Clause 4 - Claims: supplementary

Part of Tax Credits Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 15th January 2002.

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Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 4:30 pm, 15th January 2002

I, too, welcome you to the Committee, Mr. O'Hara. You were in the Chair the first time I served in Standing Committee, some four years ago, and I shall leave you to judge whether I—or the rest of the Committee, for that matter—have progressed at all since then.

I have some misgivings about the amendments, in that there appears to be some misunderstanding about what the powers are intended to allow the board to achieve. People may claim late, after the point at which they became entitled, for perfectly good reasons that have nothing to do with fraud or poor management. Provisions in the social security system variously allow backdating of one month, three months or, in some cases, 12 months. Because of the complexity of the tax credit scheme, an entitlement to claim may not be instantly apparent to the person concerned.

A face-to-face appointment with an adviser, or with a representative of a citizens advice bureau, may be booked some weeks after the event that triggers entitlement. Therefore, for someone to lose money because the process was not completed within four weeks seems unduly restrictive. A delay between making a claim and becoming entitled could occur through no fault of the claimant, and the more complicated the system, the more excusable such a delay should be. Amendment No. 10 would appear to rule out any backdating at all, and in my view that is too restrictive. We should concentrate on helping to ensure that entitled non-recipients get their money—even if they get it a bit late—rather than on taking money off them and penalising them for the complexity of the system. For those reasons, I am disinclined to support the amendments.