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Lord Addington: Any amendment accompanied by a guidance note to ensure that people know about their entitlements always attracts my attention. Many problems within the system concern a lack of knowledge. People do not know what they should do, so they struggle. I suggest that that is something that should be stressed to every single agency that deals with the general public.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: This new clause is intended to improve the take-up of disability living allowance and attendance allowance by making the DSS responsible for making people aware that they may be entitled to claim.

I fully share the concern of the noble Lord. We know that there is a problem of low take-up with DLA and AA. That is confirmed by research. Of course, it is right that things are done to promote benefits when those entitled to them are not claiming them.

The analysis suggests that a range of factors is involved, including, for example, lack of knowledge about the benefits and reluctance to claim. It is also the case that the rules of entitlement for these benefits are more difficult to understand than those for benefits like child benefit and retirement pension where take-up is nearly universal.

Thus, we have a double problem. On the one hand, many prospective claimants misunderstand DLA and AA, resulting in as many as 40 per cent of claims being rejected. At the same time, the research available to us suggests that 40 per cent, or perhaps even more, of those potentially eligible for the benefits may not, for one reason or another, claim them. So it is important that we try to obtain a better balance.

There is much that we do already to achieve this. In many cases the Benefits Agency staff already help people to find out about their benefits such as DLA. We particularly take steps to provide information in various formats to ensure that it is available and accessible. It is provided in a dozen languages with audio tapes, large print and Braille publications. We also provide advice for disabled people by telephone, including textphone services for people with speech or hearing problems, on several well-publicised numbers.

We have also co-operated with other organisations whether within or outside Government, that provide benefit information and we shall continue to do so, including working closely with local authorities. Given that most local authorities have welfare rights offices, I have recently started discussions with local authority organisations to see how best we can help people to take up the benefits that they should take up as well as to encourage people to come forward and move on to the New Deal where they can. We believe it is right to seek to ensure that people know what they are entitled to claim. We believe that the "one" service, particularly for younger people, may also be a help. We are working on that.

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None the less, the noble Lord asks us to shift responsibility on to the department to use the information that it holds to invite claims for benefit. That seems an attractive and obvious approach. That is more easily done, but even there we have had real difficulties in getting people on retirement pension to claim the income support to which they are entitled. We at least have a much better idea of whether they are entitled and eligible even though they are not claiming.

The difficulty with DLA and AA, as I am sure the Committee knows, is that it is an extremely complex benefit. The DSS cannot determine in advance who may be eligible for it. Perhaps I may explain. The DLA and AA are based on a disabled person's diary and the day-to-day problems that they face in living. It is effectively self-reporting and not departmental. That is translated into the proxy of care need. Neither is there any automatic read-across from severity of disability to care need and therefore to the level of DLA. For example, a person's housing situation may mean that they cannot cope with night-time care needs. They may be living in a Victorian converted house with a downstairs toilet with the need to go up and downstairs. Someone living in a bungalow might not have such night care needs and therefore would not be entitled to the higher rate DLA but only to the middle rate.

That is the kind of complexity with which we are dealing. We need to know a person's diary for the purposes of assessment and need. We have to turn that into a proxy for care. Only then can we assess their eligibility for entitlement. Although people may be encouraged by their GP, their local welfare rights service, or the "one" service to apply for DLA and AA, ultimately, because of the complexity of the benefit, there cannot be any automatic trawl by the Benefits Agency. It has to be initiated, so to speak, from the bottom up with our help and information.

In the light of that explanation I hope that the noble Lord will accept that his target regarding the two benefits, DLA and AA, which have to be initiated by the disabled person, while doing our best to provide information to them, cannot be any automatic provision. They are complex benefits based on the individual's care need and therefore can only be dealt with in conjunction with the individual claimant. With that rather complicated explanation, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Higgins: We are grateful to the noble Baroness for that explanation. It is a Catch-22 situation. The fact that it is so complicated makes it all the more difficult to ensure that people take up the benefit. We recognise that. But it seemed worthwhile raising that particular point in the course of debates on the Bill simply because the take-up rate, compared with other benefits, seems to be extremely low. We realise the reasons for that. We hope that the department will do everything possible to ensure that there is adequate publicity by way of advertisements and so forth.

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As the noble Baroness rightly pointed out, in other contexts local authorities manage to get around the problem. One hopes that that will be so in the future as regards this matter. In the light of the remarks of the noble Baroness I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 61 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 125 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Lord Addington moved Amendment No. 125A:

After Clause 61, insert the following new clause--


(" .--In section 135 of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act, there shall be inserted after subsection (1)--
"(1A) The applicable amounts for income support for severely disabled persons shall be made by the Secretary of State following consultation with one or more organisations whom he regards as representative of severely disabled persons.
(1B) The sums first certified by the Secretary of State under subsection (1A) above shall be, in the case of a severely disabled person who is aged not less than 16 but less than 60, set at a level at no less than the higher level for those aged over 25 together with the maximum disability premiums available.
(1C) After sums have first been certified under subsection (1A) above, the sums certified in each subsequent year shall be not less than the total of the sums certified in the previous year together with the amount (if any) by which it appears to the Secretary of State that the general level of prices has increased in the course of the previous year.
(1D) In subsections (1A) and (1B) above, "severely disabled persons" means persons who are in receipt of the care component of disability living allowance at the highest rate within subsection (4)(a) of section 72 above or in receipt of severe disablement allowance."").

The noble Lord said: The amendment seeks to extend the stated weekly disability income guarantee of £128 to those under as well as those above the age of 25. The proposed new clause also seeks to redefine a severely disabled person to include not just those in receipt of the highest rate of care component for DLA, but those in receipt of the severe disability allowance.

To be eligible for the disability income guarantee a person must be on income support, receiving the high rate of DLA care component and also be over 25 years of age. The problem is the age barrier. The Government estimate that 70 per cent. of those in receipt of SDA are also claiming means-tested income support. However, according to a reply given in Hansard in November last year, only 53,000 are getting the higher rate of care component of the DLA. Some of them will be under the age of 25. That means that there is a substantial number of severely disabled people without access to the disability income guarantee of £128 per week.

Although Clause 59 allows the transfer of young, disabled people to a higher income incapacity benefit, about 95 per cent of current SDA claimants will not be transferred and will therefore be left on low incomes, most without access to the guaranteed disability income. Surely, this age barrier with an arbitrary line at the age of 25, is slightly ridiculous. I beg to move.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The noble Lord, Lord Addington, has raised some important points.

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I hope that I can reassure him that the amendment is not necessary. To begin with, we already consult organisations representing disabled people. When the Prime Minister launched our welfare reform programme he promised that there would be consultation and time for discussion at every stage and we have done so. I was involved in helping to set up the Disability Benefits Forum. Even though its work has now ended following the resignation of its members, detailed work with individual members of the forum continues. It has made an important contribution to our work.

We are already making sure that we provide benefits at a level which provide real support for disabled people. The disability income guarantee will be introduced in April 2001 and will provide extra help and security for the poorest disabled people with the highest care needs. It will provide help through income-related benefits to severely disabled adults and families with disabled children who get the highest rate care component of DLA. At the April 1998 rate it will be worth an extra £5.75 for a single adult or child and £8.30 for a couple. I mentioned the New Deal earlier and the Disability Rights Commission. Together I hope that that reassures the noble Lord that we are indeed listening to the views of disabled people.

The noble Lord referred to the age of 25 and pressed me on that. Amendment No. 125A is intended to provide a further enhancement of benefit to severely disabled people aged under 25 and to increase the level of personal allowance to those aged 25 and over.

As the noble Lord knows, as with JSA, which is the fulcrum benefit, in general the reason the lower rate of benefit is paid to younger people is that the majority of them live in someone else's household or share a household with other young, single people and have fewer financial responsibilities. It would be wrong for benefit levels to offer an alternative to seeking work or to training or to be an incentive to leave home or to go into independent accommodation, for example, when they can perfectly well share. We do not believe that that is a sensible use of resources.

The reforms of SDA which we have just been debating will mean that in future young people who become disabled early in life will gain because they qualify for IB. They will gain by approximately £26.40 per week, which will be a valuable enhancement.

A further requirement of this amendment would be to uprate benefit levels in line with prices. I can reassure the Committee that although that requirement is not on the face of the Bill, it already happens in practice. In the light of those responses, I hope that the noble Lord will be able to withdraw his amendment.

5 p.m.

Lord Addington: The Minister gave two answers: one was technical and the other philosophical. Technical answers should always be taken away and read carefully. The philosophical answer concerned the age barrier. We received the arbitrary line of response that the Government's terminology was focusing. But when we focus strongly on something we always blur the edges; we always miss something.

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I am not happy about the response, but at this time I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 62 [Disability living allowance]:

[Amendment No. 125B had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

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