Habitual Residence Test

Oral Answers to Questions — Social Security – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st May 1995.

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Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms , Newham North East 12:00 am, 1st May 1995

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many appeals there have been against refusal of benefit under the habitual residence test; and how many appeals have resulted in an award of benefit. [20123]

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Social Security

The independent tribunal service records appeals according to the relevant benefit, not according to the reason for refusal. How many income support appeals refer to habitual residence is therefore not known.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms , Newham North East

The Secretary of State will be aware that, in an Adjournment debate on 21 March, the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans), told the House that the information was available. I do not blame him for that error, which exemplifies the enormous amount of confusion that there has been in both his Department and the Benefits Agency over the test since its introduction.

Is the Secretary of State aware of anecdotal evidence that at least half, and possibly two thirds, of appeals against refusal of benefit under the habitual residence test are successful? Does that not confirm that there are severe problems with the test, and does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the information for which I have asked is basic data that the House needs to make a proper evaluation of this deeply flawed legislation?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Social Security

I know that the hon. Gentleman has taken a sincere and continuing interest in the subject, and I respect him for that, but I do not necessarily accept all his analyses. Adjudication officers' decisions are not themselves law-making; only when they reach the commissioners do they determine the position, and become precedents elsewhere. We shall have to wait a while before any of them do that.

The courts have, however, upheld the validity of the test as a whole. I think that the House will welcome the fact that we have acted to prevent benefit tourism, thereby saving the taxpayer considerable sums. Opposition Members always resist any changes that we introduce to prevent abuse of this kind: they are out of touch with the British people in that regard, as in so many others.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe , Broxbourne

I welcome the habitual residence test. May I urge my right hon. Friend to clamp down on bogus asylum seekers? Is he aware of the recent case of the Algerian asylum seeker, Mr. Abeey Dikes, who, on the tube, kicked and head-butted a young doctor? Does he agree that people like Mr. Dikes should not be able to stay in this country at the taxpayer's expense?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Social Security

It is not for me to comment on individual cases, but I am aware of the outrage that is caused when people abuse this country's hospitality, either by committing crimes when they are being supported here or by obtaining support to which they are not entitled. We shall do all in our power to prevent both abuses.

Photo of Mr Keith Bradley Mr Keith Bradley Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Social Security)

I thank the Under-Secretary for correcting his statement in the Adjournment debate that he had supplied me with figures showing the number of people who had won appeals. In a written answer, he confirmed that he had not made that information available. That is not good enough, however: we need to know how many British citizens have been denied their entitlement to income support through the habitual residence test.

As the Secretary of State is able to provide me with figures for every office in the country showing the number of people who have been denied benefit through the test, will he now supply me with the number of people whose benefits have been started again because they have won their appeals against the test?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Social Security

I shall certainly see whether such information is available, but I fear that it may not be. Obviously, information that comes directly from the independent tribunal service is normally provided by the service, and I do not think that it would be cost-effective to try to produce the records that the hon. Gentleman proposes.

There will be a number of appeals. Some will be successful; some will fail. An appeal mechanism is an essential part of our system—a proper safety net whose existence we should welcome, rather than counting it as a failure when an appeal succeeds.