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Session 2001- 02
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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Social Security Amendment (Intercalating Students) Regulations 2002

Second Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Monday 24 June 2002

[Mr. John Cummings in the Chair]

Draft Social Security Amendment (Intercalating Students) Regulations 2002

4.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Malcolm Wicks): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Social Security Amendment (Intercalating Students) Regulations 2002.

Welcome to the Chair, Mr. Cummings. I hope not to detain the Committee too long on a technical but wholly beneficial change to regulations, although the duration of our sitting will depend on the contributions of others. We are introducing the draft regulations as part of our ongoing review of student provision of income-related benefits, and to meet a commitment we made when we introduced the Social Security Amendment (Students) Regulations 2000.

As I said, the change is entirely beneficial. Part-time students are eligible to claim social security benefits just as anyone else is, but students undertaking a course of full-time study are not able to receive income-related benefits—income support, jobseeker's allowance, housing benefit and council tax benefit—because support for students should come from the student support system, which is designed for their needs, and not from the social security system, which is not. However, vulnerable groups such as lone parents and disabled students have extra costs that are not associated with their study and so remain eligible for the relevant income-related benefits.

In June 2000, we introduced regulations that, among other things, enabled certain full-time students who had interrupted their course with the permission of their educational establishment to claim benefits such as jobseeker's allowance, housing benefit and council tax benefit, as appropriate. The students concerned were those who had had to interrupt their course because they were ill or because they had caring responsibilities, but had recovered from the illness or no longer had caring responsibilities and were able to return to their course immediately. To ensure that students returned to their studies as soon as practicable, we limited the period during which such students could claim the relevant benefit to the earlier of their return to the course, or the start of the next academic year.

When we introduced the 2000 regulations, we agreed to keep them under review. The National Union of Students, among others, has drawn to our attention the fact that by restricting students from claiming beyond the start of the next academic year, hardship may be caused for those who are prevented by their educational institution from returning until later in the year, perhaps because they are not permitted to return until the anniversary of the point

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at which they interrupted their studies. The draft regulations therefore allow students to claim the relevant income-related benefit until such time as they are permitted to return to their course, if they are not permitted to return until after the start of the next academic year. However, to ensure that they return as soon as possible, the period during which they may claim is limited to one year.

That is not all that we are proposing. It might be helpful if I mention regulations that have been laid that are subject to the negative procedure. They would abolish the student rent deduction, as well as increase the disregards applicable to student loan and grant income for the coming year. A set amount is deducted from a full-time student's contractual rent before his or her housing benefit is calculated. The amount deducted is determined by whether the student is studying in the London area or elsewhere. If the deduction is applied, a similar amount is disregarded from the student's income.

The original purpose of the deduction was to prevent double provision. As student grants contained an element for housing costs, the deduction prevented housing benefit paying for that part of the rent. However, recent changes in student finance have meant that the rationale for the policy has largely disappeared, leaving in its wake a very complicated process that requires local councils to make between six and eight calculations during the year. It also makes it very difficult for students who are eligible for housing benefit to calculate their disposable income after payment of rent and so on.

The abolition of the rent deduction will benefit some 5,000 students and simplify the administration of housing benefit for local authorities. There may be some losers, but we cannot calculate the number. They will be those who, because of an odd interaction between the student rent deduction and rent officer determinations, receive a higher rate of housing benefit than the policy intended—so, in other words, we are removing unintended gainers. Hon. Members will want to know that the Department for Education and Skills welcomed the abolition of rent deduction and pointed out that the very few who may lose out financially can seek help from their institutions' hardship funds.

We are working closely with colleagues throughout Government and elsewhere to ensure that social security legislation and educational maintenance systems maintain a positive balance and uphold the aims and objectives of both. The draft regulations will help to ensure that we maintain that balance by enabling those who have recovered from illness and former carers to claim jobseeker's allowance, housing benefit and council tax benefit until they are able to return to their studies. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

4.36 pm

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): I join the Minister in saying what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr. Cummings, although it may not be for long, as I do not intend to detain the Committee. I have a few

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points to make, however, as the regulations must be scrutinised by the Committee and the official Opposition are anxious to do so.

The Minister said, rightly, that the draft regulations affect student finance. We note the absence of representatives of the Liberal party. They often have something to say about student finances, but today is apparently not one of those days.

The Minister said that the purpose of the amendment that the draft regulations would make is to extend the period during which students whose studies have been interrupted may claim certain benefits. We, and those who represent students, would be interested to know how many students fall into the category of intercalating students, and approximately how many such students will be affected by the change.

My next questions are more general in nature, so if the Minister does not have the answers immediately to hand, I shall be grateful if he writes to me, as those answers will interest those who represent students. We understand that in many cases the reason for intercalation is illness, but we would like to know whether the Government have any information on the reasons why students intercalate. We understand that such students may apply for discretionary funding from their local education authority and their institutions, and we would be grateful if the Minister told us whether the Government have any information on the number of such applications and their success rate.

The Minister adverted to the regulations covering student rent deduction being subject to the negative procedure—he was kind enough to let me know earlier this afternoon that he would do so. I shall study the report of what he said about the matter, which, as he said, includes technical aspects. I might want to ask the Government further questions when I have had an opportunity to study what he said, but I shall be grateful if today he lets me have such answers as he has

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immediately to hand, and writes to me with any answers that he does not have to hand.

4.39 pm

Malcolm Wicks: I thank the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) for his comments. He asked one or two detailed questions about numbers, but I regret to say that we do not have that information to hand. It may be that information is not available to provide answers to all his questions, but I will do my best to write to him with the information that we have, as I always try to do on such occasions.

It is very important that we get the provisions right, which is why we took the advice of the NUS when we realised that there was a gap in the earlier regulations. We have now, literally, made amends for that. As a Minister formerly at the Department for Education and Skills and now at the Department for Work and Pensions, I know that the interface between students' finance, their lives and social security is a complex one. It is not surprising that the two Departments continue to work closely together to ensure that that interface is appropriate.

With those few words, I thank the hon. Gentleman for the way in which he has approached the draft regulations. If he has any questions on the regulations that are subject to negative procedure, which the Committee is not debating today, we will do our best to answer them. I, too, note the absence of the Liberal Democrats: having studied the ''Oxford English Dictionary'' for a definition of that rather peculiar word ''intercalating'', I can only assume that today is an intercalating day for the Liberal Democrats.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the draft Social Security Amendment (Intercalating Students) Regulations 2002.

Committee rose at nineteen minutes to Five o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Cummings, Mr. John (Chairman)
Betts, Mr.
Blizzard, Mr.
Brazier, Mr.
Clappison, Mr.
Cruddas, Jon
Dobbin, Jim
Khabra, Mr.
Knight, Jim
Smith, Angela
Wicks, Malcolm


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