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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I wish that my noble friend were right. If it could be solved overnight we would be doing it now. But if there are problems about people's knowledge of eligibility, assessment, the forms or understanding of what the benefit is about it is not simply an advertising campaign that is required. That was precisely why yesterday, for example, the Disability Benefits Forum met my honourable friend in the other place to discuss how to ensure better take-up of a benefit to which people are entitled and which we all want them to have.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, will the Government consider moving staff from work such as the benefits integrity project to the activities that have been mentioned today: the take-up of benefits and the complexities of the paperwork?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, will be aware that the Government propose to bring to an end the benefits integrity project. We are discussing its replacement with the disability groups. Having said that, with every benefit one must ensure that people get that to which they are entitled. Sometimes they may be overclaiming or underclaiming. One must have those checks particularly with disabled people who get better and worse. The problem with the
Baroness Macleod of Borve: My Lords, does the Minister agree that when the applicant has correctly filled in the form he or she goes into an office where the money is paid in response? Does she agree that very often the queues are enough to put off the applicant who does not have time to queue in order to receive his or her entitlement?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, as far as I am aware most disabled people fill in the forms at home and post them back. If there is a problem in the delivery of those forms to people in the first place I should be grateful if the noble Baroness would supply me with further details. Normally, the form is requested over the telephone and is sent to the applicant by post. In my experience it is fairly unusual that people are expected to queue in an office.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the chronic problem of under take-up of benefits has bedevilled the welfare system since its inception? Perhaps the Crick proposals for education in schools may engender more confidence in the taking up of benefits.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, that may well be right. My noble friends Lord Morris and Lord Ashley have identified two major problems. The problem is not confined to disability living allowance. We know that there are major problems of take-up on income support for pensioners. The House has been rightly concerned about that. We know that only about 75 per cent. of those entitled to family credit take up the benefit to which they are entitled.
The problems for disability are compounded over and beyond the usual problems either of a means test or complexity because the DLA is not a direct compensation. It is based on fair needs. Two people with the same disability may be able to manage their disability very differently; and as a result they have very different entitlements to benefit. Getting people to appreciate that and to understand the benefits to which they may be entitled is complex. Whether that can be done through citizenship in schools I do not know; but that the Government must take action, I entirely agree.
Lord Mottistone: My Lords, if I am asked where I live I say, for example, "I live in the village of Mottistone in the county of the Isle of Wight". We give the basic address to those who write to us. Is it right that we have to put other information on our letters which is sometimes confusing? In the early days delivery was by the Post Office; it is now by Royal Mail. For example, "Newport", which it insists on putting on letters addressed to me, is also a town in South Wales. For 60 years people in sorting offices have been sending letters addressed to my part of the country to South Wales in the first instance. The same may happen as regards other areas.
However, the noble Lord asks an interesting question to which I sought the answer because it seemed to me that the postcode should match a post town. In other words, the digits in the first block should be the same as a post town. I am told that although (and perhaps because) 80 per cent. of mail is scanned at some stage during its transmission, it is difficult to read many people's handwriting and there would be many mistakes if a post town were not included as well as a postcode. I am sorry about that as well.
Lord Ewing of Kirkwood: My Lords, as one of only two postmen in your Lordships' House, may I ask my noble friend whether he is aware that the main problem is that the optical reading machine in the mechanised letter sorting offices simply cannot read "Lord Mottistone of Newport in the Isle of Wight"? The machine can read only the postcode. That is all that is needed. The remainder of the address is only for the benefit of those sending or receiving the letter. All that the optical reading machines can read are the postcodes. Whether or not one puts "Lord Mottistone" on the envelope, the optical reading machine will turn a blind eye to it.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Ewing and my noble friend Lord Clarke of Hampstead are not the only two postmen in the House. We heard yesterday from the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, who told us that he has a Post Office pension.
My noble friend is right in the sense that it is the postcode above all which is optically scanned. He is right to say, as I said in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, that it does not always work well. That is why, unfortunately, a post town is also necessary.
Lord McConnell: My Lords, is the Minister aware that although some firms receive a perfectly accurate name and address the postcode indicates the name and address of another person of the same surname in the locality? Are any steps likely to be taken to make the operation more efficient?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, we have some of the most precise postcodes in the world. They go into greater detail and have smaller blocks than almost anywhere else except the United States, which has now added a four digit code to its five digit code. The chance of there being two people with the same surname in the same postcode is relatively low. I doubt whether that causes a great many problems.
The Prime Minister has made clear that he wants European foreign policy to be more effective and, if necessary, to have the military tools to back that policy. The Government are not focusing on institutional changes though these may come.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that clear statement of a shift in government policy since the Amsterdam Treaty was negotiated. I should love to know, as I am sure would all noble Lords, how much further the initiative is intended to go. Officials have spoken of opening up the debate. Others have talked about the potential fourth pillar of the European Union into which the WEU would be merged. Others have again spoken of dismembering the WEU
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