Child Benefit and Guardian's Allowance (Decisions and Appeals) (Amendment) Regulations 2004

– in the House of Lords at 12:05 pm on 16th December 2004.

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Photo of Baroness Hollis of Heigham Baroness Hollis of Heigham Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, in moving this order, I shall also speak to the Social Security, Child Support and Tax Credits (Decisions and Appeals) Amendment Regulations 2004.

These regulations are highly technical as drafted, which accounts for their combination of lucidity and opaqueness. They are, however, entirely benign; the Council on Tribunals and the Social Security Advisory Committee have been consulted, and they welcome them. Given that, I will be brief but will seek to answer any questions your Lordships may have.

The main draft statutory instrument makes amendments to regulations governing decision making and appeals for social security, including housing benefit and council tax benefit, child support and tax credits. The second draft statutory instrument makes an amendment to mirror one of the provisions in the main amendment regulations, for the purposes of the Child Benefit and Guardian's Allowance (Decisions and Appeals) Regulations, and also makes a small technical clarification. I am doing this on behalf of the Treasury, because the regulations are now the Treasury's responsibility and the Inland Revenue administers them. The main amendment in the second set of regulations therefore mirrors a provision within the first set.

These amending regulations essentially do three things. First, they provide for the removal of provisions for the processing of misconceived appeals. A misconceived appeal is an appeal which by definition cannot succeed. For example, one cannot get attendance allowance until one is 65. If one applies at the age of 63, by definition, it cannot succeed. It is a misconceived appeal. At the moment, this is determined by someone who is not necessarily legally qualified. Given that the matter was a cause for concern, even misconceived appeals which are clearly outside the remit of the jurisdiction will be determined and therefore rejected at that stage by someone who is legally qualified. That is a benign change with an additional safeguard.

Secondly, the regulations make changes to the rules and pay performance for notifying the clerk in relation to requests for oral and paper hearings of appeals. At the moment, the paperwork departs into two systems. We are aligning them. Again, this is a simple and technical change.

Finally the regulations provide new rights of appeal against defective claims to benefit, and extend those rights to legislation governing housing benefit and council tax benefit.

Substantive benefit decisions, such as whether or not one receives housing benefit, carry a right of appeal, but a person cannot appeal against an initial decision about whether his or her claim is in a sufficient state to be processed. For example, the local authority may have received an incomplete form from the claimant, who may have failed to give some details of income, for example, for housing benefit purposes. The local authority sends it back to that claimant to be filled in. Most often, the claimant does that and the claim is processed in the usual way, but sometimes the claimant does not return that form and, as a result, the local authority abandons the claim. It is as though the claimant has decided not to proceed.

It was felt that this might be impugning human rights legislation so this is a belt-and-braces solution. Where the body—whether the local authority or department—decides that it cannot proceed because it does not have all the relevant information following the request, it will in future send a notification to the claimant that it will not proceed and that there will be a right of appeal against that initial decision not to proceed. It gives a right of appeal at the point of discarding an appeal as well as on the substance itself. As I said, this is entirely benign.

We propose these changes to take account of decisions by social security and child support commissioners. All the changes are beneficial to claimants and reflect our desire to keep the law on decisions and appeals under review and to improve it when required. The regulations make small but important changes to the decisions and appeals regulations. In my view, the regulations are compatible with the convention rights. After that very brief introduction, I commend them to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 16 November be approved. [First Report from the Joint Committee].—(Baroness Hollis of Heigham.)

Photo of Baroness Noakes Baroness Noakes Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the regulations. The Minister is new to our proceedings today, but it is the fourth item of different business for the noble Lord, Lord Newby, and I; she must forgive us if we sparkle less than usual.

I am very pleased that we do not have the same rules in this House as in the other place. When the Minister in the other place went to deal with the order in the Standing Committee, she was deemed to be a non-person for some reason peculiar to the rules of that House. She was allowed to speak but all formal business was introduced by her Whip. As we know, the Minister could never be a non-person in your Lordships' House.

The regulations are sensible. We note in particular that the Council on Tribunals and the Social Security Advisory Committee have indicated that they are content with them and they seem to us to be entirely on the right lines.

I have one small question for the Minister. A regulatory impact assessment has not been produced because there is no impact on business. But it is noted in the context of both the orders that more appeals are likely to be made and to be successful. What estimate have the Government made of the additional cost which would arise from the orders? I have not seen that calculated anywhere.

Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Shadow Minister, Treasury

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for introducing these orders so briefly. The practice in this House of reading out long speeches to an audience of two or three, when they have already been made in another place and we have read them, is one which the Minister has very wisely avoided in this case. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said that she was sparkling less brightly than normal, but I have stopped sparkling altogether this afternoon. I agree with her that the regulations are entirely benign, and we therefore support them.

Photo of Baroness Hollis of Heigham Baroness Hollis of Heigham Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, I can give the noble Baroness the stats for appeals not proceeding to hearing and reinstatement. Normally, there are something like 10,000 withdrawals, 35,000 strike-outs and 9,000 reinstatements. What I do not have before me, which I would have to check, is whether we have any expectation or forecasts of additional costs. The reason why we have not is that by far the biggest array of benefit claims—something like two-thirds of them—relate to disability benefits, which are not affected by these measures. That figure results from the difficulties with a subjective judgment with regard to DLA.

We expect the number of appeals based on defective information to be very rare indeed, because the obvious thing to do is to put it right, if the claimant wished to pursue his appeal, having remembered that he had forgotten to notify the authorities that he had a bit of capital or some extra overtime money that might affect his entitlement to housing benefit. So we do not expect the costs to be very great.

I cannot answer the one question that the noble Baroness asked me, but that is partly because we are geared up for being able to handle the work fairly effectively. What happens now, basically, is that most of the appeals that are struck out follow effectively an abandonment, when we do not expect people to pursue the matter. They may have changed address or decided it is not worth it, for example. We expect very little extra business; what we are doing is clarifying the legal and statutory basis of the appeal system, rather than expecting a large swathe of new appeals.

I cannot give the noble Baroness the precise information that she wants, but I shall recheck. Our forecasts were so modest in this regard that we have not done an impact assessment.

On Question, Motion agreed to.