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Social Security (Loss of Benefit) (Amendment) Regulations 2013 — Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:45 pm on 13th February 2013.

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Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government) 10:45 pm, 13th February 2013

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to these regulations. As has been stated, they are narrowly focused and address particularly the issues of fraud. We share with the Government a strong intolerance of those who, through fraud, deliberately set out to cheat the benefit system. However, the three-year sanction-loss of benefit for three years-driven by non-compliance with conditionality requirements is a serious matter and demands careful scrutiny.

It is understood that these regulations are focused just on situations regarding fraud. The wider issue of sanctions and hardship provisions will be the subject of continuing debate. When we challenged the higher-level sanctions applicable to universal credit, we were told that they should apply only to handful of individuals. Perhaps the Minister can give us some indication of the likely numbers of individuals expected to be subject to the three-year loss of benefit penalty provided for in these regulations.

The debate on these regulations in the other place covered a number of issues, which I do not propose to range over again in detail this evening. We are better informed about the offence of uttering. We know that these provisions will apply also, as does the sanctions regime, to those in receipt of universal credit who are in work. As the Explanatory Note makes clear, these regulations deal with a new three-year loss of benefit on a first offence following a benefit fraud conviction. The conviction must relate to a serious case of organised or identity-related fraud. The Minister has set out the criteria for that loss of benefit to apply.

We understand why, for universal credit, the measure of any sanction will be related to the standard component and that amounts, for example, for children and housing will continue to be paid, together with any hardship payment. The concern is that when these situations arise, the whole household, including children, will suffer, not only the individual who has committed the fraud. Amounts allocated for children and housing, for example, could be used in whole or in part for daily living expenses, with the increased risk of rent arrears and homelessness. It seems to us that there is an argument that, where there are joint claimants, there should be a presumption that in these circumstances payment should automatically flow to the main carer.

The Minister has touched on the availability of hardship payments and we have already spent some time on those this evening. I do not now propose to raise any further questions on them.

As we are probably at the end of our proceedings, I ought just to take the opportunity to thank the Minister for his display of stamina at the Dispatch Box today and for his determination to do whatever he can to answer the whole array of questions that have been directed at him, which he has done probably with minimal follow-up required in correspondence, so we thank him for that. There are obviously many issues around universal credit, which will run and run, and I am sure that we will revisit them on many occasions over the upcoming months and possibly years. But I think that we should conclude by thanking him for what he has done today.