§ Mr. Galley
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he will next be submitting draft regulations to the Social Security Advisory Committee.
§ Mr. Fowler
I have today asked the Social Security Advisory Committee to consider and report on proposals to amend the supplementary benefit regulations. These 415W seek to clarify existing provisions. They also contain some changes of substance and I have placed in the Vote Office a note which gives details of the proposals. The main changes are:—
- —an extra disregard of £4 per week is to be allowed on the earnings of Territorial and Reserve forces;
- —people starting part-time work, as well as full-time work, will become entitled to single payments for work expenses;
- —claimants will be entitled to help towards the cost of visits to close relatives in residential homes and hostels as well as in hospital;
- —claimants will be entitled to single payments to meet needs incurred up to 7 days before the date they claim the payment, if the need had to be met immediately and it was not practicable for them to claim earlier.
- —supplemenatry benefit will be backdated to the date on which a claim for housing benefit was made if the supplementary benefit claim is made within 4 weeks of the date on which the decision on housing benefit is given;
- —the period for which compensation payments (such as vaccine damage payments) held on trust can in certain circumstances be disregarded when the beneficiary claim in his own right is to be increased to 'not normally exceeding two years';
- —the power to make payments on an urgent need basis to people whose immigration status is the subject of an application or appeal to the immigration authorities is to be extended to cover all cases where immigration status is under active consideration by the Home Office. In particular, this will extend entitlement to certain asylum-seekers who are currently excluded.
- —any full-time earnings of children who have left school but are still treated as dependents are to be taken into account in their parents' assessment up to the level of the dependents' supplementary benefit requirements.
- —arrangements for paying fares to callers at local offices are to be rationalised; the general rule will be that the amount of fares in excess of 80p will be refunded, although for certain specified groups full refunds will be made.
I hope to be able to refer to the committee at the beginning of April two sets of draft supplementary benefit amendment regulations to give effect to the proposals. Copies of these will also be placed in the Vote Office at that time.
I have also after consulting the Department of Education and Science, referred proposals which stipulate that 12 hours supervised study in a week or less (now excluding homework) will not constitute full-time education for child benefit or supplementary benefit purposes. The intention is to provide clear rules for young people and education authorities about the amount of supervised study which can be undertaken in the qualifying period for the supplementary benefit 21 hours rule without jeopardising the young persons's entitlement to supplementary benefit. A recent social security commissioner's decison would otherwise make it difficult for claimants and education authorities to plan their courses of study, and for the independent adjudicating authorities and DHSS officials to administer the system. The draft regulations will not change the fundamental requirement of the 21 hours rule that the young person must be unemployed and available for work.
Finally I have referred draft regulations that will reduce the period for which child benefit is paid during temporary absences abroad from 26 weeks to 8 weeks. This proposal will not affect cases where:
- persons working overseas are liable to United Kingdom income tax on half their joint earnings;
- the child goes abroad solely to receive full-time education (up to a limit of 3 years absence);
- the child goes abroad to receive medical treatment;
- Her Majesty's forces and civil servants are posted overseas and employed abroad;
- families move to an EC country to work;
- families move to a country with whom we have a reciprocal agreement;
- the child remains behind and someone in Great Britain is responsible for that child.
When I have received and considered the committee's report I propose to lay the regulations before the House, modified as I may consider appropriate in the light of the committee's recommendations; with a view to securing their passage through Parliament before the summer recess. I shall also lay before Parliament a copy of the committee's report on the regulations and a statement in accordance with the provisions of section 10(4) of the Social Security Act 1980.