Cohabitation Rule

Oral Answers to Questions — Social Services – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th November 1973.

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Photo of Mr Clinton Davis Mr Clinton Davis , Hackney Central 12:00 am, 6th November 1973

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will introduce legislation to enable supplementary benefit to be continued to be paid to women who it is alleged have been cohabiting until the case has been adjudicated by an independent tribunal.

Photo of Sir Keith Joseph Sir Keith Joseph , Leeds North East

No, Sir. It is right that questions of entitlement to benefit should be determined in the first instance by the Supplementary Benefits Commission.

Photo of Mr Clinton Davis Mr Clinton Davis , Hackney Central

Is it not monstrous that a woman who is faced with a situation like this should have her benefit cut off, often simply on the say-so of an investigating officer who may have based his findings on hearsay, as I and no doubt other hon. Members have found on numerous occasions? Would it not be fairer if a tribunal were to adjudicate on the evidence and then make its decision upon the evidence?

Photo of Sir Keith Joseph Sir Keith Joseph , Leeds North East

No. The commission's officers do not make a cohabitation decision in the first place without carefully considering all the evidence. However, once they have concluded that cohabitation exists, benefit has to be withdrawn, as, on the face of it, no entitlement exists.

Photo of Mr Fergus Montgomery Mr Fergus Montgomery , Brierley Hill

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is no official definition of "cohabitation"? Although I think most people would agree that a widow, divorcee or unmarried woman living with a man as his wife, should not get social benefit, at the moment because of this unclear indication of the cohabitation rule a large number of widows who take in bona fide lodgers are being harassed by the officials.

Photo of Sir Keith Joseph Sir Keith Joseph , Leeds North East

I hope my hon. Friend will send me names of any cases where he thinks there is harassment. The Supplementary Benefits Commission has published a leaflet seeking to define cohabitation as it understands it. I shall send my hon. Friend a copy of that publication.

Photo of Dr Shirley Summerskill Dr Shirley Summerskill , Halifax

Will the right hon. Member bear in mind that a woman may have to wait eight to 16 weeks before she can appeal and that she would not, I believe, be allowed legal aid? It is wrong that she should suffer financial hardship—and possibly her children as well—waiting for an appeal against a law which is imprecise, when the facts are often extremely hard to obtain.

Photo of Sir Keith Joseph Sir Keith Joseph , Leeds North East

By hypothesis, in cases where the commission's officers have evidence that cohabitation exists, there are resources coming into the household, and often have been for some time.