§ Mr. Frank Field
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what consideration he gave to the constitutional implications before he laid regulation 72, Social Security (Adjudication) Regulations, S.I., 1986 No. 2218; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mrs. Gillian Shephard
Prior to the introduction of regulation 72 of the Social Security (Adjudication) Regulations 1986, arrears of social security benefits payable as a result of the review of a decision were generally restricted to 12 months, even though the decision was erroneous because of official error, including an error of law by the adjudication officer.
Regulation 72, which came into force on 6 April 1987. was designed to enable the statutory payment of arrears of benefit in full where there had been an underpayment of 679W benefit that was solely attributable to a mistake on the part of an official, including an adjudication officer. However, legal advice revealed that regulation 72 had an unintended side effect in that where a social security commissioner, or higher judicial authority, overturned the prevailing interpretation of the law, adjudication officers' decisions given prior to that new interpretation fell to be described as errors of law, even though they were made in good faith and in accordance with the interpretation of the law at the time.
As a result, with effect from 1 September 1987, the 12-month limitation on arrears was reimposed where adjudication officers reviewed decisions in consequence of a reinterpretation of the law by a commissioner or higher appellate body.