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Lord Inglewood: Where a person has established entitlement to the jobseeker's allowance but there is doubt as to whether a sanction should be applied to him

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because he left his last job voluntarily or was dismissed for misconduct, payment of the JSA will be made in full pending the decision.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: In that case, can the Minister tell us why that cannot apply to those actively seeking work?

Baroness Williams of Crosby: The point that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, is trying to make is that we are imposing stricter penalties on those who are described as not "actively seeking work" for reasons which may be overwhelmingly good—for example, they have to care for a dependent relative or they do not speak English very well—than we are on those who are actually guilty of, or responsible for, misconduct at work. They are treated far more generously. I am sure that the Minister will understand that we find that an extremely puzzling distinction for the Government to make.

Lord Inglewood: There is a difference between people who are meeting the basic jobseeking conditions and those who are not. If the person is meeting the basic entitlement conditions and is clearly a jobseeker, but a doubt has arisen as to whether he left a job voluntarily, he will then receive benefit until the question is resolved. However, where the doubt is about the basic jobseeking conditions, we cannot simply pay benefit automatically before a decision is reached. Nevertheless, we have heard the comments that have been made on the matter and we shall consider most carefully the points that have been raised.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Very well. Basically, we are saying that, where there is a doubt, the Government have built into the whole system an incentive to increase the number of referrals and, therefore, the number of temporary benefit suspensions. Those judgments have doubled in the past year. Is the Minister really telling Members of the Committee that the number of alleged work-shy people has doubled during that time?

We know that the introduction of performance-related pay and targets is impacting on the decision-making process. In consequence, people who may have a mild learning difficulty, a mild mental health problem or for whom English is not a first language or those who are vulnerable, incompetent and ineffective will now be fined with a loss of their benefit, whereas if they had actually lost a job through misconduct the benefit would continue.

It is probably too late to take the matter to a vote this evening. However, I can promise the Minister that we shall return to it on Report. I very much hope that the noble Lord can persuade us with rather more convincing arguments than those of us on this side of the Committee have heard tonight. Frankly, it is unfair and unreasonable that someone is fined, before the case has even been judged, by having his benefit suspended on the discretion, the prejudice, the insight or the lack of evidence of an untrained employment officer. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 60 to 63 not moved.]

Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 64:

Page 5, line 34, after ("information") insert ("and such evidence as may be prescribed").

The noble Lord said: Any unemployed person will be familiar with long-standing arrangements that when he signs on for benefit every fortnight he actually signs a declaration that he is available for work and actively seeking work and that his circumstances have not changed. This declaration forms part of his claim for benefit for the preceding two weeks. Section 5(1) (h) and 5(1) (i) of the Administration Act provide the powers to require the signing of this declaration: subsection (1) (h) for example, provides for regulations,

    "for requiring any information or evidence needed for the determination of such a claim ... etc.".

Although in JSA—because it is an open-ended benefit—claimants will not be required to make a fresh claim every fortnight, we still intend that they should attend their Jobcentre regularly to show that they are available and actively seeking work. We therefore must make provision in JSA, in addition to the provisions concerning the claim for benefit carried in the Administration Act, to enable the normal practice of signing on to continue. The Government amendment is simply to keep the wording of the provision consistent with the wording in the Administration Act so that unemployed people can be required to sign a declaration on their regular attendance at the Jobcentre.

I turn to Amendments Nos. 67 and 68. At present a person claiming unemployment benefit makes a new claim for benefit every two weeks when he signs on at the Jobcentre. The claim is in arrears for the preceding two weeks. As a result, when a claimant fails to sign on—perhaps because he has found a job or simply cannot be bothered—there is no claim for benefit and no benefit is paid from the previous time when the claimant signed. Every claimant knows that if he does not sign, he does not get his benefit.

This amendment is designed simply to ensure that this existing practice can continue. The current provision in the Bill at Clause 6(5) enables regulations to prescribe that entitlement will cease from the point at which a claimant fails, without good cause, to attend the Jobcentre as requested. But because the basis of JSA is different from that of unemployment benefit, entitlement would continue until that point, contrary to current UB arrangements, unless the adjudication officer had evidence to determine that the conditions for benefit were no longer being met. But when claimants fail to turn up, we generally do not know why. There is, after all, no reason why claimants should tell Jobcentre staff.

We believe that most unemployed people who stop signing on would find it strange if they were pursued by adjudication officers for the reason why they had failed to sign on. They would equally find it strange if they continued to receive benefit for a period for which they had not signed on. This amendment is therefore necessary to ensure that benefit is only paid for the

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period for which the claimant demonstrated that he was available and actively seeking work by signing on. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 65 not moved.]

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 66:

Page 5, leave out lines 38 to 41.

The noble Earl said: With the leave of the Committee—I have already given the Minister notice—I would like to be allowed to speak also to Amendment No. 70 as the matters raised are similar. Both concern the power to define good cause. Good cause, like intention, is one of those things which I should have thought was best defined individually and in judicial circumstances. Again, we are dealing with the question of the evidence that is to be taken into account in defining it. The Government's memorandum states that regulations will provide for matters and circumstances to be taken into account in determining good cause for failure to comply with such regulations. So we are to have regulations upon regulations: regulations to determine what may be a good cause for not complying with regulations.

This seems to me to be a case of the over-fussy draftsmanship with which the Renton Report is concerned, where the attempt to provide for every eventuality ends up in a failure to provide for all kinds of things which actually take place. To take one example, which was mentioned in the newspapers recently, some Members of the Committee may have read of the man who was taken into police custody and was being stripped for the cells when a boa constrictor emerged from his Y-fronts, where he said he kept it in order to keep it warm. I believe that boa constrictors feel the cold. In all the care that the department might take in listing good cause, could it possibly think of an employer who kept a boa constrictor in his Y-fronts? If the department forgot to enumerate that possibility, would it mean that that was not a good cause for leaving a job? I am frightened of disentitlement to benefit, but I can imagine circumstances in which I might be even more frightened of a boa constrictor.

That example illustrates the futility of trying to define good cause by regulation. It is much better to recognise that this is not a legislative matter but a judicial one. I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lyell): I have to advise the Committee that, if Amendment No. 66 is agreed to, I shall not be able to call Amendment No. 67.

Lord Inglewood: One of the key purposes of the jobseeker's allowance is to ensure that only those who are available and actively seeking employment receive the allowance. In order to ensure that jobseekers meet these conditions, it is essential to review the activities which they are undertaking to find work. This regular contact is not only to monitor their job search, but also to identify whether they need advice or help, which might perhaps be attendance on an employment programme or training course.

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It is long-standing practice that unemployed people should attend their jobcentre regularly to demonstrate that they continue to be available for work and their circumstances have not changed in a way that would affect their benefit entitlement. That normally takes the form of signing on. Every claimant knows that if he does not sign on he does not get his benefit. We propose in JSA to continue with the requirement to attend the jobcentre and to maintain that link with entitlement to benefit. That is what this subsection achieves. The noble Earl's amendment would result in a claimant's failure to attend the jobcentre meaning nothing. The result would be that the claimant's refusal to give any information about his circumstances or his job search would mean nothing. I cannot believe that the noble Earl would accept that those were sensible results.

The requirements for claimants to attend and the types of information needed may change as circumstances and labour markets change. Hence, a power to make delegated legislation is suitable. Similar regulation-making powers are to be found in current regulations concerning the requirements to attend the office and give information in respect of a claim and concerning the requirements to attend for the purpose of interviews such as Restart interviews.

In addition to signing on, we have already made clear that the existing regime of in-depth interviews at 13 weeks and 26 weeks and six-monthly interviews thereafter should broadly continue within JSA. That is not to say that we might not require some jobseekers to attend the office on other occasions if we think it necessary in order to provide them with advice or to monitor their job-search activity more closely. For instance, the regular caseload interviews in the 1-2-1 programme have already proved a valuable approach for people under 25 who have been out of work for more than a year. The noble Earl's amendment would also mean that a claimant's failure to attend one of these interviews would make no difference to his receipt of benefit.

I now move to Amendment No. 70. The claimant may have a good reason for failing to attend the jobcentre to sign on or for a Restart interview. He may be sick; he may have a job interview; or he may be dealing with an urgent domestic problem. Subsection (5) (a) provides that entitlement will cease only if the claimant fails to attend without good cause. This carries forward existing practice where a person may make a delayed claim for unemployment benefit or will not be disallowed for failing to attend a Restart interview if he can show good cause. However, good cause is not defined in either case. It is important to provide for this issue through regulations.

Throughout JSA we aim to introduce greater clarity into benefit procedures and conditions. At present, the adjudication officer decides on the merits of each case whether the claimant has good cause guided only by precedent. This introduces uncertainty into the arrangements for claimant and jobcentre staff alike. By prescribing in a non-exhaustive list matters which are not to be taken into account by the adjudication officer, it will be clearer for all concerned whether or not the reasons for non-attendance should lead to the claimant

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losing benefit. Examples of good cause will include temporary sickness, domestic difficulties such as those caused by pressing caring responsibilities, and unforeseen emergencies.

It is important to be clear that the regulations provide a non-exhaustive list. There will still be flexibility for the adjudication officer.

10 p.m.

Earl Russell: I regret to say that that reply has entirely misunderstood the purport of the amendment. If the Bill provided that people shall not fail to attend their jobcentres without good cause, I would not have made a moment's protest. I object to the attempt to prescribe a series of requirements by regulation followed by an attempt to provide an exhaustive list of what shall be good causes for not complying with those regulations.

My specific concern is with the attempt to make an exhaustive list of good causes by regulation. It means that a certain cause will be good, or might be bad, no matter how severe the cause might be. That is not in the real nature of the case.

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