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Lord Northbrook: My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister a question relating to the Electricity Supply Industry (Rateable Values)(England) Order 2000. On page 3, why is it that the rateable value for nuclear energy not produced by a Magnox reactor is more than twice that for nuclear energy which is?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the figure per megawatt is a reduction in the present assessment. Rating hypothesis makes different assumptions as to what is provided by a landlord and hence the rent that a tenant will be prepared to pay. AGRs and PWRs are some of the most efficient generators. The amount of electricity generated is therefore greater than some of their competitors and the income that they can generate is greater. This is reflected in a higher rental value that the tenant would be prepared to pay. As to Magnox power plants, the running costs are higher than for the modern nuclear reactors. The life of Magnox power plants is limited and any prospective tenant will be responsible for considerable decommissioning costs. With the modern plants, decommissioning is quite a long way off and the operators can make contingencies for this.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Social Security (Work-focused Interviews) Regulations 2000

5.43 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham) rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 1st March be approved [12th Report from the Joint Committee].

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The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the Social Security (Work-focused Interviews) Regulations and the Contracting Out (Functions relating to Social Security) Order underpin the next stage of the Government's agenda for reform of the welfare state. They are key enablers of our radical and innovative modernisation strategy which is based upon the principle that work is the best form of welfare. Our programme of reform is already a proven success. The New Deal and other key initiatives such as WFTC and the national minimum wage have a real effect on people's lives. We have already helped over 260,000 people to find work.

But this is just a start. We want to build upon the success of New Deal so that all benefit claimants are given the opportunity to fulfil their potential. That is why we are introducing a single gateway into the benefit system. We shall bring together the Employment Service, the Benefits Agency and local authorities to improve customer service, giving claimants one point of contact for all their benefit needs: the ONE service. That service will allow every claimant of working age to realise his aspirations by providing the personalised support and advice that he needs to move towards independence.

No doubt your Lordships will have heard yesterday's announcement by the Prime Minister of the establishment of a new agency to draw together the Employment Service and the BA. The new organisation will deliver a single, integrated service to people of working age. It will provide the right framework for ONE and our other welfare-to-work initiatives to develop and grow. ONE is currently being piloted in 12 parts of the country. Until now the pilots have operated on an entirely voluntary basis. The prime effect of the regulations before us is to require claimants of working age who live in these pilot areas and make new claims to benefits to take part in work-focused interviews. Interviews will normally take place as part of the claims process, although the requirement may be waived or deferred if appropriate. Claimants may also be required to take part in repeat interviews, triggered by prescribed events.

I must emphasise that these regulations do no more than make participation at interviews in these pilot areas mandatory. They will not require lone parents or disabled people to take a job or undergo training. Any steps they take beyond attendance at interview are entirely voluntary. The choice remains but we will ensure that it is an informed choice.

I know that your Lordships have had some opportunity to study these regulations but it might be helpful none the less if I point out a few of the key provisions.

Regulation 4 provides that someone of working age who lives in a pilot area and who wishes to claim a specified benefit must take part in a work-focused interview. The benefits to which this provision applies are income support, incapacity benefit, severe disablement allowance, invalid care allowance, widow's and bereavement benefits, housing benefit and council tax benefit. Interviews will be conducted

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by personal advisers, who will provide continuity of help and advice for each claimant. Interviews will normally take place in a ONE office but may be conducted elsewhere as appropriate. Claimants under the age of 18 years will be dealt with by the Careers Service who will focus principally on training and educational opportunities.

Noble Lords will recall that during the passage of the Welfare Reform Bill concerns were raised that claimants should be given the right to be represented at interview if they so chose. I am pleased to say that we have taken on board this entirely helpful suggestion. Guidance to staff operating the ONE service is unequivocal in laying out a claimant's right to advocacy. All letters sent to confirm appointments state clearly and straightforwardly that the person may be accompanied by a friend, relative or other advocate. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, was particularly anxious that we ensured that that was available, especially for those who might have a disability or for whom English was not a first language, and so on.

Regulation 5 sets out exemptions. Some of the prescribed benefits--for example, widows' benefits and housing benefit--can be claimed by people who are already in work. In such cases a work-focused interview will be unnecessary and so they are exempt from the provision. Because people claiming or entitled to jobseeker's allowance are already required to undertake work-related activities they, too, are excluded; they are already covered. Finally, people who do not habitually reside in Great Britain are not subject to the provision, for the obvious, practical reasons.

Regulation 6 deals with repeat interviews. It provides that, in order to continue receiving full benefit, claimants may be required to take part in work-focused interviews at specified points during their benefit claim.

For lone parents, other than those claiming incapacity benefit or severe disablement allowance, this will be an annual interview. For all other clients, the trigger for an interview will be the receipt of a personal capability assessment--for clients with a disability; the cessation of invalid care allowance; when part-time work ends or starts; when a course of training or education ends; or when the client turns 18.

Regulations 7 and 8 allow for the requirement to take part in an interview to be waived or deferred. A waiver may be applied if an interview would be of no assistance to the claimant or would not be appropriate in the circumstances of the case. It may be deferred where it would not be either appropriate or of assistance at that particular time. Decisions on whether to waive or defer the interview will be taken according to the merits of each individual case. It will be quite exceptional for an interview to be of no value at all so waivers and deferrals will be rare. However, where a claimant is so severely disabled that he could derive no help or support from a work-focused interview a waiver may be applied. That might be, for example, on a letter from the GP, a consultant, or

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something similar. Similarly, where a person is distressed following a recent bereavement, has recently given birth or undergone major surgery the interview may be put back to a more appropriate and convenient time. In such cases the claimant will be treated as having complied with the requirement and the claim will proceed in the normal way.

Your Lordships may recall that the issue of waiving the requirement caused some debate during the passage of the Bill. There were particular concerns that the requirement could create problems for people suffering from mental illnesses and amendments were put down to exclude people with disabilities from the provisions. Our view remains that this is something that cannot be legislated for. Disability is a continuum. And the degree of disability may vary over time. Conditions can improve, deteriorate or fluctuate. On a case-by-case basis, although an individual might not be able to work it would be difficult to provide a workable definition. Decisions will be made on an individual case basis only.

However, some genuine concerns here were raised by your Lordships. We have been working hard with bodies representing different client groups in order to minimise the potential for this to become a real problem. We have consulted with organisations such as Scope, MIND, Mencap, Carers National Association and the National Schizophrenia Fellowship. Many of these bodies have been involved in helping to train ONE advisers and in drawing up the guidance on when to waive or defer interview that will be used by advisers. And we have introduced further safeguards. For example, guidance will make it clear that where a person produces evidence, such as a letter from his doctor, indicating that even participation in an interview might be detrimental to his condition, the requirement can be waived.

I hope that this offers some reassurance. We are, of course, trying to find a middle route between two conflicting principles. On the one hand, we do not want to deny help to anyone who might benefit from it. On the other, we do not want to cause anyone needless anxiety or distress. We hope that we have the balance right, but these are pilot schemes and we shall keep them under close review. If we need to change the arrangements, we can do so.

Regulation 11 defines what "taking part" means. This has been kept as straightforward as possible to ensure that there is little room for doubt as to whether or not the requirement has been satisfied. A claimant must attend at the appointed time and place and answer, when asked, a series of questions related to his past employment history and future employment prospects. That is all that he needs to do to satisfy the requirement. As I said, there is no requirement to seek work or take any other action.

Regulation 12 sets out the consequences of failing to take part in the interview. In a new claim, the client will be treated as not having made that claim to benefit and so there will be no award made. If the initial interview was deferred and benefit put into payment, it would be withdrawn. Where a claimant fails to take part in a

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repeat interview, benefit will be reduced by an amount equivalent to 20 per cent of the income support personal allowance for a person over 25, currently just over £10 a week.

However, I want to assure your Lordships that we have built sound safeguards into the way the system will operate. Claimants will be given at least three opportunities to attend an interview before any action is taken. They will be given numerous reminders of the requirement and the consequences of failure to comply with it. Secondly, if we have been unable to make direct contact with the claimant, we will attempt to visit them at home before we withdraw benefit. That is in order to ensure that there are no administrative errors or issues associated with women having left the home because of fears of violence. Moreover, benefit will be reinstated as soon as the person complies. Our aim is to encourage compliance, not to enforce sanctions.

Regulation 14 provides a non-exhaustive list of matters to be taken into account in considering good cause for failure to take part in an interview. The provision is similar to good-cause arrangements elsewhere in the benefits system.

Regulation 15 provides a right of appeal against a decision that a person has failed to take part without good cause. All decisions will be treated as decisions of the Secretary of State and will be heard by the independent appeals service.

I want to move on to the contracting out order. Private and voluntary sector organisations are leading the delivery of the ONE service in four of the 12 pilot areas. This order is designed to enable employees of those organisations to perform certain functions in relation to work-focused interviews.

The order relates only to functions connected with the ONE service: it does not cover any other social security functions such as those related to the determination of claims to benefits. The order allows for specified functions of the Secretary of State and of local authorities to be exercised by those authorised on their behalf. Those who are authorised to exercise the functions and the extent to which they may be exercised will be detailed in contracts with the providers.

The functions that may be contracted out are those relating to work-focused interviews, the revision of decisions related to work-focused interviews and certain functions relating to claims for housing benefit and council tax benefit. This means that the contractor or his employee may decide, for example, whether a work-focused interview should be waived or deferred; that a client has "taken part" in such an interview; or that there was good cause for failure to comply with the requirement. He may also revise such decisions, for example, where fresh information comes to light.

The provisions within these instruments are entirely in accordance with the intentions we outlined during the passage of the Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill. They provide the foundation for the ONE service, a service which will help even more people to make the

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transition from benefit cheque to pay cheque. I commend both the regulations and the order to the House.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 1st March be approved [12th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Baroness Hollis of Heigham.)

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