefit from getting it as speedily as they should? Should not there be an urgent review to remedy that?

Mr. Evans

It is not a waste of time: it is an important measure to save public money and to prevent the kind of abuse that happened when Spanish holidaymakers were claiming income support in England. The habitual residence test is well founded in European law and we are entitled to introduce it to protect the British taxpayer. Nobody has come up with a better alternative suggestion, and I can only conclude from the hon. Gentleman's words that his party proposes to abolish this necessary protection for the British taxpayer.

Mr. John Marshall

Does my hon. Friend accept that most people believe that ending benefit tourism is a great bonus for the taxpayer? Is it because of a desire to help benefit tourists that the Labour party proposes to get rid of child benefit for those who are over the age of 16?

Mr. Evans

My hon. Friend speaks on St. George's day for England, as ever. The second part of his question contains a most interesting challenge, and we wait to see what Labour Front-Bench spokesmen can possibly give by way of an explanation.

Mr. Bradley

May I press the Minister a little further on the figures that are contained in the excellent report by the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux? Is he aware that well over 5,000 British nationals have been left without financial support because of the habitual residence test—a test that the Government said was meant to root out only benefit tourism? Is it not clear that the test is not rooting out those who do not genuinely deserve such benefits, but that only British nationals who are returning home are being hit by the policy? Will he again review the test to ensure that such British nationals receive income support and other benefits to which they are genuinely entitled?

Mr. Evans

All aspects of policy are always under review, but this policy appears to be working. Between August 1994 and February 1996, 91,424 British nationals passed the test and 9,191 failed it; 13,392 European economic area nationals passed it while 13,487 in that category failed it. The system protects British interests, and nobody has yet produced an alternative that is acceptable in European law.

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