§ Mr. McNamara
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what progress 639W has been made in the negotiations between his Department and the local authority associations in England and Wales on the question of high rents for supplementary benefit claimants in local authority accommodation.
§ Mr. Crossman:
As the House will be aware, there has been widespread concern because in a growing number of cases in recent months the Supplementary Benefits Commission has felt unable to cover in full the rents charged by certain local authorities to those in receipt of their benefit. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government and I decided therefore to ask an interdepartmental working party on which the commission and the local authorities were represented to consider the problem. I have now received the working party's proposals and am glad to say that we are able to accept the interim solution it proposes, which is designed primarily to prevent hardship to the tenants concerned and at the same time to avoid duplication of the Exchequer subsidy. The proposals provide that the level of rent to be taken into account by the commission in assessing supplementary benefit is to be the unrebated rent of the dwelling or, if it is lower, the cost rent of the dwelling less the subsidy payable under the Housing Subsidies Act, 1967. The proposals also provide that where a local authority operates a rent rebate scheme, it should pay to the Department of Health and Social Security a sum, calculated on an agreed formula, in respect of every tenant receiving supplementary benefit.
If these proposals are accepted by the local authorities the commission will be ready to pay arrears of benefit in appropriate cases to those recipients whose benefit has been restricted, retrospectively with effect from the date of restriction.
I have no doubt that this is the best interim solution available on the basis of the present law. It would remove a difficult and long-standing conflict between the Supplementary Benefits Commission and the local authorities which has caused hardship—in some cases acute hardship—for thousands of tenants. I am grateful to the working party for its constructive proposals, which have now been sent to the local authority associations for England and Wales. I hope that they will feel able to agree to them 640W speedily so that the sufferings of the tenants, who have been innocent victims of a dispute between public bodies, may be quickly resolved.