HC Deb 18 December 1985 vol 89 cc229-30W
Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he expects to lay revised regulations to safeguard the social security position of students receiving income from their parents through covenants; and if he intends to make any other changes affecting students.

Mr. Newton

Regulations will be brought before the House in the early part of next year to restore, in time for the 1986 summer vacation, the Government's policy on the treatment of students' covenanted income for supplementary benefit purposes. The intention is that the parental or spouses' contribution to the student grant will be attributed to the grant-aided period only; if the student has no grant the amount attributed will be equal to the maximum ordinary maintenance grant appropriate to his case. Any excess will be taken into account over the full year. Provision will also be made for the treatment of convenanted income for housing benefit purposes.

There will be consultation on these draft regulations with the Social Security Advisory Committee and the local authority associations. This will form part of the consultation on wider proposals for modifying the social security system as it affects students, and for making some adjustments in student grant arrangements, which were foreshadowed in paragraph 3.34 of the social security White Paper published on Monday.

As the earlier social security Green Paper made clear, the Government's long-term aim is to return to the former position where students were helped by grants, by their families and by their own vacation earnings. Meanwhile, however, we consider it would now be right to make some limited changes—which will apply to all students whether grant aided or not—to tackle the least appropriate and most wasteful aspects of the present arrangements. These include the payment of supplementary benefit and UB in the short vacations, which result in benefit payments of only about £4 million of benefit at an administrative cost of some £2 million; and the payment of housing benefit to those in halls of residence, which results in benefit payments of only about £5 million at an administrative cost of some £3 million. Other housing benefit provisions will be changed to bring the treatment of students into line with that of other claimants; to prevent payment for accommodation which they are not using during the long vacation; and to simplify administration for local authorities which at present have to reassess student claim six times a year.

Accordingly, the Government propose to exclude full-time students from supplementary benefit and unemployment benefit in the short vacations; to exclude students in halls of residence from housing benefit; and to make a number of other changes in the housing benefit arrangements, including a limitation on payment for accommodation from which students are absent in the long vacation. We do not, however, propose at present to make any changes in students' entitlement to supplementary benefit or unemployment benefit in the long vacations.

Apart from the provisions relating to covenants and to housing benefit in the long vacation, which we aim to bring into effect earlier, the intention is to implement these proposals from the start of the 1986–87 academic year. At the same time, we shall make improvements in the housing benefit disregards for books and travel costs to bring them into line with present supplementary benefit disregards; and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science will be making increases in the grants paid to students living away from home and improvements in the students' dependants hardship scheme.

Details of the proposals will be set out in a consultation paper early in the new year, when draft regulations will also be sent to the Social Security Advisory Committee and the local authority associations.