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Lord Hardie moved Amendment No. 8:

Page 5, line 29, after ("138(1)(a)") insert ("or (2)").

The noble and learned Lord said: This amendment simply ensures that the current rights of appeal against decisions about cold weather payments and winter fuel payments are maintained. Unfortunately, reference to those payments was omitted from the list of relevant benefits in Clause 9. Indeed, that may be an illustration to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that it is not only in regulations that omissions are made. Clause 13 uses the list to define which decisions may be appealed. Without the amendment, appeal rights would be lost for these payments. The amendment will correct that error and preserve the appeal rights. I trust that Members of the Committee will agree to the amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 9, as amended, agreed to.

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 9:

After Clause 9, insert the following new clause--

Decisions by Secretary of State: supplementary

(" .--(1) The Secretary of State shall, in such manner as is prescribed, inform with sufficient particularity a person wishing to make a claim for a relevant benefit what information and evidence is required to support the claim.
(2) Where the Secretary of State makes a decision awarding a relevant benefit, the claimant shall be entitled to payment from no later than the date when the claim for it was made.
(3) For the purpose of subsections (1) and (2) above, "relevant benefit" has the same meaning as in section 9 above.").

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The noble Earl said: I promised to return to the issue of regulations. The amendment now before the Committee says that the Secretary of State must tell any person who is making a claim what information and evidence is required to support such a claim. It also stipulates that when the Secretary of State,

    "makes a decision awarding a relevant benefit",
the payment should begin from a date,

    "no later than the date when the claim for it was made".
The amendment would reverse the onus of proof regulations which came into force in October 1997. The effect of those regulations was that, if evidence was supplied within one month, the claimant got the benefit from the date of the claim. However, if the evidence took longer to come in than one month, the benefit started from the date when the evidence was submitted. It was held that the purpose of this was to give claimants an incentive to submit information rapidly.

The point about benefits is that if a person has no other means of support--and normally that applies to a claimant for means-tested benefit--he or she needs that money urgently and instantly. People do not need any further incentive to submit a claim urgently. In those regulations, which this amendment would revoke, it was recognised that there were certain cases in which this requirement would apply unjustly. So the regulations attempted, by the usual regulation method of total enumeration, to list all the cases in which exemption from the requirement to supply information within one month would be justified. There was an exemption for those who had a physical, mental, learning or communication difficulty in cases where it was not reasonably practical for someone else to assist them. However, the list left out a possibility which is quite likely to arise; namely, that people in such a situation might not know that they require assistance. I have in mind, for example, the person who did not put in a claim for a very long time because she was in a mental hospital, under another name and in another part of the country. How could she possibly have known that she required assistance? Indeed, that is an actual case which comes from the CAB in Richmond.

The list also leaves out, for example, ordinary illness. It leaves out undiagnosed depression, which is one of the commonest reasons for people who should have done something not doing anything about it. Above all, it leaves out the one thing that the department always claims for itself when it is taking powers by regulation--the final category of, "some other reason why". I have never known a regulation from the Department of Social Security regarding taking powers which it did not specify at the end of the reasons why it might use such powers, the phrase: "some other reason why".

What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If the department can take powers which it may need for, "some other reason why", claimants may be entitled to make a late claim for, "some other reason why". For example, someone may have been staying with relatives at the other end of the country; or, indeed, there may

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have been a strike in the local post office. I have received practically no post for a week now for that very reason. That is why it is on my mind.

I believe that a general entitlement would be rather better than this attempt to enumerate every possible reason in regulations and, necessarily, missing a great many of them. That is why regulations are always capped by regulations and by other regulations on top of them. Therefore, Ministers become, as I once put it, "piddlers" as garages would say: always topping up the radiator with a little bit of water. One cannot possibly enumerate all the cases. As one cannot do so, regulation is often not the best method. So I believe that a general entitlement would work a great deal better. I beg to move.

Lord Hardie: The proposed new clause seeks to place new statutory obligations on the Secretary of State to inform claimants of evidence requirements and to award benefit from the date when benefit was claimed, regardless of when supporting evidence is provided. However, before addressing the amendment, I hope that I am not seen as a "piddler"; indeed, I have never been described as one until today. Like the noble Earl, Lord Russell, we do not want people to lose benefit to which they are entitled. However, we believe that customers should have clear responsibility for making claims and providing basic information in support of them. They should be able to understand what is expected of them and the implications of their failure to do what is necessary. We believe that the best way to achieve this is through agency communications and procedures, not through regulations.

Perhaps I may pause here and deal with one of the points made by the noble Earl about people who are suffering from incapacity and who are, therefore, unable to provide the necessary information. The measures that we propose will not penalise those who cannot provide the necessary information--for example, because they have physical or learning difficulties or because the information is unavailable. The claim forms have been simplified and clarified so as to ensure that those who are able to help themselves do so.

We do ensure that customers know what is expected of them. Income support and jobseeker's allowance claim forms have been revised to show what evidence is required and when it should be provided. These changes are important to clarify roles and responsibilities for clients and staff alike. Claim forms for other benefits already request the required information, and we will be looking to improve these forms further to reflect the changes made to the income support and jobseeker's allowance claim forms. There are exemptions in the current regulations, as referred to by the noble Earl, to protect vulnerable groups. In particular, certain people who have genuine difficulty in obtaining information are not required to do so. That will continue under the new arrangements.

I believe it is right that people play an active role in enabling their benefit to be correctly determined. But, importantly, without the right evidence it is simply not possible to reach proper decisions and put the right

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payments into effect. It is more helpful to make customers aware of what is needed of them so that they can get their entitlement paid promptly.

I turn to the drafting of the amendment now before the Committee. Subsection (2) of the amendment could lead to anomalies. There are many circumstances in which we encourage people to apply for benefits early. For example, retirement pension can be claimed up to three months before retirement age is reached, although it is not paid until the date of retirement. If this amendment were adopted and the date of claim were always the date of payment, we might find that payment of benefit is allowed where there is no entitlement. Similarly, claims are often made in advance by people who have left work and have received wages in lieu of notice, so that benefit can be paid promptly when the period covered by their wages ends.

Under this amendment benefit would appear to be payable at once, although there would be no entitlement. If this amendment were passed, the only practical solution would be to stop taking claims early, which could in turn result in delaying payments to customers and cause potential hardship. I am sure that that is the last thing the Committee would wish. There are already provisions to ensure that people receive benefit from the appropriate date of their entitlement. I assure the Committee that we shall not disturb those in any way. I invite the noble Earl--with such assurances that he takes from these comments--to withdraw the amendment.

6.30 p.m.

Earl Russell: I thank the noble and learned Lord for that reply. Had I been minded to press this amendment his comments on the proposed new subsection (2) of the amendment and its drafting would have persuaded me not to do so. Nevertheless I think there is a case here to be considered. I was, of course, aware of the exceptions that he outlined. However, the difficulty with these exceptions for vulnerable people is that they must be claimed, which means of course that it is precisely those people who most need to do so who are least likely to be able to claim an exception. Let us consider, for example, a schizophrenic who fails to take his or her medicine. It is almost impossible to persuade such a person to do anything whatsoever.

Let us consider also the case to which I referred of undiagnosed mental illness, especially depression, and the possibility of other serious impediments which are not mentioned. For example, there is no mention of having to attend funerals perhaps in other parts of the country or even in other countries. There will be many more reasons for late claims than any regulation can possibly allow for. Putting the burden on the claimant to make a claim who is already vulnerable and already in difficulties, will mean that those who are least entitled to the exception are most likely to get it. I wonder whether that is quite just or particularly effective. I hope the Government may think further about this. For the time being I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Clause 10 [Revision of decisions]:

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