HL Deb 08 November 1995 vol 566 cc16-8WA
Lord Trefgarne

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What was the outcome of the study of inter-agency co-operation on the enforcement of the immigration laws which was set up in October 1993.

Baroness Blatch

The efficiency scrutiny which we announced in October 1993 was intended to examine ways in which the Government as a whole could work more effectively to strengthen immigration control and to prevent those temporarily or illegally in this country from receiving state benefits to which they should not be entitled. The scrutiny demonstrated that, in many cases, either the rules governing eligibility for benefit or the procedures for granting it were insufficiently rigorous to prevent abuse. It also showed that too often illegal immigrants were able to escape detection because procedures for identifying them were unclear.

The Government do not believe that this is acceptable. It is wrong that people who are admitted to this country on the basis that they can provide for themselves or who are here illegally should receive benefits paid for by the taxes of lawful residents. The fact that this has been possible has provided a significant incentive for abuse of our immigration laws. Our objective is to end this abuse.

The recommendations made by the scrutiny have been carefully considered. The Government have agreed proposals affecting the work of several departments and agencies in respect of persons from abroad (a term used to mean a person who is not a national of a member state of the European Economic Area and who is not settled in the United Kingdom within the meaning of the immigration laws). The proposals, which fall into three interlinked groups, are designed:

  • to ensure that people who are here unlawfully or as visitors do not receive benefits to which they are not entitled, including social security, social housing, free NHS treatment and student awards;
  • to ensure that staff responsible for providing benefits and services are given the necessary guidance and training to identify claimants who are ineligible because of their immigration status;
  • to strengthen the arrangements for staff responsible for providing benefits and services to pass WA 17 information about immigration offenders to the immigration authorities.

These proposals will be put into effect in the following ways. First, in seeking to align eligibility for benefits and services with immigration status and to ensure that procedures to check eligibility are effective:

  • My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Security has already tightened up his department's procedures to ensure that ineligible persons from abroad are excluded from income support, housing benefit and council tax benefit. My right honourable friend is now examining the position in relation to other non-contributory benefits and hopes to make an announcement in due course;
  • My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment will consider the need for further steps to ensure that persons from abroad here temporarily or in breach of the immigration laws do not gain access to student awards or loans;
  • My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has already published proposals for fairer access to social housing, under which persons from abroad temporarily in this country will not be able to obtain assistance under the homeless legislation. My honourable friend the Minister for Local Government Housing and Urban Regeneration has today announced in a Written Answer that under the proposals such people will not be entitled to social housing tenancies allocated by local housing authorities.
  • My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health has asked National Health Service staff to work closely with the Home Department to find better ways of controlling access to free medical treatment by persons from abroad who are not entitled to receive it;

Second, in improving procedures to enable the providers of benefits and services to identify ineligible persons from abroad:

  • clearer instructions and appropriate training will be given, with the assistance of the Immigration and Nationality Department, to Social Security and Employment Service staff;
  • guidance will be given to local authorities, and training will be made available to local authority staff in identifying immigration offenders after consultation with local authority associations, on the identification of immigration offenders;
  • further guidance is being considered in respect of student awards and also for institutions of further and higher education;
  • we shall introduce a more effective system of notification of relevant changes in immigration WA 18 status to ensure that those who should not have access to social security benefits do not receive them;
  • the Home Department is consulting the Department for Education and Employment on whether it would be feasible to issue guidance for schools admission authorities.

Third, in developing arrangements for more exchanges of information between officials in central and local government and the Immigration and Nationality Department of the Home Office, we shall be taking advantage of the opportunities which naturally arise in the daily contacts between officials and persons from abroad. So long as they are not prevented by their statutory obligations or by the sensitivities of their operational objectives, officials in central government will pass to the immigration authorities information about suspected illegal entrants and overstayers with whom they come into contact in the course of their normal duties. In its turn the Immigration and Nationality Department will be able to give details of an applicant's status under the immigration laws when that is relevant to his eligibility for a state benefit or service. In order to make quite sure that they are operating strictly within the provisions of the data protection laws, all departments and agencies concerned will fully consult the Data Protection Registrar before implementing these arrangements.

Because we attach great importance to the maintenance of good race relations in this country, the Home Department will consult the Commission for Racial Equality on a set of objective criteria which may be used by departments and agencies if it becomes necessary to seek clarification of an applicant's status under the Immigration Rules.