§ Mr. Cousins
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what were the definitions of the high, medium and low-priority groups in use in the Newcastle area for grants and loans within the social fund in April and at the latest available date.
§ Mr. Scott
The administration of the social fund is a matter for Mr. Michael Bichard, the chief executive of the Benefits Agency. He will write to the hon. Member and a copy will be placed in the Library.
Letter to Mr. Jim Cousins from Mr. Michael Bichard, dated 26 November 1992:
As Chief Executive of the Benefits Agency, it is my responsibility to answer questions about relevant operational matters. I am therefore replying to the points raised in your recent Parliamentary Question to the Secretary of State for Social Security about Social Fund priorities in Newcastle.
Social Fund Officers (SFOs) decide the overall priority of individual applications by looking at all the circumstances of the case. They are obliged to take account of guidance issued by the Secretary of State for Social Security, and by the District Manager acting as Area Social Fund Officer (ASFO).
Guidance on priorities issued by the Secretary of State is in the Social Fund Guide which is in the Library.
The ASFO is required to provide guidance as to what priority should generally be afforded to certain categories of items, or in the case of grants, circumstances. The guidance is drafted so as not to interfere with the SFO's duty to consider the priority of individual items in light of the particular circumstances of the applicant. As the ASFO only suggests levels of priority in his guidance, it follows that there can be no definition of priorities as such.
I hope you find this reply helpful. A copy of this reply will appear in the Official Report. Copies are also being placed in the Library.