Previous Section Index Home Page

Independent Tribunal Service

Mr. Levitt: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if she will review the operation of the independent tribunal service in order to reduce waiting times. [12762]

30 Oct 1997 : Column: 852

Mr. Keith Bradley: The Social Security Bill, which will be debated in Committee from 28 October, contains measures to provide a more efficient and faster appeals system for social security benefits, child support and vaccine damage payments. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said that she will take personal

30 Oct 1997 : Column: 853

responsibility for the administration of the new system and will set and publish demanding targets for clearing appeals and report on the results achieved.

Housing Benefit

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what proportion of gross rents in (a) the private rented, (b) local authority and (c) the housing association sectors is met by housing benefit. [12817]

Mr. Keith Bradley: The information is in the table.

Proportion of total rental income covered by housing benefit Great Britain 1995-96

Private rented sectorLocal Authority sectorHousing association sector
38 per cent.58 per cent.53 per cent.


The information is based on housing benefit expenditure in Great Britain as a proportion of estimated total rental income in each sector, including tenants not in receipt of any housing benefit.


Figures based on the 1995-96 family resources survey. The number of housing benefit recipients has been calibrated to match 1995-96 local authority case load counts.

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if she will estimate the effect on the number of recipients of housing benefit of cutting the taper to (a) 60 per cent., (b) 55 per cent. and (c) 50 per cent. [12815]

Mr. Keith Bradley: The information is in the table.

Estimated effect on case load of reducing the housing benefit taper

Taper (per cent.)Housing benefit case loadIncrease on current case load
Current taper 654,700,000--

1. Estimates obtained from policy simulation model based on the 1995-96 family resources survey uprated to 1997-98 case load levels.

2. Figures are rounded to the nearest 5,000.

Mr. Hope: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when she plans to publish the Social Security Advisory Committee's 1996 report on proposed amendments to the housing benefit regulations governing service charge eligibility; and if she will make a statement. [14186]

Ms Harman: The committee's report was published today. It provides valuable insight into the interaction of the various funding streams in supported housing. It is vital that such an important document is in the public domain to feed into the group's discussions on long-term funding arrangements.

The inter-departmental group is seeking to implement a sustainable long-term funding arrangement for this valuable social provision. The work of the inter-departmental group is unlikely to conclude this year. We inherited a situation whereby many people relied on a benefit designed to meet housing costs to meet charges for services which bear little relation to the provision of accommodation. A recent divisional court ruling has confirmed that this is clearly an unsatisfactory arrangement. We have introduced interim measures to

30 Oct 1997 : Column: 854

protect the many thousands of vulnerable people living in supported accommodation and stabilise the position of existing supported housing provision until such time as we can implement a sustainable long-term funding arrangement. We shall shortly announce our objectives for these arrangements and we shall be seeking the views of stakeholders on how best to translate them into a modern, practical and sustainable funding mechanism.

Means-tested Benefits

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what assumptions about the take-up of means-tested benefits underlie (a) the most recent departmental spending plans and (b) the previous year's spending plans; and if she will make a statement. [12820]

Mr. Keith Bradley: The Department's estimates of expenditure on means-tested benefits do not make any assumptions about the level of take-up. Estimates are based on information drawn from the administrative data sets for individual benefits and reflect the level of take-up that exists at the time the data are collected.

Lone Parents

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many lone parents in receipt of income support have a youngest child below school age; and what proportion this represents of all lone parents on income support. [12821]

Mr. Keith Bradley: As at November 1996 there were 517,000 lone parents with a youngest child below school age. This figure represents 50.5 per cent. of all lone parents on income support.

Social Security Advisory Committee

Ms Stuart: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when she will respond to the eleventh report from the Social Security Advisory Committee, published on 5 August; and if she will make a statement on the future role and membership of the committee. [12787]

Mr. Field: The eleventh report of the Social Security Advisory Committee gave an account of the committee's work since November 1995 and no response was required. The committee is an independent statutory body whose role and membership criteria are set out in the Social Security Administration Act 1992. There are no plans to amend the legislation.

30 Oct 1997 : Column: 855

Cold Weather Payments

Mr. Levitt: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if she will assess the appropriateness of using weather stations in (a) Bradford and (b) Manchester airport to determine cold weather payments in High Peak.[12758]

Mr. Denham: Entitlement to cold weather payments is based on either the recorded or forecast temperature data at one of 72 weather stations throughout Great Britain. Each weather station is considered to reflect fairly the temperatures of the area it covers. Postcode districts are linked to weather stations, taking into account expert advice from the Meteorological Office.

The list of weather stations to be used this winter and their respective linked postcode districts are contained within the amending regulations which were laid on 9 October, S.I. 1997 No. 2311. The weather stations at Bingley and Ringway--Manchester airport--will continue to be used for postcode districts in the High Peak constituency.

After the end of each winter, representations made regarding the suitability of individual weather stations or their respective links with individual postcode districts are reviewed. Expert advice is sought from the Meteorological Office.

Mr. Hill: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when she expects to announce the outcome of the annual review of the cold weather payments and if she will make a statement. [14188]

Mr. Denham: The annual review has taken place against a backdrop of successful Government moves to cut fuel costs and a wide-ranging programme to make homes easier to heat. The Government are determined to tackle the problems associated with vulnerable people keeping warm during cold weather. Action will go well beyond the scope of cold weather payments.

Fuel costs for many of the poorest claimants are falling. The annual fuel bills for people eligible for CWPs are estimated to be £60 million less this year than last. This fall itself is equivalent to nearly three CWPs. Last year eligible people received an average of two payments.

This winter, fuel bills will fall due to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's reduction in VAT on fuel bills from eight to 5 per cent., removal of the gas levy, and recent reductions in the cost of fuel and light.

Help with energy efficiency grants will continue for householders on low income benefits, disability allowances, or who are aged 60 or over. A further 400,000 vulnerable households will receive help this year. The grants have been extended to cover two new main measures--cavity wall insulation and upgrading of heating system controls.

The environmental task force element of the Government's welfare-to-work new deal is now taking shape. It is expected to include a programme of energy efficiency improvements in homes of the elderly.

This year's review also concluded that two further changes could not be implemented without increasing the complexity and uncertainty of the scheme and would not have provided a guaranteed improvement in the perceived fairness of the scheme.

30 Oct 1997 : Column: 856

The first proposed change made use of a new product from the Meteorological Office, which would have removed the need for an annual review of post code to weather station links, but would have lead to the number of post code groups within Great Britain increasing from the present 70 to over 600. Increasing the number of areas would have created far more occasions when people in neighbouring streets received a different number of payments and made the scheme far more difficult to understand. Therefore, we decided not to introduce this change, but to keep the current arrangements under review.

We also considered a new report commissioned from the Building Research Establishment into the effect of wind speed on domestic heating needs during very cold weather. Copies of the BRE report have been placed in the Library. The report was considered alongside the action the Government have already taken to cut fuel bills and promote energy efficiency. We were also mindful of our manifesto commitment to live within inherited expenditure plans.

Allowing for the effects of wind speed would increase the complexity and uncertainty of the scheme without ensuring that the payments went to those with the greatest need for additional heating. The amount of additional heating required depends on a number of varying factors, including the house type, insulation standard, method of heating used and its efficiency.

If the current level of expenditure was maintained, but the scheme was changed to take into account wind speed, it is highly likely that many people in less windy areas would lose payments which they could expect to receive under the current arrangements.

Taking into account all the relevant considerations we have decided not to amend the scheme to take account of wind speed.

The annual review of the CWP scheme has now been completed. The review involved consideration of representations made during last winter regarding the suitability of individual weather stations or their respective links with post code districts. Amending regulations were laid on 9 October.

In line with the Meterological Office expert advice, we have increased the number of weather stations used in the scheme from 70--the number used last winter--to 72. The two additional weather stations will improve the fairness with which payments are made in the affected areas. The two additional weather stations will be in Scotland. One at Waterstein head will represent most of the Isle of Skye and the other at Salsburgh will represent some inland areas in the south of Scotland.

Next Section Index Home Page