§ Mrs. Beckett
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will give details of the calculations on which he based the estimates given in reply to questions on 21 July 1983, Official Report, column 213–14, of the numbers of cases in which supplementary benefit had been wrongly withheld on grounds of voluntary unemployment and the total amounts so withheld, and the estimate given on 16 December 1983, Official Report column 629, of the cost of paying those who had suffered wrongful deductions.
§ Dr. Boyson
The supplementary benefit annual statistical inquiry — ASI— shows each year the number of cases where a voluntary unemployment deduction is current at the date of the inquiry, and the average amount of the deduction. The study carried out by the Social Security Policy Inspectorate last year indicated that these deductions apply for four weeks on average. Thus, the number of cases with a deduction in the course of a year can be estimated by dividing the number shown in the ASI by four and multiplying by 52. Taking 1981 as an example, 14,500 cases were found to have deductions at 351W the time of the ASI and this indicates that 190,000 cases suffered deductions in the year (14,500÷4x52=188,500).
It is known from other records that 40 per cent. of cases of this type referred to insurance officers are found not to be voluntarily unemployed. By applying this to the 190,000, we estimated that some 76,000 claimants would receive favourable decisions. The inspectorate report showed that 21 out of 93 cases (22.5 per cent.) where a favourable decision had been given had not received arrears of benefit deduction. This proportion of 76,000 is 17,000—the figure shown in my reply of 21 July 1983 to the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) at column 213–14
The ASI showed that the average deduction in 1981 was £6.56. As deductions apply for an average of four weeks the amount wrongly deducted and not refunded was therefore calculated at (17,000 x 4 x£6.56=£446,080) £450,000.
The figure shown in my reply of 16 December 1983 to the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), at column 629, referred to 1982 only, because records for earlier years will normally no longer be available in local offices, and because figures for 1983 were not yet available.
I would emphasise, as I did in my earlier replies, that the inspectorate study looked at a comparatively small number of cases in a few offices so that its findings cannot necessarily be applied nationally, nor can it safely be assumed that the picture would have been the same in other years. All of these figures are, therefore, rough estimates which may well be inaccurate.