Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments Seventh Report


Third Memorandum by the Department of Social Security

SOCIAL SECURITY (CLAIMS AND INFORMATION) REGULATIONS 1999 (S.I. 1999/3108)

  1. The Committee, by a letter from its clerk dated 12 January 2000, requested a memorandum on three points:

    "(1) In relation to the Committee`s first question on regulation 4(6)(b), the department`s second memorandum states (at paragraph 4) that the authority`s function in this context is that of making arrangements for the conduct of the interview, and this includes arranging for the interview to be carried out by another party. Elaborate upon this statement, given that neither regulation 4(1) nor section 2C of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 contains any reference to the function of making arrangements for the interview to be carried out by another party. The department`s attention is drawn to section 2A, which in relation to compulsory work-focused interviews, provides that regulations under that section may, in particular, make provision for determining the persons by whom interviews are to be conducted (subsection (3)(a)). Does the Department agree that section 2C would have made similar express provision in relation to voluntary interviews if it had been intended that such interviews may be conducted by another party?"

  2. The Department does not agree with the Committee that section 2A(3)(b) of the Social Security Administration Act 1992, inserted by section 57 of the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999 (c.30) is relevant here.(It is assumed that the Committee intended to refer to section 2A (3)(b) - not section 2A(3)(a) as stated in their letter). Section 2A and 2C are different kinds of provisions. Section 2A is a provision enabling duties to be imposed upon individual claimants who suffer consequences if they fail to comply. The purpose of section 2A(3)(b) is to enable the regulations to identify the categories of persons who will conduct the interviews - for example personal advisors or individuals with particular skills.

  3. Section 2C in contrast is concerned with conferring functions on local authorities. Section 2C specifically includes the words "in connection with", which are used in the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999 in a wide, rather than a narrow, sense. Other examples of the use of these words are in section 7A(2)(a) and (5) of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 (inserted by section 71 of the 1999 Act) and section 72(1) of the 1999 Act. Had the intention been to draft section 2C narrowly, the words "in connection with" would not have been necessary. The provision could have enabled Regulations to confer on local authorities the function of conducting work focused interviews. The fact that the words "in connection with" have been inserted suggests some wider purpose. Further the new provisions of section 140EE of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 (inserted by the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999, Schedule 12, paragraph 80) specifically recognise that in carrying out functions under section 2C, persons other than the authority itself will be involved.

    "Paragraph (3) of regulation 6 provides that the areas to which that paragraph applies are those areas which are within both - (a) the area of a local authority identified in Part 1 or II of Schedule 1, and (b) a postcode area identified in Part 1 or II of Schedule.

    Explain the relevance of this paragraph, given that no other provision in that regulation refers to paragraph (3). Is it intended that paragraph (1) should apply where a person resides in both the area of an authority identified in Part 1 or II of Schedule 1 and a postcode area identified in part 1 or II of schedule 2? If so, explain how this result has been achieved."

  4. It is intended that paragraph (1) applies to persons who reside in the areas to which paragraph (3) refers. The Department accepts that paragraph (1) fails to make this clear and the provision will be amended at the earliest opportunity.

    "In relation to the Committee`s fourth question, the Department (at paragraph 11 of their second memorandum) place reliance on sections 5(1)(a) and 6(1)(a) of the 1992 Act (and "in part" on section 189(4)) as authorising paragraphs (2)(c) to (e) of new regulations 72B and 62B respectively. Elaborate upon this contention, given that section 7A(1) makes specific provision for authorising regulations to make provision for the purpose of supplementing the persons or bodies to whom claims for relevant benefits may be made and subsection (1)(b) does not apply to housing benefit or council tax benefit."

  5. The purpose of section 7A is to make additional provision for social security benefits, not to substitute those provisions for existing provisions about claims for benefit. For example, it is still for the local authorities, who administer housing benefit and council tax benefit, to receive claims for benefit; the intention of this provision is to enable central Government to receive such claims too. This may be more convenient for claimants claiming social security benefits at a Benefits Agency office; instead of having to take their claim for housing benefit to a local authority office, the claimant can make all his claims at the single office and they will be forwarded to the appropriate authority for processing. The words "for the purposes of supplementing the persons or bodies to whom claims for relevant benefits are made" are by way of an avoidance of doubt provision, so as to make clear beyond doubt that this provision is not proposing that in future, for example, claims for housing benefit and council tax benefit be made only to the Secretary of State or persons providing services to him. The administration of these 2 benefits remains with local authorities and the processing of the claims will still be for those authorities. It would clearly not be sensible for the claims to be made only to the Secretary of State given that he is not responsible for administering the claim. The provisions authorising claims for housing benefit and council tax benefits to local authorities are to be found in section 5(1)(a) and 6(1)(a) of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 and those powers may be exercised alongside the powers in section 7A of that Act.

  6. Currently local authorities may for example exercise their functions through another authority (see for example section 101(1) of the Local Government Act 1972 and section 134(5) of the Social Security Administration Act 1972). They may also provide for a person to do some of the administration work (but not the decision making process) relating to housing benefit including taking claims for benefit. The provisions of section 72B(d) and (e) recognise this fact.

  7. The Committee refers specifically to section 7A(1)(b), and this provision illustrates the Departments view very clearly. The purpose of section 7A is to enable the Secretary of State to provide for a single point of contact for claimants, enabling them to make all their claims at just one office. Section 7A is about extending the existing powers of the authorities concerned. Powers already exist enabling local authority`s to accept claims for housing benefit and council tax benefit at their own offices or at the offices of a person providing services to the authority or at the offices of another authority exercising those functions. But there was doubt as to whether existing power enables provision to be made to do the same for other social security benefits. Section 7A(1)(b) provides that power. Powers already exist enabling provision to be made for the Secretary of State to accept claims for benefits other than housing benefit and council tax benefit at his office or the offices of a person providing services. There was some doubt whether there were powers enabling the Secretary of State or other ministers to provide such services solely for housing benefit and council tax benefit. Section 7A(1)(a) provides those powers. This provision (section 7A) therefore completes the circle. Each person acquires the powers he lacked or may have lacked, so that all benefits, including housing benefit and council tax benefit, may be claimed at the offices of the Secretary of State, a person providing services to the Secretary of State, a local authority, a person providing services to a local authority and a local authority carrying out functions for another authority. That is precisely the ONE service - interchangeability between offices in a given area; a person need attend just one office to claim a number of different benefits.

18th January 2000


 
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