HL Deb 27 November 1991 vol 532 cc1310-2

2.54 p.m.

The Countess of Marasked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the average administrative cost of awarding income support severe disability premium for late claims for the period from April 1988 to October 1989.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Henley)

My Lords, arrears sought through late claims for income support following a re-interpretation of the law by a social security commissioner are not payable for any period before the re-interpretation. In this instance the re-interpretation took place on 17th May 1990. Arrears for the period April 1988 to October 1989 are not now available. The cost is therefore nil.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that at the moment thousands of cases are waiting to be heard by tribunals? There has been a commissioner decision which enables adjudicating officers to support the cases, but they cannot pay the claims. Is this not an expensive way of rubber-stamping matters?

Lord Henley

My Lords, the noble Countess is correct to say there are some valid claims. My original Answer referred to late claims. As the noble Countess will appreciate, those with late claims cannot now make an application. It is possible that there are some cases for which some but not all arrears have been paid, but I suspect that the number is small. The vast majority of such cases have been referred to commissioners. The administrative cost of identifying the small numbers that are possibly affected could be significant. However, we shall give careful consideration the matter of whether a special exercise should be mounted. I must stress that we should consider the total administrative costs of such an exercise in relation to the amount of money that might be paid out.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, is not this matter waiting upon a judgment in one of the courts? If that is the case, when are we likely to receive that judgment which should enable those who are entitled to receive awards to do so once the decision is made?

Lord Henley

My Lords, my noble friend is partly correct but partly incorrect in his remarks. I suspect he is referring to the Foster case which is before your Lordships' House at the moment. The decision on that case does not apply directly to the cases that we are discussing. It is for the Judicial Committee to decide when to make a judgment on the Foster case.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, does the Minister accept that until this August the severely disabled could claim arrears of benefit beyond 52 weeks where officials had made a mistake, but that following the regulation changes which were laid one day and introduced the next, that is no longer the case? Does the Minister still believe it is right and decent that the severely disabled should lose out because officials have made a mistake in assessing benefit?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness to the first occasion on which she has participated in a social security question. I was interested in her question, which is not related to the Question on the Order Paper. No doubt we shall have ample opportunities to debate the question of the noble Baroness on some future occasion.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, is the Minister aware that about 90 per cent. of these cases are brought on behalf of people who are totally incapable of managing their own affairs? There are many thousands of late claims as a result of the trawls which occurred before the August deadline. Each one of those claims has to be taken before a tribunal. Is the Minister satisfied with the working of the Social Security Act 1990?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am satisfied with the operation of the changes made in that Act. I believe that the noble Countess is slightly confused. As I have said, late claims cannot now be submitted as the time limit has passed. There were a number of claims that were presumably disallowed between April 1988 and October 1989 for the same reason as applied in the Crompton case. Some of those claims may result in a severe disablement premium being paid and obviously those cases can be considered.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, will the Minister explain to the House in what particular the question of my noble friend Lady Hollis was wide of the Question on the Order Paper? On reading through the Question on the Order Paper the supplementary question of my noble friend seems germane to the issue.

Lord Henley

My Lords, the Question on the Order Paper relates to the severe disability premium which is an integral part of income support. It also concerns the changes that resulted partly from the 1990 Act and partly from the re-interpretation of the law following the Crompton decision. That has nothing to do with the changes referred to by the noble Baroness.