§ Miss Emma Nicholson
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what assessment his Department has made of the special needs of young offenders on probation and at risk of custody, particularly with reference to any delay in processing a claim.
§ Mrs. Gillian Shephard
The Government continue to monitor the effects of the recent changes in social security provision. As part of this monitoring the Department of Social Security maintains close liaison with the Home Office's probation services. We are also looking carefully at the findings of the recent research carried out for the Association of Chief Officers of Probation by the University of Lancaster, which indicates that offenders and their families have problems in getting the social security benefits to which they are entitled.
Income support claims are dealt with on average within five days, with urgent claims being processed well within that period. Moreover, as a result of our monitoring I announced on 27 November a number of procedural improvements designed to ensure that claims from young people, including those from young offenders, are dealt with as effectively and sympathetically as possible. These changes demonstrate the Government's willingness to act when areas of genuine difficulty are identified.