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Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following: New schedule 1--'Exceptions to the backdating of benefits--

All Benefits

1. The backdating of benefits for a period longer than one month may be allowed for--
(a) cases where entitlement to benefit is dependent on the claimant's, or another person's entitlement to another benefit; and
(b) Family Credit and Disability Working Allowance claims, where a previous claim to Income Support or Jobseeker's Allowance has been refused because the claimant or partner is in remunerative work and the Family Credit or Disability Working Allowance Claim is made within 14 days of the determination on the Income Support or Jobseeker's Allowance claim.

Income Related Benefits

2. The backdating of income related benefits for a period no longer than one month may be allowed for--
(a) claimants who have difficulty communicating because of learning, language or literacy difficulties;
(b) claimants who are deaf or blind for whom there is no one else to make their claim;

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(c) claimants who are ill or disabled for whom there is no one else to make their claim, except in the case of a claim for Jobseeker's Allowance;
(d) claimants who were given misleading information by an officer of the Department of Social Security or of the Department for Education and Employment;
(e) claimants who were given misleading advice in writing by a solicitor or other professional adviser, or by a medical practitioner, a Local Authority or by a person working in a Citizens Advice Bureau or a similar advice agency;
(f) claimants who have been given misleading information in writing about their income or capital by their employer or former employer, or by a bank or building society;
(g) claimants who are required to deal with a domestic emergency affecting them, for whom there is no one else to make the claim; and
(h) claimants who are prevented from attending the appropriate office by adverse weather conditions.

Delayed Claims

3. The backdating of income related benefits for a period no longer than one month may be allowed in cases where claimants are forced to delay claiming because--
(a) the appropriate office, where the claimant would be expected to make a claim, was unable to provide a service and alternative arrangements were not available;
(b) the claimant was unable to attend the appropriate office due to difficulties with his normal mode of transport and there was no reasonable alternative available;
(c) there were adverse postal conditions;
(d) the claimant was previously in receipt of another benefit, and notification of expiry of entitlement to that benefit was not sent to the claimant before the date that his entitlement expired;
(e) for Family Credit or Disability Working Allowance the claimant had previously been entitled to Income Support or Jobseeker's Allowance and the claim for Family Credit or Disability Working Allowance was made within one month of expiry of entitlement to the previous benefit;
(f) for Income Support or Jobseeker's Allowance the claimant had previously been entitled to Family Credit or Disability Working Allowance and the claim for Income Support or Jobseeker's Allowance was made within one month of expiry of entitlement to the previous benefit;
(g) the claimant recently separated from his partner; or
(h) a close relative of the claimant recently died.

Refugees

4. Refugees may be allowed, where the Secretary of State thinks it appropriate to claim backdated awards of Income Support, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit to the date of the asylum application.

Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance and Maternity Allowance

5. Claims for Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance and Maternity Allowance may be allowed to be backdated if employers delay in notifying the claimants that they had no entitlement to Statutory Sick Pay or Statutory Maternity Pay.

Further Exceptions

6. Further exceptions may be allowed in such cases or circumstances as may be prescribed.

Amendment No. 2, in clause 72, page 47, leave out lines 7 to 26.

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Amendment No. 6, in clause 72, page 47, leave out lines 14 to 19 and insert--


'(a) in respect of contributory benefits, non-contributory benefits and pensions, grants and allowances paid under the Naval, Military and Airforce (for disablement and death) Service Pensions Order 1983-
(i) in respect of any period (or, in the case of a widow's payment, any death occurring) more than three months before the date on which the claim is made or treated to as made; or
(ii) in such cases or circumstances as may be prescribed, in respect of any period before that date; and
(b) in respect of, income-related benefits, benefit for industrial injuries and child benefit-
(i) in respect of any period more than one month before the date on which the claim is made or treated as made; or
(ii) in such cases or circumstances as may be prescribed, in respect of any period before that date.
( ) In this section "contributory benefits", "non-contributory benefits", "income related benefits", "benefit for industrial injuries", and "child benefit" shall have the same meaning as defined in Chapter 4 of the Contributions and Benefits Act 1992.'.

Amendment No. 32, in clause 72, page 47, line 18, leave out 'may be prescribed' and insert


'are prescribed in Schedule (Exceptions to the backdating of benefits)'.

Government amendment No. 18.

Mr. Webb: I am sure that the House will want to move promptly to the vote on amendment No. 1, so I shall be as brief as possible. New clause 2--[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The House must come to order.

Mr. Webb: New clause 2 relates to the backdating of benefit claims where an individual does not make a claim on time. Until April 1997, it was possible to backdate a claim for up to 12 months if one had good cause for not making a claim on time. From April 1997, the Conservatives introduced a cut. They removed the idea of good cause and restricted backdating to a maximum of three months. That took £120 million from some of the poorest people in the country, including £50 million from pensioners and £50 from the sick and disabled.

Clause 72, which new clause 2 seeks to overturn--[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. It is extremely unfair to the hon. Gentleman that the House is so noisy. Perhaps conversations could take place outside the Chamber.

Mr. Webb: Clause 72 further restricts people's rights when they claim their benefits late. It goes even further than the Conservatives were prepared to go. It takes an extra £60 million from the poorest households in the country, penalises them for ignorance of the system, takes £14 million off pensioners and takes £18 million from disabled people. The losers include 100,000 people on income support. This is not merely discretionary money that does not matter. Basic living standards will suffer.

The clause introduces restrictions on the backdating of housing benefit, reducing it for the first time from one year to one month. That means that people who build up

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rent arrears because they claim their benefit late will not be able to clear those arrears by means of a backdated payment, and may lose their house.

The St. Mungo's centre in London is worried about the implications of the backdating changes. It says:


New clause 2 seeks to overturn clause 72 and introduce an alternative provision. Clause 72 could lead to greater homelessness and greater public expenditure.

The fundamental point is that on Second Reading the Secretary of State said:


In other words, let us get things right first time and not backdate when they have gone wrong. We agree with that, but the paradox about the backdating proposals in the Bill is that if no one received his money late, backdating would not be necessary. If the system gets money to people on time, we do not need clause 72 or new clause 2, but the Government know, and we know, that people will continue to get their money late through no fault of their own, and clause 72 restricts their right to receive it.

New clause 2 simply says that people should have up to 12 months backdated benefit if, for a good reason, they delay a claim. What are the good reasons why people claim their benefits late? They can be ill health, infirmity, lack of understanding of the system--for goodness sake, it is complicated--or bereavement.

Representatives of elderly people's organisations say that it is unreasonable to expect that a bereaved person will always be able to find the way through the maze of benefits, such as income support, within a month of the death. The measure penalises bereaved people and those who do not understand the system.

New clause 2 simply says that if one has a good reason for claiming late, one should be able to claim up to a year's backdating. Without the new clause, the Bill will penalise people who, through no fault of their own, do not understand the system.


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