HC Deb 08 March 2004 vol 418 cc1292-3W
Mr. Hancock

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) for what reason distributions from trusts are disregarded by the Department for the purposes of assessing care and means tested benefits, with particular reference to beneficiaries of the Macfarlane and Eileen trusts; and if he will make a statement. [154979]

(2) for what reasons the Department does not permit beneficiaries of the Thalidomide Trust to discount their distributions when being assessed for care and means tested benefits; and if he will make a statement. [154981]

Maria Eagle

The purpose of means tested benefits is to safeguard against anyone falling below a standard set by Parliament as being the minimum subsistence level. They are paid out of public funds and do not require National Insurance contributions to have been paid by the beneficiaries. The rules on the treatment of income and capital strike a balance between protecting people who are less well off and protecting the taxpayer by ensuring that help is directed towards people who need it most.

The Macfarlane and Eileen Trusts exist to help people who have been infected with HIV from contaminated blood products received as part of NHS treatment and are government funded. At the time the trusts were set up, there was considerable stigma attached to HIV and AIDS and it was considered inappropriate that people should have to disclose their condition to benefits staff. As such, it was decided that there should be no need to disclose payment from the Macfarlane or Eileen trusts.

The Thalidomide Trust is a private scheme funded by pharmaceutical companies responsible for producing thalidomide. It is treated in the same way as other personal injury payments; capital that is placed in trust for an individual can be disregarded. Income from an individual's trust can also be disregarded as long as the income is used for other than day to day living expenses. We have no plans to change these arrangements.

The financial assessment for residential accommodation is assessed by the Department for Health. Payments from the Eileen and Macfarlane trusts are disregarded; payments from the Thalidomide Trust are taken into account in the same way as they are for assessing means tested benefits. For Home Care charges, councils have a minimum requirement to follow the capital rules for residential care; however, councils can be more generous if they wish.

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