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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Social Security Amendment (Residental Care and Nursing Homes) Regulations 2002

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Fourth Standing Committee

on Delegated Legislation

Wednesday 17 April 2002

[Miss Ann Widdecombe in the Chair]

Social Security Amendment (Residential Care and Nursing Homes) Regulations 2002

4.30 pm

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the Social Security Amendment (Residential Care and Nursing Homes) Regulations 2002 (S.I. 2002, No. 398).

I am very pleased to sit for the first time under your chairmanship, Miss Widdecombe. This is an interesting Committee, and it is auspicious that you should be chairing it. I am happy to participate in the debate.

I sense that the mind of the nation might not be on this afternoon's proceedings in the Committee. There are a lot of people about. Some of them have been in the Public Gallery of the Chamber and, as we open our discussion, they may come to join us, which would be welcome.

We are anxious that the order should be debated because, as so often with this kind of legislation, one finds areas of concern and doubt. I am here to probe, and the Minister's role is to respond. One trigger in particular in this order has raised concern—the issue of amending old legislation.

When I initially read the order I might have become unduly over-exited, because I misread a word as ''retrospectively''. I subsequently saw in the explanatory note that the right word was ''respectively'', which is a more reassuring term.

Our primary role is to ask the Minister what she is doing in making this order. You will be familiar, Miss Widdecombe, with the point that I am about to make, as we both sat on the Standing Committee that dealt with the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990, and I remember that you made a number of powerful contributions. The old regime that applied was based on income support and, after changes were made to community care, the position of those individuals was safeguarded. We need an assurance from the Minister about the numbers who are now affected, and that their position is entirely safeguarded.

The explanatory note contains a reference to the fact that there is no cost on business, but we are equally entitled to ask the Minister to confirm that there is no loss to the individual, and that no concern arises from the changes to the regulations—which I believe to be, in essence, technical—due to the winding up of the old regime.

Although it has not been much discussed, the regime is being wound up because of the elapse of time and because of the reduction in the number of people with

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protected rights. If that were the sole reason for the decision and the consequent minor regulation, I would be satisfied.

The essential point is that, whatever the payment regime, people in residential care are vulnerable. We do not want them to be threatened or to lose out. They must be treated fairly. If the Minister's explanation of the order does not take long and it is satisfactory, we shall endorse it and let the measure pass on its way, but we want to know what has happened under the complex and somewhat terse regulations to make sure that no one has lost out.

We need a wider appreciation of the scale of the arrangement, to know how long it is likely to continue and whether the Minister has any additional comments to make about the order. It will be evident from the turnout in Committee--which was almost an embarrassment to the Minister and which, to some extent, prevents me from suggesting that we should press for a change in the order--that there has not been a surge of public concern about it. However, that does not absolve us from the need to examine the order to see if it contains anything that is remarkable or unusual, or which may threaten the position of individuals. It is in that spirit and for that purpose that I am in Committee this afternoon.

4.36 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Eagle): I join the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) in saying what a pleasure it is to be in Committee under your chairmanship, Miss Widdecombe. I have not had the pleasure before, but that is probably due to the fact that I have not had much experience of such regulations. I have not been as long in the House as the hon. Gentleman. I am more than happy to go through the points that he made to clarify the background to the regulations. They are the second set of regulations introduced by the Department—the first of which was laid before the House last November—to implement the commitment made in the national health service plan to abolish preserved rights.

The hon. Gentleman will accept that there was widespread concern throughout the House about the impact of preserved rights. The change to preserved rights—in effect, their abolition—is not primarily because of the elapse of time or the fall in numbers, although they have reduced to between 55,000 and 60,000, but because the rights that preserved high levels of income support from 1993 have left many of those with preserved rights unable to meet the full cost of their care. Although they have preserved rights to a high level of income support, the fees that they must pay to arrange their care have increased by a greater degree. That has caused concern throughout the House and was raised in the Sutherland report on long-term care. I do not think that the House had any worry about the policy to bring those with preserved rights into the ambit of the usual community care arrangements that are made for everyone else. That is the purpose of the regulations.

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I hope that the hon. Gentleman was happy to hear that preserved rights were abolished in this financial year. The main instrument that implemented that policy was the November statutory instrument, the Social Security Amendment (Residential Care and Nursing Homes) Regulations 2001. However, one or two issues have arisen since those regulations were made, primarily in respect of the transitional week. Regulation 3 is the most important part of the regulations. It makes provision for split payments during the week of the changeover. Unfortunately and regrettably, the Department overlooked that in the original regulations, or it would have been included in the November regulations. We thought that we had the power to make a split-week payment, but discovered that we did not. Therefore, the main thrust behind the regulations is in regulation 3. People have different payment dates during the week, resulting in an overlap during the transition week. Regulation 3 makes provision for the Department to make a split-week payment correctly in each individual case.

The other regulations, of which regulation 2 is typical, tidy up or remove otiose references to provisions abolished by the 2001 regulations. For example, although regulation 2 removes references to sections that used to contain provisions relating to preserved rights in other legislation, it makes no difference to the operation of the law. The regulations are tidying-up provisions to ensure that other regulations do not refer to provisions that no longer exist. Statutory instruments are difficult enough for the ordinary citizen to understand at the best of times. I suspect that they would be even denser should they refer to provisions that no longer exist.

While giving ourselves the power to make split-week payments for the transitional week, we have taken the opportunity to remove some references that were overlooked. I hope that my remarks are sufficient to reassure the hon. Gentleman. The regulations do no more than complete the implementation of a policy that had widespread support in the House. Those people who were subject to preserved rights are now subject to the normal procedures.

The hon. Gentleman also asked whether individuals would lose out. None would lose and most would gain. The problem with preserved rights was that people had to make up the fees because the levels of preserved rights were insufficient. The individuals concerned will now have the benefit of local authority assessments, as would anyone else in a residential care or nursing home. They will not have to find extra money to make up the fees.

One of the most distressing things about preserved rights was that elderly people were being evicted if they reached a stage at which they could no longer afford to pay the difference between their preserved rights level

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of income support and nursing home fees. As I said, none of the 55,000 to 60,000 people who were affected by the problem will lose and some will gain.

There has been no general concern expressed in the House that preserved rights should be kept. Indeed, from this financial year, they have gone. I hope that provides the reassurance that the hon. Gentleman required, and that he will not feel the need to divide the Committee, although he is perfectly entitled to do that should he so wish. I hope that he will find it possible to support the regulations as laid.

4.43 pm

Mr. Boswell: This is Budget day, which must be auspicious in some respect even if taxes have gone up—although it would be out of order for me to continue in that vein. It is auspicious for me because I have had that rare bird indeed—an almost entirely satisfactory response from a Minister. I hope that she feels reassured about that because I mean it seriously.

I want jocularly to point out--this is the least important matter--that the regulations reveal an oversight by the Department. It is a minor or venal sin, because much greater things could go wrong, which we will debate on other occasions. It is directly related to the complexity of the legislation and, as my own comments may have revealed, I find it difficult to grasp the details of this subject. Most people would, let alone those involved or those who have to operate the legislation.

A minor oversight occurred, and I had not fully appreciated the circumstances. The regime seems different, perhaps understandably so, from that which applies as of right for national insurance benefits. I understand that entitlement for a retirement pension usually begins on a Monday, and that the money is paid in advance. However, that is a small point that I need not continue with now.

The Minister's main points were, first, that the regulations rectify some minor errors and make some welcome simplifications. I shall say no more about the errors and will concentrate on the simplification. The second was the assurance that I sought that there are no losers.

I understand the point about the reason for the withdrawal of the preserved rights and the replacement or harmonisation with the local authority assessment-driven system. Over time it becomes uncomfortable and invidious to operate two systems, especially if they do not have the same effect. If that has now been tidied and put away, we thank the Minister for her explanation and will not divide the Committee against the regulations.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the Social Security Amendment (Residential Care and Nursing Homes) Regulations 2002 (S.I. 2002, No. 398).

        Committee rose at fourteen minutes to Five o'clock.

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The following Members attended the Committee:
Widdecombe, Miss Ann (Chairman)
Battle, Mr.
Boswell, Mr.
Burgon, Colin
Eagle, Maria
Etherington, Mr.

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McCabe, Mr.
Mountford, Kali
Smith, Angela
Tami, Mark
Turner, Mr. Neil

 
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