§ Lord Orr-Ewing
asked Her Majesty's Government:
When they expect to announce the outcome of the monitoring of the benefit system for 16 and 17 year-olds.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Skelmersdale)
Our policy is the correct one for the vast majority of 16 and 17 year-olds; it would be irresponsible to provide a perverse incentive for people of this age to leave home needlessly. However, our monitoring and our discussions with representatives of the voluntary sector and the local authority associations reveal that a minority are facing real difficulties.
We recognise that young people on income support who, for good reason, have to live independently will have extra and unavoidable expenses. We have therefore decided that these 16 and 17 year-olds should receive a higher personal allowance in income support. They will qualify for the allowance payable to young people between ages 18 and 24 which, from April, is £27.40 a week. The increase will be available to those genuinely estranged from their parents and those who would meet the qualifying conditions for income support which already apply during the child benefit extension period.
We will also introduce a similar relaxation in the rules governing housing benefit. Young people living independently can find that they are worse off taking a YTS place or job than on income support because of the effect of housing costs and expenses such as travel costs associated with their training or work. We therefore plan to increase the housing benefit applicable amount for all 16 and 17 year-olds.
We also plan to introduce some further minor changes. First, we will wholly disregard payments made by local authorities under the Child Care Act 1980 and the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 to young people leaving care.
Second, we shall extend entitlement to income support during the child benefit extension period to young people genuinely estranged from their parents, in line with the proposal for increasing the level of benefit paid to this group.
Third, 16 and 17 year-olds who seek emergency accommodation in night shelters need time to sort out their affairs before taking up a YTS place. These cases will automatically be considered by the Secretary of State under the severe hardship provisions.
Fourth, young people who have become estranged from their families or who have had to leave home for some other good reason are usually in a very vulnerable condition. Officials who deal with their claims need to do so sensitively and we plan to introduce special training to helpthem to carry out their task in an understanding way.
The total cost of these changes to the income related benefit rules will be some £3.7 million in a 74WA full year. Subject to the necessary consultations with the social security advisory committeeand the local authority associations, we intend introducing the changes this July, except that the new arrangement for people in emergency accommodation will take effect from April. We believe this package of extra help for 16 to 17 year-olds is well targeted towards those most in need. Our wider policy of encouraging such youngsters to stay in the parental home and, if they are not in education or employment, to take up the offer of a YTS place, remains appropriate for the vast majority of young people of this age.