§ 128A.—(1) Regulations may make provision requiring the disclosure by one authority ("the disclosing authority") to another authority ("the receiving authority"), in prescribed circumstances, of information of a prescribed description obtained by the disclosing authority in respect of persons who have been entitled to a jobseeker's allowance or to income support.
§ (2) The regulations may in particular provide for—
- (a) information to be disclosed—
- (i) at the request of the receiving authority;
- (ii) at the request of any person who falls within a prescribed category; or
- (iii) otherwise than in response to such a request;
- (b) the period within which information is to be disclosed; and
- (c) information to be disclosed only if it has been obtained by the disclosing authority in the exercise of any of their functions in relation to housing benefit or council tax benefit."
(3) In section 63 of the Administration Act (adjudication of claims for housing benefit or council tax benefit), insert after subsection (2)—
(2A) Regulations may make provision requiring authorities to whom claims for housing benefit or council tax benefit are made by, or in respect of, persons who have been entitled to a jobseeker's allowance or to income support to give priority, in prescribed circumstances, to those claims over other claims for any such benefit.".'.—[Mr. Roger Evans.].
§ Brought up, and read the First time.3.42 pm
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Roger Evans)
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
The new clause deals with the mechanics of implementing my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's November uprating statement that housing benefit and council tax benefit would run on for four weeks after returning to work for those unemployed or lone parents who have been on jobseeker's allowance or income support for six months or more. It is the Government's intention that that run-on should begin from the outset of the implementation of JSA becoming payable in April 1996. For the purposes of the period beginning in April 1996, it is envisaged that six months on unemployment benefit or income support previously would count.
355 This is designed to deal with the major concern of those who are moving off benefits and on to work as to whether they will be able to pay the rent in the initial period of their return to work. This is quite an expensive measure. It will cost £50 million a year and it is anticipated that it will benefit about 440,000 individuals a year.
If this measure is to work, the mechanics must be in place to ensure that there is a smooth run-on. The first two subsections of new clause 7 deal with the situation that occurs when jobseekers move from one local authority where they have been receiving housing benefit to another local authority to obtain work. The purpose of the two subsections is to give a regulatory power to require information to be exchanged between local authorities.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
Will the Under-Secretary confirm that the measure will give protection to share fishermen, who may have to wait some time before they receive their share—in other words, their wages—from the landings of a vessel? The hon. Gentleman may smile. I am talking about only a few men, but this is important.
§ Mr. Evans
The hon. Gentleman sees me smiling, but I mean no disrespect towards the problems of share fishermen. They have received special treatment throughout the passage of the legislation, as they have for many years. I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman off the top of my head the precise way in which the rule applies to them, but I shall write to him on the issue.
The first two subsections of the clause deal with the regulatory power to require information to be exchanged and the third with the regulatory power to require authorities to give priority to jobseekers. Local authorities are already under a legal obligation to determine all housing benefit and council tax benefit claims within 14 days of receipt of the necessary information. The powers in the clause will not change that, nor will they prevent local authorities from treating any particular claim as a matter of extreme urgency. They will afford a general priority for determining claims by jobseekers.
To complete the picture, I should explain that we also plan to introduce a financial incentive and penalty scheme to encourage all local authorities to process quickly new claims from those claiming this most important run-on. Additional or reduced subsidy will be paid to local authorities according to whether they process claims effectively.
§ Mr. Keith Bradley (Manchester, Withington)
I shall be brief, as I do not wish to delay the Report stage. This is not the place to go into the detail of the new jobseeker's allowance. We welcome the measure, which will speed up the administration of benefits for people moving in and out of work. A major bone of contention has been that delay has often led to financial difficulties—particularly, as the Under-Secretary said, with rent payments—and any measure to speed the process up is welcome.
I am also pleased about the Under-Secretary's assurances that subsection (1)(b)—which enablespriority to be given to certain persons"—does not in any way undermine the general administration of benefit claims. One may feel on seeing words such as "priority" that other people are being de-prioritised and pushed down a waiting list. I welcome the Under-Secretary's assurances that the Government intend 356 to ensure that all such claims are dealt with speedily and efficiently. I am sure that local authorities throughout the country will respond to that request.
There are good and bad practices in such administration, and we want to ensure that all authorities use the best possible good practice. This measure in no way seeks to undermine that intention. People who clearly need a speedy response from the benefit system must not get that response at the expense of other people who have an equal need for such a speedy response, and we must ensure that we do not bring hardship to particular claimants. I am pleased that the Government have introduced the new clause, the need for which they identified in Committee.
§ Mr. Roger Evans
I confirm that share fishermen will be among those eligible to benefit from the proposal.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.