HC Deb 05 July 1999 vol 334 cc632-3
10. Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow)

If he will make a statement on reform of the benefit integrity project. [88034]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Hugh Bayley)

The benefit integrity project was terminated on 31 March 1999. We have replaced it with a periodic inquiry process into disability living allowance awards that is both fairer and more sensitive to the needs of individual disabled people.

Mr. Rammell

I thank the Minister for that response. Does he agree that a crucial part of the changes has been the move from a faceless, cost-cutting bureaucracy to a situation in which a claimant is, rightly, able to speak over the telephone to the person who is making the decision on that claimant's benefit eligibility? Will the Minister also reassure the House that the Government will continue to invest in training for Benefits Agency staff, particularly in disability awareness, to ensure that the changes are successful?

Mr. Bayley

Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. The benefit integrity project was introduced by our predecessors, before the general election, as a cost-cutting exercise, and was, therefore, seen as unfair by disabled people. The project considered only cases for reduction in benefit, not cases in which people were being paid too little benefit. Our periodic review, however, will do both: it will reduce benefits when people's circumstances change and they no longer qualify for higher rates, but also increase benefits for those whose needs increase. That is what is different about the changes, and it is why our new review process will be much fairer.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

According to what precise criteria will discretion be used to decide whether reviewed benefits should be backdated or not backdated?

Mr. Bayley

The rules on backdating are the same as those that applied under the benefit integrity project: one does not backdate benefit to the date of either the inquiry letter or the inquiry visit.