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

Part of the debate – 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) 12:05 pm, 16th December 2004

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.