Welfare Reform Bill — Report (5th Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:15 pm on 23rd January 2012.

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Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench 10:15 pm, 23rd January 2012

My Lords, I rise to move, very briefly, Amendment 62 on behalf of my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham, who apologises to the House for not being able to be in his place. As noble Lords will know, he generally speaks with little in the way of notes, so I shall do my best.

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that regulations will provide for prisoners who were receiving benefit at the time of their imprisonment to be assessed during their time in prison or custody for their eligibility for benefit on their release from custody. I passionately agree with my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham that the amendment has huge merit. In Grand Committee the Minister outlined the arrangements that have been made to cover those who claim jobseeker's allowance, which my noble friend accepts, but the Minister did not accept my noble friend's proposal that all prisoners should have claims to other benefits processed before release.

Last week my noble friend had an extremely useful meeting with officials in the DWP, with whom he discussed the situation, reaching the following conclusion-that my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham would now table an amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, putting the onus on the Ministry of Justice to confirm a prisoner's national insurance number and current entitlement to benefits on reception into prison. Before release, these should be processed in time for suspended benefits to be resumed and necessary arrangements made to cover the gap before any payment could otherwise be made, subject to payment in arrears. This will require protocols between the DWP and the MoJ to be established. The question is whether the Minister will be prepared to support this proposal.

The arguments in support of the amendment were put by my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham most forcibly in Committee and I shall not repeat them. I beg to move.