Social Security (Payments on Account of Benefit) Regulations 2013 — Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:15 pm on 13th February 2013.

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Photo of Lord Freud Lord Freud The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 10:15 pm, 13th February 2013

My Lords, again, lots of punchy points have been made. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, is under a misunderstanding-this rarely happens-as regards the serious risk test. This is applied only to short-term advances. It does not apply to the budgeting advances. I reassure her that not having access to heating would clearly be considered a risk to health. The budgeting advances are exactly the same as for the current budgeting loans in terms of the maximum. The current budgeting loan is lower than the available maximums because that counts for the whole of the Social Fund debt-the £1,500 figure-which includes budgeting loans and crisis loans. Because the Social Fund will no longer exist and we are sending elements of it to the regions and the devolved areas, we are not comparing like with like. The actual maximums as regards the like-for-like components have not changed.

As regards mental health issues, the test is whether the claimant or a member of their family would face a serious risk to health or safety. Clearly, savings are a factor, as are other sources of income, but health, including mental health issues, will be considered.

The context here is to widen the source of funding for families, which is why we are looking to deliver a further £38 million investment into the credit union movement, thereby aiming to make sure that it becomes a viable industry that is able to support families. I am looking forward to making more announcements about that in the not-to-distant future.

Just again to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, on the move from fortnightly to monthly payments-as people move under that change, they will get the opportunity to have benefit-transfer advances, if they choose to, which will help them through that first month. We are clearly determined to put loan sharks out of business, and we have put a lot of money into the money-lending teams, which have already spent £24 million, and another £5 million or so in the past year, and have helped 19,000 victims of loan sharks.

We are looking to offer budgeting support to anyone who is claiming universal credit or transferring from another benefit, and we will have a variety of ways of providing that, including self-serve from the online budgeting support that is already available.

I have dealt with the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, about the single budgeting advance versus multiple loans, but let me do so again. The system is designed to prevent claimants taking out multiple loans and remaining in debt for many years. It is designed to reduce the risk of the claimant getting into long-term debt and will encourage improved budgeting and personal financial responsibility. Where there is a second crisis, we will look at referral to the local authority provision as a way of dealing with that.