HL Deb 27 February 1984 vol 448 cc1098-110

7.5 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Lord Glenarthur) rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 6th February be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Supplementary Benefit (Requirements) Amendment Regulations 1984, which were laid before the House on 6th February, be approved. These draft regulations amend the Supplementary Benefit (Requirements) Regulations 1983, which deal with the levels of help given under supplementary benefit. The amending regulations make certain changes to the rules governing deductions from a claimant's benefit for non-dependants living in his or her household, and to the rules governing amounts for housing costs added to benefit paid to non-householders.

As your Lordships will appreciate, these regulations form only part of a package of measures designed to reduce public expenditure on assistance with housing costs, through housing benefit and supplementary benefit. The package was announced by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services on 6th February following comments by the Social Security Advisory Committee, the local authority associations and others on the original set of proposals announced as part of the Chancellor's Autumn Statement last November.

The regulations before us today form part of a package which includes the Housing Benefits Amendment Regulations 1984, which are subject to the negative procedure and which were also laid before the House on 6th February. Although that set of regulations is not the subject of today's debate it would, I think, be helpful if I briefly explain the thinking behind the package as a whole before going on to outline the set of supplementary benefit regulations now before your Lordships.

The key to the Government's decision to make reductions in this area is found in three interconnecting policies: first, the need to contain public spending; secondly, the need to reduce inflation; and, thirdly, the need to reduce taxation. The Government lay a central emphasis on the control of public spending in order to reduce inflation. The economic arguments for this are well established, but high inflation is also a social disaster for those, particularly pensioners, whose income and savings are reduced by it—as well as for business and industry who carry much of the burden of financing the welfare state. It is one of this Government's proudest achievements that inflation is now down to levels not seen since the 1960s. That is to everyone's advantage.

Most would accept that control of public spending is now essential. Social Security spending now runs at £35½ billion annually—over half on pensions and help for the elderly—while next year we estimate that it will increase to over £37 billion. It is impossible to exempt a programme which adds up to about 30 per cent. of all public expenditure. But it is important to remember that even with the need to control expenditure we are price-protecting the pensioner and preserving the value of supplementary benefit and unemployment benefit.

What we are seeking to achieve in this package is a reduction in the rate of growth in social security spending; and the reason that we have sought savings in housing benefit is because it extends financial help further up the income scale than any other means-tested social security benefit and now goes to one household in every three. In making changes to the scheme, we have sought to protect the position of the poorest families. The result is that. out of 7 million beneficiaries, 4½ million, including 2½ million pensioners, are not affected by the taper or minima changes which we are proposing. The result is also that no householder on supplementary benefit and no-one below the needs allowance need lose from the April changes.

The package announced by my right honourable friend on 6th February made a number of significant changes to our original proposals in order to reduce the cumulative effect of the changes for claimants and to ease the administrative task, particularly for local authorities. Certain of the original proposals which fall outside the scope of these regulations were modified, and others were deferred until November 1984 to give claimants more time to adjust to them, or to give local authorities more time to amend computers and other systems to take account of the more complex changes.

These regulations, and the Housing Benefits Amendment Regulations 1984, deal only with the changes which will now happen in April. Further regulations for the remaining changes in November will be made later after the department has had further discussions with the local authority associations. Against that background I turn now to the specific subject before us, the Supplementary Benefit (Requirements) Amendment Regulations 1984.

The major change, set out in paragraph 4(a), concerns the position where the supplementary benefit recipient is not himself a householder. His benefit is at present increased by £3.10, which is intended as a contribution for him to make to housing costs. This contribution is not provided for 16 to 17 year-olds, and the proposal here is that the addition should be withdrawn from 18 to 20 year-olds—subject to the important qualification in paragraph 3(2)(b) to protect the poorer households. When a young person is on supplementary benefit and living at home, many families do not expect him to make a contribution to housing costs. When savings have to be made, we believe that it is only right to take account of this fact and reduce benefit accordingly. But poorer households are protected; where the householder is himself on supplementary or housing benefit, extra benefit, up to the level of the contribution, will be added directly to the benefit paid to the householder. It should also be noted that the supplementary benefit scale rate in any case rises from £16.50 to £21.45 at age 18, providing a significant increase in income at that age. It is estimated that this change will make savings of about £60 million in 1984–85.

The regulations also provide, in paragraph 3(2)(a), for changes in deductions from benefit for certain non-dependants. I should explain first that these regulations only affect those deductions which are made in supplementary benefit from such housing costs as mortgage interests which are still covered by supplementary benefit. For most supplementary benefit claimants, their housing costs are met by housing benefit, and any non-dependant deductions are made from that benefit.

The principle of non-dependant deductions was well-established under the old schemes which housing benefit replaces. Non-dependants were assumed to contribute to the household's housing costs at standard rates. These regulations affect the rate of deductions for those aged 18 to pension age who are not on supplementary benefit. At present, two rates apply: one for 18 to 20 year-olds and one for those aged 21 up to pension age. The regulations provide that only one rate should apply in future for these two groups and that it should be increased to £6.15. These changes are consequential on similar changes made to the housing benefit regulations, and rest on the belief that it is not unreasonable to expect contributions of this order from the non-dependants concerned when, for example, male earnings are nearly £170 per week for adults and nearly £100 per week for 18 to 20 year-olds. When savings have to be made, we would argue that this group can best afford to pay more.

The two other main changes in the regulations, in paragraphs 3(3) and 3(4), are beneficial. The first is that no deduction will be made for 18 year-old non-dependants receiving a youth training allowance—16 and 17 year-olds are already exempt. I do not think anyone would disagree with that. The second change concerns reduced deductions for sick or unemployed non-dependants who are receiving certain benefits. At present they must have been receiving benefit for 90 days before the reduced rate can apply. The regulations change this to 56 days, in response to the Social Security Advisory Committee's recommendation that the qualifying period should be abolished altogether or substantially reduced. It would not be practical to abolish the qualifying period as this would give rise to a lot of short-term claims, but we have gone as far as we reasonably can.

The regulations we are debating today are short but in some respects detailed and complex. But together with the other measures I have mentioned they and the proposed further changes in November represent an important step towards the better control and administration of the housing benefit scheme. The review of the scheme, which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has also announced, will look at its scope and structure. It objectives will be to improve and simplify the operation of the scheme, making it easier to understand and ensuring that it is better targeted to give help where it is most needed.

In modifying the original proposals for changes to the scheme, we have responded to the genuine concerns which have been expressed. But expenditure on social security is still growing rapidly—in total it is now forecast to be some £750 million higher next year than was expected at this time last year; a large part of that because of housing benefit. We have to find ways of containing that growth. Increasing social security expenditure—like all increases in public expenditure —means an increasing tax burden for all taxpayers. We can only relieve that burden, and particularly the burden on low income families and pensioners, if we are prepared to make sensible economies where we can. I therefore commend these regulations to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 6th February be approved.—(Lord Glenarthur.)

7.16 p.m.

Baroness Jeger

My Lords. I congratulate the noble Lord on having read such a grotty brief so well. When we are considering such proposals before the House I think it is very important to try to find out what is the basic philosophy behind them. We are told that under the housing benefits regulations there are problems of public spending, and because the Government underestimated the number of people who would need housing benefit help we now have to hold back on those problems.

I accept that the noble Lord is in a dilemma because he cannot expect the Government to increase the amount of money that is available. But I want to tell the noble Lord that I have an idea, and I want to help him. I want to say that the housing money that is available to the Government need not he increased, but it needs to be altered. I put it to the noble Lord that while saying that we cannot meet the full ohligatons of the housing benefits regulations that were first brought in, the Government are at the same time increasing income tax allowances on mortgages from £25,000 to £30,000 for a house. The Government are admitting that discounts on council sales will cost about £600 million. That is in The Times of 25th February, where it is said that the promise to give tenants of charities a cash discount may cost £600 million.

What I am trying to say to the Government, although I know that technically this may not be the right moment for it, is: why do we not have a broader spread of housing financing throughout the country? We are saying that housing benefits have to be restricted. I know this, having been chairman of the housing committee in St. Pancras, as it used to be, or Camden, as it now is. The council is paying more than £100 a week for a couple to stay in a bed and breakfast room. That amounts to millions of pounds. If those millions of pounds were put into building council flats and houses we would have something at the end of the day. But the money we are giving to the providers of bed and breakfast, often for intolerable situations, is money down the drain because we do not get anything back. We do not have a house at the end of the day. That has to be taken into consideration when we are dealing with housing benefits.

On the question of the housing of disabled people, I have already mentioned the fact that could come to £600 million a year; so that we are really not looking at housing as a whole. I appreciate that the noble Lord opposite has to deal with the DHSS, but housing is also a matter for his other noble friends and it seems to me that the Government are not keeping these two things sufficiently together. I put this frankly to the noble Lord. The Government have said that they are going to have a review of housing benefits. Why do we not delay the increases and the changes until we have got that review? And can the noble Lord tell me that when we get that review it will be published? And will it take in not just the housing benefit recipients but the whole of housing finance?—because, until we do that, until we take on board mortgage receipts, and reductions in income tax on mortgage payments, and until we take a look at the whole housing situation, the housing benefit question cannot be dealt with. It cannot stand alone. I know this is a great deal to ask the noble Lord, because he is a DHSS Minister and not a Minister in the other place, but I hope that he will talk to his noble friends about these problems.

I have heard, and I am sure that he has heard, from many local authorities about the impossibility of dealing with the situation. There were supposed to be changes in April. Now, some of these changes have been postponed until November. I have heard from many authorities that they cannot administratively do this. Meanwhile, there are tenants who are in great distress, who are told that they cannot get help, who cannot pay their rents, so that they are given notice either by the local authority or by private landlords. This is really distressing and impossible. Also, I think the noble Lord should take on board that the administrative cost to local authorities is enormous at a time when the Government are saying that the local authorities ought to cut their administrative costs. Having worked out, as I know many of them have, all sorts of schemes to get this thing through in April, there is now a cricket ball from the Government with the message that they must alter it to November. This really is intolerable.

If the Government are going to ask local authorities to change their arithmetic to bring in November instead of April and at the same time tell them that they have to cut their staff and, presumably, to cut their computers if they have any, this is putting them in an impossible position. I do not know what the Government are trying to do.

I will ask the noble Lord, who is always courteous and understanding, if he can put us right. My understanding is that there are about seven million households receiving some help with housing benefit but that, because of the changes, about 12 million households which were expecting child allowances are going to have those postponed until next November.

There is, as my friends in local government assure me, administrative chaos. Rates are being pushed up because of this Government's policy, impoverishment is increasing because of decreasing employment. At the same time, mortgage tax relief—and I am very shy about giving figures; but my figure is that mortgage tax relief is about £2.75 billion a year—is infinitely more than poorer people are getting from housing benefit relief. It is the poorest people who are applying for housing benefit relief.

I am not saying that people who are trying to buy their own houses, trying to get their mortgage, are well off. I know many of them who are not. But they are not the poorest; they are not the people who are in cardboard boxes under the arches in Charing Cross tonight. They are not the people who are in a bed-and-breakfast homeless family place. Therefore, I ask the noble Lord to try to bring to us tonight some kind of more comprehensive housing policy so that, while we are talking about what we are doing about housing benefit for certain sections, he will try to give us some idea that the Government are looking at the whole of the housing problem; because at the moment they are getting the housing problem in bits and pieces and that is not doing any good to anybody.

7.26 p.m.

Lord Banks

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, for his explanation of the purpose and nature of this order which we are now discussing. The changes made by these regulations, as the noble Lord indicated, are part of the changes in housing benefit announced in the autumn. When they were announced, they created a storm of disapproval. The Social Security Advisory Committee received 112 representations in regard to them. That is the highest number of representations in relation to any particular set of proposals that they have yet received.

The housing benefits scheme had already had a difficult start, with much delay and confusion, yet at this comparatively early stage it has to endure these additional changes. It certainly seemed in the autumn that Ministers had not grasped the full significance of the cuts which they were recommending. The Social Security Advisory Committee in their report had this to say about the cuts: We join with all those who gave evidence to us in deploring the reductions, which we believe will have an unduly harsh effect on many individuals and which will introduce further confusion into the administration of the benefit, which has been suffering from a particularly troubled birth". The Government felt compelled, as the noble Lord has indicated, to make some modification of their original proposals. Even so, my right honourable and honourable friends in another place felt obliged to vote against them.

The order before the House this evening was considered in another place along with other Motions covering the whole field of housing benefit cuts and I think that, as a result, the specific proposals in these regulations did not receive very full attention. As I understand it, what the Government have proposed—and, I think that this is what the noble Lord has told us—is that there should be an increase in the deduction from the requirement made in respect of non-dependant members of the household from £3.95 to £6.15 for those aged between 18 and 20 and from £4.70 to £6.15 in other cases. That is in respect of rent. There are also, I understand, increases from £1.60 to £2.05 in the case of rates for those in the age bracket 18 to 20 and £1.85 to £2.05 for those over the age of 20. So that, overall, the deduction will be increased to £8.20 from £5.55 for those between 18 and 20 and to £8.20 from £6.55 for those over 20. And, of course, the non-dependants are supposed to pay to the householder these amounts. And the Government case is that £8.20 is not a large sum for people to pay in view of the current level of earnings. I wonder whether that is really the correct question to ask. Surely the right question is really this. Are non-dependants being expected to pay a larger share of the rent and rates than is reasonable? It could be argued, I suppose, that £20 a week is not beyond the bounds of possibility for non-dependants on average earnings to pay. But two questions immediately arise: what about the lowest paid? And, irrespective of the ability to pay, is it a fair proportion of the rent?

The Social Security Advisory Committee gave it as their view that the increases have gone beyond what is fair and reasonable. They fear that they will encourage your people to leave home with possibly a higher social security cost in the long run as a consequence. They fear that there will be a reduction in family income in certain cases below supplementary benefit, if non-dependants cannot or will not pay.

The committee also pointed out that the national average local authority rent at April 1983 was £13.41 and the average rate £5.71. A non-dependant contribution of £8.20 means that, in a household with parents and one working child of 18 or over, the young person will be expected to pay some 43 per cent. of the total housing costs. The question is not whether he can pay but whether it is fair that he should be expected to pay that amount. It does not seem to me that that point has been answered in Command 9155, the statement of the Secretary of State. Furthermore, reliable information on the income of non-householders was not available, so that the decision was taken without adequate knowledge. There will have been a 160 per cent. rise in deductions in respect of the 18 to 20 year-olds since April 1983 and a 74 per cent. rise in deductions in respect of those aged 20 and over since April 1983. In addition, the increased deduction is expected to be paid by people who are on unemployment benefit, sickness benefit or maternity benefit, unless they have been receiving the benefit continuously for more than 56 days; and £8.20 represents about 30 per cent. of current unemployment rates. One asks again: is that fair?

I think I have said enough to make it clear why we on these Benches have solid reasons to have the strongest misgivings about this order.

7.32 p.m.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, we also should like to thank the noble Lord for the explanation he has given. I want simply to add a few supplementary questions to those put by my noble friend Lord Banks. It appears that for the first time 16 and 17 year-olds in work will be contributing £3.10. That is a step which I regret, when we are trying to encourage young people to take up work in the job market.

What I am not clear about is that the contribution for those between 18 and 20 appears to have been raised from £3.95 to £6.15—that is on the rent contribution—and for those over 21, from £4.70 to £6.15. Can the noble Lord tell us why there has been a stiffer increase for those between 18 and 20 than for those over 21? I do not understand the logic.

Another question arises over people in part-time work. An instance was given in the debate in another place, to which the noble Lord, Lord Banks, has referred. It concerned a person with a 21-year-old son who works only 18 hours a week on an MSC course, for which he receives £41 a week gross, and he had to contribute the full amount. Does the noble Lord think it is fair that someone on £41 a week should contribute the same amount as somebody receiving £90 or £100 a week?—those are the average figures on which the Government seem to have made their calculation. Also, what about the 18-plus people who are still on a youth training scheme? I think I am right in saying that they are covered under (b), but perhaps the noble Lord will confirm that.

We welcome, of course, the reduction from 90 to 56 days as a qualifying period. That is an improvement, but there were further reservations that the Social Security Advisory Committee had about that, particularly in paragraph 34 of their report, in which they refer to— prolonged delays in deciding benefit claims [which have] meant that the householder and the non-dependant have suffered the full amount of deduction for far longer than they should have done and for reasons outside their control. They go on to say: We believe that this provision is unjust and we recommend accordingly that the modified deduction should take effect from the date of the housing benefit claim or from the date on which the non-dependant first satisfied the criteria if this is later. It should not be linked to the date on which the determination is made. That appears to be something that the Government have not taken into account. Will they look at it?

A further point was made by the Social Security Advisory Committee in their paragraph 41(iii). They recommended a system of phasing. Some changes have already been postponed from April to November, and they feel that a number of people would be benefited if this phasing were extended. They say: We should like to see any losses phased in in three stages, and we consider that the highest loss an individual should be asked to bear at one time is £2 per week. This is already high when compared with a limit of 75p per week agreed on the introduction of the housing benefit. Have the Government considered that? It was the considered opinion of their own advisory committee that if it were possible to introduce phasing of this kind it would possibly reduce the undesirable consequences flowing from this package. Have the Government paid any consideration to that particular recommendation of the Social Security Advisory Committee?

Finally, I would simply add my voice to that of the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, in regard to the review. The Secretary of State in another place announced that he was setting up a review and a report would be required to be sent to him quite rapidly on the whole question of housing benefits. Would it not be better to wait for this review rather than rushing in with these interim arrangements which seem to me to be another glorious example of "ad hoc-ery", to which we are so accustomed? Is it not better to wait and then come forward with proper, amending, primary legisation? In this connection, it is worth making one final quotation from the Social Security Advisory Committee. They say in Section 7: These proposals are undoubtedly the most significant on which we have had to advise in a report on draft regulations. They make changes of a scope more usually dealt with by Parliament through primary legislation or through regulations which do not fall within our ambit. Would this not be a more sensible way of going about the whole matter so that we could have a revised, amending Bill to consider before we go into another example of "ad hoc-ery"?

7.39 p.m.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, perhaps I might emphasise some of the points that have already been made, especially those given by my noble friend Lady Jeger. Other speakers have emphasised the great difficulties the Government are placing upon the local authorities by having an interim order and then another one in October, bearing in mind that the local authorities themselves are going to have to make great changes. They are forced to put up their rents for council houses each year, so that again makes another set of figures which has to be rehashed.

My noble friend talked about the under-estimation by the DHSS of the people who will be involved. In Birmingham, they were very much under-estimated by the DHSS. In October 1982 they said that the Birmingham housing department would receive 40,000 applications, but by December 1983 the figure had risen to 142,000. As my noble friend said, local authorities have been told to cut down, but one can imagine the agitation in Birmingham because people were not receiving their proper rebates. The noble Lord said that these people are the poor in the community, but we say that they are the poor and the poorer.

The noble Lord is aware that I wrote to him about a month ago—I reminded him only last week that he had not replied to my letter—regarding housing associations. Many tenants have not received their housing benefits which should have been passed over to housing associations. Assessments involving amounts of £550 to £700 have not yet been completed, and this causes another hardship.

The noble Lord said that he finds the regulations complex. I spent last Friday trying to understand them, and I was privileged to see computers being used in connection with them. Perhaps the DHSS ought to supply home computers to everybody who is on housing benefit so that they can work out their benefit themselves. But it would take them nearly all night to work out all the variations of what they can get.

So may I ask the Minister, while he is seeing that clearer guidance is given to local authorities, to see also that the pamphlet which is available for applicants is written not in complex language but in plain English? Its purpose is to let those who are unfortunate enough to be unable to pay their rents to understand the legislation that goes through this House, and if we cannot interpret it for them it is very difficult.

I would also ask for all local authorities to become sufficiently clear about the interpretation, so that they are all doing the same thing. At the moment, people in one part of the country get £X more than other people because the local authority has interpreted a clause differently. It is important that the interpretation is the same throughout the country, and the guidance to local authorities needs to be very clear.

I am very much involved with the blind, being president of the Birmingham Royal National Institute for the Blind, and I hope that the Government will, in the very near future, be able to come forward with a common definition of "blindness", because there is a different definition for blindness for supplementary benefit from blindness for housing benefit.

In conclusion, may I reiterate what my noble friend said about the housing policy? It appears that the Government have two distinct hands. To those that hath shall be given, and to those that hath little shall be taken away. My noble friend put that quite clearly when she spoke about the penalties of the further cutting of housing subsidies and the increase in mortgage interest relief. The Government have used averages all the way through in their deliberations on these alterations, but averages do not work out. When we are dealing with something like housing benefit, we are talking about individuals, and what will happen is that the benefits that are being cut will make life exceptionally hard for a great number of people who are on very low incomes.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, and to the noble Lords, Lord Banks and Lord Kilmarnock, for their comments on this package, and also to the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher. They have raised a number of points, and I shall try to deal with as many as I can. The noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, spoke about the whole business of housing not being looked at in isolation from these orders. That is a subject which goes rather wider than the subject that is before us, but I am sure that those who are responsible for the wider issues will take note of her remarks. It is a very complex area.

She drew a parallel with the mortgage interest relief and the increase from £25,000 to £30,000. She will realise that that is a matter not for me but for my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Far be it from me to make any quick political comments about that from this Dispatch Box, but if she is thinking of trying to dispose of it altogether a lot of people will be very interested to hear of it.

Turning to some of the points that she made, she was concerned, as were others, about the way in which these cuts will be implemented. The noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, asked about the timetable. One of the reasons why the Government decided to modify the original proposals was to make the changes easier for local authorities and local offices to implement. The changes taking place in April are, relatively speaking, quite straightforward. We were advised by Logica, which is a leading firm of management consultants, that authorities should be able to make these changes in time. The local authority associations subsequently confirmed this at a meeting with my honourable friend the Minister for Social Security, and we issued the necessary guidance to local authorities and local offices as soon as possible after the final decision was announced. The more complicated changes which have been referred to—for example, those changes requiring authorities to change their computer programmes, or to seek extra information from claimants—are deferred until November, which will give local authorities much more time to cope with them.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, asked about the child's needs allowance. As I explained, the overall savings in 1984–85 have been reduced from £230 million to £185 million. About £12 million of the shortfall is being made up by a short delay in the proposed £1 increase in the child's needs allowance. But I have to stress that this is not a cut in benefit. We are not withdrawing anything which families are already receiving. Instead of increasing the allowance by £1 in April 1984, as originally proposed, we shall increase it by 50p on top of the normal uprating in November 1984, and then by a further £1 in April 1985. In other words, it will have increased by 50 per cent. more than the original proposals would have allowed.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, asked: why not wait for the conclusions of the review before cutting benefits? The problem is that what we are dealing with is social security spending in 1984–85, and the most effective means of doing this is by making changes from April, which is the beginning of the financial year. The central concern of the review which I mentioned will be the structure and administration of the scheme, but this cannot be allowed to delay essential changes to contain the growth which is taking place in social security expenditure.

That review will be fairly wide-ranging. It will involve the local authorities as well as the Department of Health and Social Security, because it is now primarily a local authority problem. I cannot comment at this stage upon when the review will be completed or whether it will be published. I am sure that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will make a further statement in due course about the review, but I cannot be bound now as to exactly when that will be.

The noble Lord, Lord Banks, shares many of the views which were expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger. He asked in particular about non-dependants, arguing that we have increased the non-dependant deductions by too much. The Government make no apology for this change. The amalgamation of the current categories of 18 to 20 year-olds and those aged 21 up to pensionable age does no more than return to the system which prevailed under the old supplementary benefit scheme before April 1983. Nor do we believe that the new adult deductions are unfair when, as I made clear when I spoke earlier, the male adult wage is about £170 a week and for 18 to 20 year-olds it is nearly £100 a week. Similarly, it does not seem wrong that 16 to 17 year-olds, except those on supplementary benefit or non-contributory invalidity pension or on a youth training scheme, should be expected to contribute up to £3.10 a week from November when average weekly earnings for this group are £61 for males and £55.70 for females. It is for each household to ensure that its members contribute reasonable amounts to housing costs, but it is not the role of the housing benefit scheme, particularly when savings are necessary, to make up deficiencies in what amount to inter-family relationships.

The noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, indicated that there is a stiffer increase for 18 to 20 year-olds. This is the consequence of abolishing the rate for 18 to 20 year-olds, as he said. May I, as I said just now to the noble Lord, Lord Banks, remind the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, that the proposed structure is that which applied before April 1983. The noble Lord asked in particular about the youth training scheme and 18 year-olds. The answer is, yes, they are protected in the way I have just described. The noble Lord also asked whether or not the Government would implement the recommendation on the backdating of modified deductions. It is an attractive idea, but to do so would introduce certain administrative complications. We are looking at this recommendation with the local authorities and hope that in due course we shall be able to produce some proposals.

As to the question of phasing losses, the Government have considered it carefully, but after consultation with the local authority associations we have concluded that the phasing of losses is not practical. However, we have agreed to explore the possibility of setting a maximum limit on losses from November. If the local authority associations conclude that this is feasible, we shall give it our urgent consideration.

The noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, asked about publicity. She described the leaflets and the complexity of the forms. The benefit regulations which we have been discussing tonight are not the only changes we have made to improve the scheme. We have set up a forms group with the local authorities to try to improve form design. I share entirely the noble Baroness's feelings about the complexity of some of the forms. I have seen them in use in local offices. Substantial improvements have been made over the years. On the whole, design is improving, but this will be looked at when the forms group meets. As to the noble Baroness's last question, about blindness, perhaps I may look at her point. I do not have a ready answer to it now. If I may, I shall write to the noble Baroness and let her know what the situation is.

I have already said that we have set up a forms group. We are also about to issue a joint circular to local offices and local authorities in a number of areas where extra advice would be helpful, stressing the need for good liaison. We are also pursuing other ideas which have been suggested by the local authority associations. But technical changes and improvements are not sufficient, and in view of the problems which some authorities have had over the years my right honourable friend has decided to set up this much more fundamental review of the scheme. It is to be under independent chairmanship, and it will report to him at the end of the year. As I have said, my right honourable friend will announce further details of the review once he has appointed the chairman.

I think I have covered most of the points which have been raised in the debate. If I have not covered any specific points, I shall follow them up. I hope that at least I have reassured those who have spoken tonight about some of the points which worry them.

Baroness Jeger

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask whether it would be possible for him to give an assurance tonight that the review will be published and that it will relate not just to housing benefits but to the whole question of housing finance, including tax relief on mortgage payments and other aspects of housing finance? Many of us believe that if the review relates only to housing benefits it will not be doing its job. I hope the Minister can reply tonight, but if he is unable to do so I am prepared to wait for an answer.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Baroness might have to wait rather longer. As I said, my right honourable friend will be making a statement. However, I am sure that the views which the noble Baroness has expressed on this very wide and complex area will be taken into account by my right honourable friend before he makes his statement.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord for the thoroughness with which he has treated my questions. However, may I ask him to look at the point I raised with him about people on part-time earnings, and how they are affected, and to write to me about it?

Lord Glenarthur

Yes, my Lords, I shall certainly do that and will write to the noble Lord.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8 o'clock.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The sitting was suspended from 7.58 until 8 p.m.]