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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Kitty Ussher): Following the judgment of the Law Lords in the case of HeffernanR (on the application of Heffernan) v the Rent Serviceon Wednesday 30 July 2008, the Government will lay amendments to the Rent Officers (Housing Benefit Functions) Order 1997 and the Rent Officers (Housing Benefit Functions) (Scotland) Order 1997 in order to clarify the rules that enable rent officers to define the local rental market areas which help determine entitlement to housing benefit.
The way in which the geographical areas, or localities, for assessing housing benefit are determined has a direct impact on the amount of benefit individual customers receive. If applied, the judgment would result in a dramatic increase in the number of localities nationally, as each would be based on a limited number of neighbourhoods. These new locality boundaries would not necessarily be the same as those that existed before the rent services carried out their most recent reviews of boundaries and could result in a large number of low-income tenants finding that housing benefit would no longer cover their rent. Without amendment to the Rent Officers Order, this would now happen automatically.
The routine locality reviews that were undertaken by the rent services in 2006-07 under the Rent Officers Order resulted in fewer localities across the country as a whole. These reviews were undertaken in consultation with local authorities, who have access to a discretionary fund to compensate individual tenants in hardship cases. The vast majority of the new boundaries were agreed by local authorities. The amendments of the Rent Officers Order will enable the rent services to review the boundaries in those localities where local consensus was not achieved. In any year, the rent services are committed to reviewing 25 per cent. of all locality boundaries.
The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Ms Rosie Winterton): On 22 May 2008 the Minister for Pensions Reform announced that John Elbourne had been asked to examine the current arrangements for the engagement of older people and the ability of those arrangements to inform policy and actions of Government at all levels. Specifically, this was to include examining better Government for older people.
John Elbourne will publish his report at 3 oclock this afternoon on the Department for Work and Pensions website. This can be found at www.dwp.gov.uk/resourcecentre and a copy will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The report makes a range of recommendations for improving older peoples engagement with Government, which are: establishing a national advisory forum for older people; enhancing the role that regional Government offices play in supporting and developing engagement with older people; setting up regional forums to support local authorities; and building on the support for older peoples forums around the UK.
The Government invite comments on these recommendations and will respond to this report by 30 January 2009. Any comments should be sent to: Andrew Jennings, Department for Work and Pensions, Older People and Ageing Society Division, 3rd Floor The Adelphi, 1-11 John Adam Street, London, WC2N 6HT (email: firstname.lastname@example.org), to be received by 9 January 2009.