HL Deb 26 March 1981 vol 418 cc1283-5

3.30 p.m.

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

My Lords, I beg to move that the Supplementary Benefit (Requirements) Regulations 1981, laid before the House on 3rd March, be approved. In her recent announcement of the general benefit uprating my noble friend Lady Young was not able to mention one minor item, the repairs and insurance allowance payable to certain householders on supplementary benefit. It is my duty now to invite your Lordships to approve the statutory instrument laid before your Lordships' House, which increases the rate of the repairs and insurance allowance. The repairs and insurance allowance is a weekly addition to supplementary benefit for owner-occupiers and others who have responsibility for repairs to, and insurance of, the structure of their home. It is intended to meet the cost of routine minor repairs to the home, and of insurance of the structure, and is currently at the rate of £1.25 a week. This provision is at Regulation 17 of the Supplementary Benefit (Requirements) Regulations 1980. These amendments regulations simply substitute the new rate of £1.50 with effect from 1st April 1981.

Your Lordships will appreciate that the repairs and insurance allowance is a fixed weekly sum. An underlying principle of the supplementary benefit scheme is that reasonable housing costs are met in full, but we follow the former Supplementary Benefits Commission in considering that it is just not sensible rigorously to investigate the detailed expenditure of every claimant entitled to this allowance. Your Lordships will take note, however, that Regulation 17 provides for this sum to be exceeded where this is reasonable, having regard to any special circumstances—for example, a high fire risk—which justify higher than average expenditure.

We have decided upon a proportionately fairly generous increase this year because we are conscious of the modest rate of the allowance, and of the considerable rise in the costs of maintenance and insurance of the home. The cost of this uprating will be approximately £7 million in a full year.

I do not want to take up too much time with this minor, though I hope welcome, item of business. I should nevertheless like to give your Lordships a brief explanation of the reason for its being brought forward at this time. This statutory instrument marks the transition from the old scheme to the new for this particular allowance. Noble Lords will be aware that this is the first time they have been asked to deal with supplementary benefit upratings under the new regulations. Hitherto the former Supplementary Benefits Commission introduced new rates for repairs and insurance under its discretionary powers. In future we will not ask your Lordships to deal with this item on its own.

Increases in the repairs and insurance allowance have always been implemented in April, rather than with the other benefit increases. This is simply a matter of operational efficiency. Other housing costs—rates and water rates—go up at that time of year, and it saves a great deal of staff time in our local offices if all three can be dealt with together on the same housing costs assessment form. We intend to keep to this arrangement, hence the 1st April operative date of the regulations now before your Lordships. However, in future we shall include the repairs and insurance allowance in the main uprating regulations, for implementation in April of the following year.

The regulations now before your Lordships therefore allow us to get into phase with the new uprating cycle since we did not have that opportunity at the time of the uprating regulations last year. Once we have established the April 1981 rate at £1.50, we shall be able to include provision for the April 1982 rate in this year's uprating regulations which will be laid before your Lordships in due course. The increase in the allowance then will be in line with my right honourable friend's estimate of the rise in prices. My Lords, I commend these regulations to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 3rd March be approved.—(Lord Cullen of Ashbourne).

Lord Wells-Pestell

My Lords, I am sure the House is grateful to the noble Lord for explaining this matter in detail. I think it is important that the House should know what it is all about. My only comment is that of course an increase is far better than a decrease but I think we would all recognise that £1.50 a week, which amounts to something like £78 a year, is not in itself a very large sum to meet insurance on a home or a house and to cover repairs. When the noble Lord said that in exceptional circumstances this amount could be increased that was some comfort, but I am sure the Government will realise that in view of the cost of repairs these days it is difficult to get anything done without spending quite a considerable sum of money. Apart from that, I have no other comment to make.

Lord Banks

My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Cullen of Ashbourne, for his very clear exposition of the purpose of this order. As he explained, in the past this would not have come before your Lordships but now that it is subject to the requirements regulations it does come before us. He also explained that in future we should not have to deal with this comparatively minor but important item on its own. I was intending to ask the noble Lord why it was that it was to take effect in April, and to suggest to him that it might be more convenient to have all changes in November, but he has explained that point and I accept what he said. I am very happy to support the approval of the order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.