Select Committee on Social Security Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the Terrence Higgins Trust and the National Aids Trust

Thank you for the opportunity for us to provide the Inquiry with our views on issues of relevance to the Pilot of the Single Gateway.

About us

The Terrence Higgins Trust is a registered charity providing health education to minimise the transmission of HIV, as well as a range of advice and support services for people living with HIV/AIDS, as well as their relatives and carers. Last year, the Trust's Welfare Rights Service responded to nearly 5,000 Enquiries from individuals.

The National AIDS Trust is a registered charity established with the support of the Department of Health with a remit to act as a UK-wide development agency for voluntary sector responses to HIV. The Trust aims to provide leadership in development of HIV/AIDS public policy throughout the UK.

Together we represent substantial experience in assessing the real life impacts of the current welfare system on people with HIV/AIDS. We welcome the Government's broad strategy to help people with disabilities into work through a range of initiatives. We note that the Government will be hoping to save £750,000 per annum through their benefit reform proposals. We urge the Government to invest these savings in improved support services for people with disabilities and programmes targeted at helping people with disabilities back into work.

Pilots for the "Single Work-focused Gateway" to the Benefits System

We support in principle the proposal for a single gateway interview for new social security claimants. Properly trained personal advisers potentially may result in a significantly better quality service for people with disabilities. However, the proposal risks failure if it is not well resourced and handled sensitively.

Scope and objectives of Pilots—assessment of costs/ benefits of compulsory interviews

We recommend that the Pilots consider not only how best to operate a compulsory interview system but also whether the net benefits to be gained from a system premised on initial compulsory interviews outweighs detriments, both from the perspective of claimants and of the benefits agencies. We recommend that the Pilots incorporate the capacity to consider whether the Gateway system might operate more effectively with an initial focus on voluntary interviews but with the capacity at a later stage to resort to compulsory interviews in defined exceptional circumstances.

We oppose the use of compulsory interviews with advisers as being the starting point for entry to the Single Gateway. We recommend a system in which initial interviews are voluntary. Our experience is that interviews are inherently more likely to be productive where they are attended willingly by the interviewee. Claimants will potentially be alienated by a system which is perceived to involve an element of compulsion from the initial entry stage. Claimants are most likely to be receptive to advice about work opportunities in a voluntary interview context.

There is an inherent problem is having an interview to explore a person's capacity for work at the same time as a person is applying for a disability allowance. For many people the act of applying for such a payment is associated with a traumatic period in their lives. The decision to apply for such benefits is rarely taken lightly. Therefore rather than being helpful to see a personal advisor at this time it could prove to be extremely upsetting and confusing for the client.

Incentives for participation in voluntary interviews could be investigated rather than building a model based on compulsion. Consideration should be given to resourcing free, optional, professionally run resource centres which may result in far greater numbers of people with disabilities getting back to work than a scheme based on compulsion.

Coverage—training needs and communication systems

Ongoing training of registration staff must be made a high priority. Under the proposals, these staff will be required to make the crucial decision on whether to exempt claimants from referral to an advice interview. This is a key stage in the process, and if handled insensitively could result in serious injustice for claimants.

Some form of accreditation should be considered both of registration staff and advisors. Specific training is required on disability awareness issues including the nature of fluctuating health conditions such as HIV, the use of appropriate language, social and psychological aspects of disability, discrimination, confidentiality and the interrelation of physical and mental health issues.

The scope of the Pilots should include development of communication systems which maximise the capacity of the system to meet the needs of people seeking to access benefits or support. We welcome the notion that as many services as possible are intended to be co-located. It is imperative however that sign posting be made very clear to ensure that clients are fully aware of what services are available to them.

Culturally appropriate information needs to be provided. Evaluation of the pilots needs to not only assess people's experiences of services which they accessed through the Single Gateway, but also whether the information provided to them was sufficient and appropriate to enable access to the full range of benefits and entitlements available. This should not only include information available at the Gateway office or through the call centre but also generally in the community and media.

Quality issues—privacy and data protection

Pilots provide an excellent opportunity to develop models incorporating high standards of best practice. As HIV/AIDS organisations, we have a particular concern about the capacity of the Gateway to guarantee privacy. Pilots need to look at how stringent privacy requirements can be met in practice. This will incorporate applying the principles of the Data Protection Act to all aspects of the Gateway's operations, and development of very specific guidelines ensuring information is only shared where there is a demonstrated need to know on the part of the relevant service, benefit agency or welfare provider.

We are concerned that the voluntary, private sector and statutory agencies involved are likely to have varied privacy standards in relation to data collection. Claimants are likely to be highly suspicious in disclosing sensitive personal information to organisations with which they are unfamiliar or which have private sector operations. Stringent confidentiality and privacy standards need to apply consistently to all participating agencies. To generate trust and confidence in the system, claimants need to be provided with clear information about how their privacy and confidentiality will be guaranteed.

Evaluation of Pilots

We recommend that the evaluation process include people currently in receipt of benefits from a range of disability backgrounds including people with HIV. Disability organisations would welcome the opportunity to comment on a draft evaluation protocol prior to its implementation. The evaluation should incorporate capacity to comment and assess the practical and psychological impact of a system based on compulsion rather than voluntary interviews.

We would be happy to provide further information in relation to any of the above matters if it would be of further assistance to the Committee.

John Godwin

Head of Policy Development

National AIDS Trust

Andrew Little

Employment Projects Development Officer

Terrence Higgins Trust

5 May 1999

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999
Prepared 27 July 1999