HL Deb 01 December 2004 vol 667 cc463-5

2.43 p.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are satisfied with the take-up of disability benefits.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Hollis of Heigham)

My Lords, broadly yes, for disability living allowance and attendance allowance benefits which help people with the extra cost of disability. Successful DLA claims have increased by 25 per cent in the past five years. However, the answer is broadly no for incapacity benefit when people linger too long on an income replacement benefit when they can and wish to return to work. With their support, we are seeking to address that with our Pathways to Work project.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that response. I am well aware of the welcome steps taken by the Government to increase take-up. Does she agree that so far those steps have failed to resolve the problem? The fact that the take-up of some benefits is only about 40 per cent is a clear indication of that. It is also a clear indication of disabled people not refusing the money to which they are entitled. Millions of pounds are not being claimed.

In my view, the best way to resolve this is for the Government to give a commitment that they will approach all disabled people and inform them of their rights to benefit and urge them to apply. That is already being done on a small scale by various local authorities and public utilities in relation to other issues. Will the Government begin to do that and perhaps solve this awful problem?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, I am very happy to consider the suggestion of my noble friend in further detail. Most benefits have take-up ranges; for example, income support is 90 per cent plus, and so on. The difficulty with the disability living allowance is that there is no straightforward read-across from the degree of disability to the degree of employability or the need for DLA. Although we know who is disabled, one can determine eligibility for disability living allowance only by a one-to-one personal interview, filling in the forms and so on. We are not sure how many people are under-claiming. I absolutely agree with my noble friend that it is important that everyone who is entitled to the benefits should access them. We are working on that very extensively.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, will the noble Baroness do her best to simplify the forms? At the moment the forms are the size of a book, the questions are intrusive and incomprehensible and the whole procedure is frightening.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, we have reduced the pages of the attendance allowance form, which is for older people, from 38 to about 19.

Noble Lords


Baroness Hollis of Heigham

Yes, my Lords. The forms are in big print. One page is simply for identifying the applicant's family; the second page is for a person who is filling in the form for someone else, as is the third page; the fourth page asks for illnesses and disabilities; the fifth page asks about the treatment being received; and the next page asks why the claim is being made. These are high-value benefits and people are asked to fill in a space such as this on these rather big-print forms. It is not surprising that the information is needed. We need to be able to determine that up to £100 a week properly goes to those who need it. We are also seeking to simplify the forms for the disability living allowance.

We have to ensure that people not only claim the money, but that the right people receive it. These are high-value benefits. We also have helplines for people; leaflets in eight or 10 ethnic minority languages; and forms that are prepopulated in the sense that they can be completed over the telephone and signed afterwards. We are genuinely seeking to ensure that people who are entitled to the money claim it and receive it. However, we cannot simply say, "We feel sorry for you; have some money". There has to be a proper audit trail for the money. It is a high-value benefit.

Lord Higgins

My Lords, I think that reply will be at least 19 pages in Hansard. In view of the widespread computer problem in the Department for Work and Pensions, will the computer dealing with disability benefit claims and payments be satisfactory? What steps are being taken to ensure that the system will be adequate after the passage of the Disability Discrimination Bill?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, I do not understand the connection with the second question. On the first question, the computer is certainly adequate for purpose and has not been affected. The Disability Discrimination Bill does not have anything to do with benefit claims, so I do not see the point of the noble Lord's second question.

Lord Addington

My Lords, will the Minister give the House some inkling of the Government's research into the low take-up of benefit? Will that enable claimants to access anything else available to them in other sections of society, which I am afraid does bring us back to the new Bill and the previous legislation?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, is the noble Lord suggesting that what matters is that the benefit is the passport to other benefits? Is that the push of his question?

Lord Addington

My Lords, it is the access of benefits to the whole of society.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, I am probably being slow today but I do not understand the import of that question. It is clear that if somebody has DLA they are more likely successfully to hold down a job by virtue of the extra support and so on. Access to benefits is independent of civil rights. The noble Lord's question is more appropriately associated with questions on civil rights, which will be reflected in the Bill that we shall discuss on Monday.

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