Clause 14

Welfare Reform Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 7:00 pm on 24th February 2009.

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Power to restrict availability of social fund loans

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Work and Pensions Minister

I should like to ask the Minister a few questions about the clause, because it provides the Secretary of State with the power, where a social loan external provider exists, to enable existing social fund arrangements not to apply. One of our concerns is that a situation will be created in which, depending on whereabouts people are in the country, there are different arrangements and different provision. The worst situation might be one in which in one part of the country a very generous arrangement was operated by an external provider, but in another part of the country the arrangements were not as generous. In taking on this power, which restricts the type of loan that can be provided to just an external provider loan, what steps is the Minister taking to ensure that there is a level playing field and that regardless of where someone is in the country, the same support or same type of loan will be available? It is not clear from what has already been published or from clause 14 how the Department will ensure that. We would have great concerns if we were to see an uneven playing field and certain parts of the country being treated better than others.

Photo of Kitty Ussher Kitty Ussher Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions 7:15 pm, 24th February 2009

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his questions, which are valid. If we were to enter an arrangement with an external provider, it would be because we thought that would help us to meet our public policy aims more effectively. In a sense, the client in that area might, by definition, have access to a more holistic service than one in an area in which there was no such contract. However, that is better than retaining the current situation, because it would bring an improvement for some people, although we would like everyone to have that improvement. Let me reassure him on the general point that if and when we enter arrangements in certain geographical areas, those arrangements will have broadly the same eligibility, and  there will be no attempt to change eligibility for two identical customers who live in different places. This is precisely the type of issue that we will consult on further when we have more detail as to how those contracts might work. The clause is important because it would be unduly complex, and would not help the situation, to run two parallel schemes in the same area, with one being provided centrally and the other being provided by an external provider.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 14 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.