HC Deb 19 April 1999 vol 329 cc559-60
8. Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow)

If he will make a statement on the operation of the habitual residence test following the Swaddling judgment. [79735]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Angela Eagle)

The Swaddling judgment has provided useful clarification of the factors to be used in assessing habitual residence, and guidance has been issued to adjudication officers. Work on the review of the habitual residence test is almost complete and we expect to bring forward our recommendations for its future soon.

Ms King

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Given that the Swaddling judgment will not be relevant or bring relief to those who, like the majority of my constituents, travel beyond the European Union, can my hon. Friend give a more specific date for the outcome of the review, or at least undertake that it will come at the earliest opportunity? Will she explain why the Government's estimated savings as a result of the HRT have increased significantly over the past year and a half, especially because, at least in my constituency, much money is paid out to families made destitute, either under the National Assistance Act 1948 or the Children Act 1989?

Angela Eagle

My hon. Friend makes a good point about switching resources rather than making savings; we are investigating that issue as part of the review. In fact, the estimated savings have nearly halved because of a different way of assessing them: originally, the average time that people who failed the test were assumed to have been denied access to benefits was calculated as being 26 weeks. We believe that that is too long and does not reflect reality, so that calculation has been reduced to 13 weeks. That is why the estimated savings from the habitual residence test have gone down rather than up.

As part of the review, we are considering the effect of the test on UK nationals, which I suspect was a wholly unintended result of the little pantomime performed by the deputy leader of the Tory party, the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley), at the Tory party conference. From today's papers, I learn that he has also changed his mind on other fundamentals and decided that privatisation has nothing to do with public service—hallelujah, we welcome converts.