We still estimate that over 300,000 households should qualify for the transitional payments announced by my right hon. Friend on 27 April following the changes in the housing benefit system.
Does the Minister accept that when the Secretary of State told the House on 27 April that people most severely and significantly affected by the housing benefit cuts would benefit from the transitional arrangements, he was guilty of a very cruel con on some of the most vulnerable people in society? Will he confirm that many of the people who are most savagely hit by housing benefit cuts will not and were never meant to be helped by these transitional arrangements? How many people have so far applied for the transitional arrangements, bearing in mind the confusing under-publicity of the scheme? Will he confirm that the calculation made by his Department is that only 10 per cent. of those who apply will be successful? Will he answer these points——
I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman's third question, because I have no idea who will apply, but I can say that we have received 60,000 applications for transitional payments and that about 4,000 a day are coming in. We aim to have another advertising campaign in the near future to encourage the highest possible take-up of this protection, which, as we said at the time, is designed to limit housing benefit loss to £2·50 a week. It was never designed to protect people from rises in rents or rates which took place on 1 April.
The transitional arrangements not-withstanding, are there not many people who are ostensibly gainers under the new social security regulations who are being turned into losers almost entirely as a result of the necessary contribution of 20 per cent. to the local rates and the imposition of the water rate? I recognise the desirability of all citizens having some interest in local government expenditure, but does my hon. Friend remain satisfied that this is the most equitable way of achieving that?
Water rates were taken into account in the transitional protection. As for rates, £1·30 compensation for the minimum contribution to rates is built into the income support system. I believe that we tackled that problem in a fair and equitable manner.
Will the Minister confirm that it is now 11 weeks since the scheme was announced and that, as yet, not a single claimant has received a refund? Many of them are now running up considerable arrears and facing threats of eviction by local authorities and private landlords. Do the Government not accept some of the responsibility for having got those people into that difficulty?
Will the Minister recognise that more than 5 million claimants have lost some or all of thier housing benefit, and well over 4,500,000 will get no help from the scheme—including all under 25, who have suffered a particularly savage cut in their benefit?
Finally, how long is transitional, and what is supposed to happen to claimaints when it comes to an end?
Those who have had the higher losses will have their transitional protection phased out over a number of years, so there is no question of the scheme being limited to a year. It is a remarkable acheivement that we have been able to set up the new office, employ and train the staff, establish the procedures and advertise all that so that I can say that the first payments will go out before the end of this week. We shall be anxious to achieve the highest possible take-up.
It is true that no transitional protection payments have been made under housing benefit, but they have been made for those in receipt of income support, who are the poorest people. Those who have not received benefit are by definitition not the poorest. Their payments should begin this week.