HC Deb 14 April 1980 vol 982 cc552-4W
Miss Richardson

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services (1) what are the estimated total costs of the Supplementary Benefits Commission's appeal to the House of Lords against the High Court decision in Supplementary Benefits Commission v. Jull;

(2) what would be the cost of accepting the High Court decision in the case of Supplementary Benefits Commission v. Jull and repaying the supplementary benefit denied to the mothers concerned;

(3) whether he will instruct the Supplementary Benefits Commission to abide by the decision of the High Court in the case of Supplementary Benefits Commission v. Jull, to abandon the appeal to the House of Lords, and to repay the money wrongly denied to the mothers concerned;

(4) How many lone mothers are now receiving less supplementary benefit than they otherwise would as a result of the decision of the treatment of maintenance paid to children announced in a written answer on 11 June 1979 by his Department; and what is the average minimum and maximum weekly amount involved.

Mr. Prentice

I have not yet had the opportunity of studying a transcript of the High Court judgment in this case, and in any event my right hon. Friend has no power to instruct the Supplementary Benefits Commission in this or in other matters. However, as I said in my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave) on 11 June 1979—[Vol. 968, c. 111–2]—I strongly supported the Supplementary Benefits Commission's decision to revert to its former practice of taking maintenance payments payable to a child fully into account against the requirements of the family, even where the payments exceed the child's scale rate. This change was necessary because of the increasing number of cases where maintenance for children was expressed as payable to the children, with the result of increasing the amount of benefit payable by the State.

I understand that the Supplementary Benefits Commission is considering its policy in the light of High Court deci- sion; if an appeal to the House of Lords is proceeded with, the cost is estimated to be in the region of £7,000.

I regret that the information as to numbers of people and amounts of benefit involved is not available in the form requested. However, between December 1976 and March 1980, about 900 cases were reported where a child had maintenance payments in excess of its supplementary benefit scale rate. It is not possible, without a disproportionate amount of work, to say what is the total amount of money involved; but, if the policy change in June 1979 referred to had not been made, the loss to public funds would eventually have run into millions of pounds.

The Social Security Bill at present before Parliament amends the Supplementary Benefits Act 1976 so as to provide that a child's requirements and resources are aggregated with those of a claimant who "is responsible" for the child (instead of, as at present, who "has to provide for the requirements" of the child). This will clarify the position that maintenance payments to a child are to be taken fully into account and will avoid the confusions which have arisen in this type of case. Subject to the approval of Parliament, this will take effect from November.