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Family Credit

14. Mr. David Amess (Southend, West): What estimate he has made of the take-up rate for family credit for 1998-99. [58379]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Angela Eagle): As I told the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), family credit take-up, by case load, is estimated to be 72 per cent., but measured by levels of expenditure it is 84 per cent.

Mr. Amess: Will the extra £1.5 billion being spent on the working families tax credit introduce other families to dependency, including higher earners? Will the hon. Lady explain why, under the new system, it will be more financially advantageous to look after other people's children than to look after one's own?

Angela Eagle: To be honest, I do not understand why the Conservative party insists on thinking that a more generous tax credit, with lower tapers which create pathways into work for the lowest paid, increases dependency. Conservative Members have a bizarre view of the benefits system.

Disability Benefits

15. Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South): What medical training or advice is available to adjudication officers in the Benefits Agency and independent tribunal service members when establishing the eligibility of claimants for disability benefits. [58380]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Stephen Timms): There are separate arrangements for Benefits Agency adjudication officers and members of independent tribunals. Benefits Agency adjudication officers complete 12 weeks' technical training in adjudication, which, in the case of disability living allowance, includes sessions given by doctors about the effects of disabling conditions on a person's need for help with personal care and mobility. Once trained, they have access to the disability handbook, a new edition of which was published recently, and, formally and informally, to doctors working under contract to the Benefits Agency.

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The Independent Tribunal Service provides members with training in disability awareness and relevant legislation. Of the three tribunal members, there is always one who is medically qualified and another who has professional or personal experience of the effects of disability.

Mr. Chapman: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. However, in a recent case involving a constituent who was appealing against a reduction in disability living allowance, the appellant was told both that there was no point in proceeding with the appeal because the result was inevitable and that the ITS had no knowledge of his disability. Does not that suggest that, despite the training given, further training on medical matters and interpersonal skills is required? Indeed, the number of letters in my postbag about the ITS suggests that the training need may be greater still.

Mr. Timms: I know that my hon. Friend has been concerned about the case of his constituent, and has been pursuing it. If he remains dissatisfied and would like to write to me, I shall be glad to investigate. The judicial aspect of ITS is the responsibility of the Lord Chancellor's Department; we are introducing new arrangements for appeals in order to improve the service.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): Does the Minister agree that the benefit integrity project has demonstrated the inadvisability of lifetime awards, and the necessity for proper medical examination in all cases in which benefits are awarded?

Mr. Timms: I agree with both points. We intend to introduce legislation to end the use of the term "lifetime award", which is a confusing and unfortunate feature of the system introduced by the previous Government. It has always been the case that, if people's benefit entitlement is reduced because of a change in their circumstances, the benefit is reduced. We will clarify that as soon as we can.

I also agree with the hon. Gentleman about the need for clear evidence to support all disability benefit claims.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill): Does my hon. Friend agree that a general practitioner who has long-standing experience of his patient's case, and knows the extent of that patient's disability, may feel very irritated if his judgment is cast aside following a brief examination by another doctor? Will my hon. Friend take that into account in his intended reform of the benefit integrity project?

Mr. Timms: In fact, information from a claimant's own GP can be used in the determination of benefit entitlement, and we intend that to continue.

Housing Benefit

20. Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden): What plans he has to review housing benefit. [58386]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Angela Eagle): As I told my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) in

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response to an earlier question, we are currently reviewing housing benefit with the aim of simplifying and improving its administration.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith: I am well aware that that review is a review of legislation passed in 1990, but will it also take into account an anomaly known to hon. Members on both sides of the House? Poor council tenants are having to subsidise rent rebates for those who are even less well off. In those circumstances, it is little wonder that my local authority, Wealden district council, has incurred a £2 million bill to help them on their way--money that could be far better spent on investment in housing, repairs and maintenance and better facilities for the disabled.

Angela Eagle: I can confirm that the review is wide-ranging, and is examining a number of aspects of a benefit that is complex and difficult to deliver. Under the previous Government there was a massive shift from subsidy for bricks and mortar to subsidy for rent, via the housing benefit system. It is difficult even to think of reviewing housing benefit without taking housing policy into account: we must consider the two together.

Disabled Children

21. Ms Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire): If he will make a statement on the action he is proposing to take to support disabled children. [58387]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Stephen Timms): We have announced two proposals for significant improvements in support for disabled children: the disability income guarantee, and the extension of the higher-rate mobility component of disability living allowance to children aged three and four. Disabled children will also be among those who benefit from our package on child poverty, the £1.5 billion programme on working families tax credit and the £300 million project for the national child care strategy.

Ms Lawrence: I welcome the extension of the mobility component of DLA to disabled children aged three and four. Many families in my constituency will appreciate it. Can my hon. Friend also say whether families of those children will have access to the Motability scheme? I am sure that he will appreciate the tremendous difficulties with transport for such families.

Mr. Timms: I thank my hon. Friend for her support and for raising an important point. I can confirm the important point that the change will convey with it access to the Motability scheme. That scheme, which celebrates its 21st anniversary next month, can provide a vehicle, vehicle adaptations or an electric wheel chair. Recent research has shown that children as young as three and four can suffer if their mobility needs are not met. Our proposals will be an important step forward for those children and will allow their families access to Motability.

Disability Living Allowance

23. Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): What representations he has received concerning disability living allowance reforms. [58390]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Stephen Timms): A list of more than 1,000 organisations and individuals who responded to the welfare reform Green Paper is in the House of Commons Library, most of them touching on disability issues. As we promised in the Green Paper, we have established a disability benefits forum, which has a working group dealing specifically with reforms to the disability living allowance. The Select Committee on Social Security also published a valuable report on DLA on 20 May.

Mr. Evans: Can the Minister give the House an estimate of how many people he believes are receiving disability living allowance who should not be entitled to it? How many of those who appeal when they lose DLA have that payment restored? May I ask him to ensure that appeals are held as quickly as possible once a claimant lodges an appeal?

Mr. Timms: Perhaps I can draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the figures that I gave some moments ago. I said that, so far, 138,000 cases under BIP had been checked and, of those, 32,500 people were found initially not to be receiving the right benefit. That number fell to 29,300, after the reviews and appeals that have been completed so far.

The hon. Gentleman's question gives me the opportunity to make one important point. The level of fraud in disability living allowance is very low: the level of confirmed fraud is about 1.5 per cent. The level of incorrectness is greater than that. It is important to distinguish between those two things and to make it clear to the House that the level of fraud is very low.

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