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Lord Davies of Coity: It may be that the concept of an interview does not recognise the reality of the circumstances. People who claim benefit are involved in

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an interview anyway and an assessment of their circumstances is made. They have to initiate the exercise by making a claim. It is not as if this process is a separate part of it. I believe asking what happens if people do not attend the interview makes too much of the reality of the circumstances.

Earl Russell: I am grateful for that contribution which factually I believe to be extremely fair. But the fact remains that we are contemplating the possibility of a benefit penalty. The one matter on which I did not hear from the Minister--perhaps she can enlighten me--was with regard to an indication of the size of penalty.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: It is exactly as my noble friend expressed it so clearly. If someone fails to attend the interview as a result of which he or she will draw benefit, no benefit will be paid because the individual has not signed up for it, as it were. The interview is an integral part of the claim. If the individual has not claimed, he or she cannot get the benefit. However, if someone who is already drawing benefit fails to turn up at a trigger point or periodic interview, say, six months, two years or five years down the line, there will be a sanction. Drawing an analogy with the social security system, the sanction will be either 20 per cent or 40 per cent.

Earl Russell: I am grateful for that helpful answer. One comes back to the problem of consequences. We have no objection to the requirement to attend the interview or to the idea that something should happen to the claimant if he does not turn up. However, as to what that "something" should be, I believe that we must take account of consequences. To assess those consequences we need information, which is what these amendments seek to achieve. I am extremely grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Buscombe and Lady Anelay of St. Johns, for their extremely thoughtful and interesting speeches. In particular, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for her support for Amendment No. 164.

We have a real question here. In order to decide what is the right thing to do, we should know the consequences. I do not see how we can know the consequences unless the research is done. If the research is not undertaken, it will be extremely difficult to decide the right thing to do. Inevitably some people will fail to attend the interviews. That may be because they are bloody minded (if the Committee will forgive the phrase).

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I am grateful to the noble Earl for allowing me to intervene. How does the noble Earl distinguish between that situation and one involving an individual who is theoretically entitled to a benefit that he does not claim? All we say is that if someone does not come for the interview, he is not claiming the benefit. That is his right. He may choose not to do that. If he does not know about the interview, it is our responsibility to make sure that he knows about it. The position is no different from the present situation

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where someone is theoretically entitled to a benefit he does not claim. My noble friend rightly says that the interview is embedded in the claim process.

Baroness Turner of Camden: Can the Minister clarify the provision in the Bill which refers to,


    "a requirement to take part in such an interview as a condition of that person continuing to be entitled to the full amount which is payable to him"?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: If a new entrant to the benefits system seeks to claim a benefit, the interview is an integral part of that claiming process. It may well be that for decent reasons, at which we have hinted but may wish to probe further, that interview may need to be deferred on grounds of the individual's health, sickness, disability, or his personal circumstances. If that person then fails to come for an interview in order to change from temporary to permanent benefit, that benefit will stop.

Equally, if there is what we call a periodic call-back--perhaps requiring a lone parent to come back when his or her youngest child is five or 11 and he or she fails to do so--the penalty sanctions there are analogous to the existing penalties in the social security system, which can be sanctions of 20 per cent or 40 per cent depending on the circumstances. That is being looked at.

We seek to say that if a person does not attend for the original interview or we have deferred that interview for decent cause, then he has not established his claim to entitlement to the benefit; therefore the benefit does not flow.

We keep talking about sanctions. If the noble Earl, Lord Russell, accepts the description offered by my noble friend Lord Davies of Coity, it should not be seen as an issue of sanctions. It is about giving people the opportunities for information, face-to-face contact, and the named personal adviser that lone parents, young people, and disabled people tell us, in the research undertaken, is missing from the current social security system and which they very much want to have. We are giving them the opportunity for that face-to-face help which will allow them to make informed choices about their work, benefits, the support they may need and how they see their future life. It allows people to regain control over their own lives; to re-own them. But they can do that only if they have the information on which to base it.

I hope that we shall not view the issue as negative, as sanctions. It is positive. It is opportunity. It is quality service from which we hope people can again have autonomy over they own lives.

5.15 p.m.

Earl Russell: I think that the Minister is trying to entangle me in the problem of the St Lawrence/Mississippi watershed. From my use of that example, she may remember that that watershed is in ground so flat that any slope is invisible. Yet the rain that lands on one side of it goes into the Gulf of Mexico; and the rain that lands on the other side goes into the

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North Atlantic. I accept that there is a very flat area in the middle here. But we are being given a new condition of entitlement to benefit; and the Bill spells that out.

Also, the language of sanctions has been introduced by Members of the Government themselves. The Secretary of State for Education and Employment has used that language, for example, when he spoke on "On the Record" a couple of weeks ago. The Prime Minister has used that language. If the language is inappropriate, the Ministers who have used it might be wise to say so. But if it is used, I am tempted to take it seriously.

I wonder whether the difference may be in the letter which goes out to a person who has not attended an interview. In the past, in the course of an occasional campaign, such a person might have received a letter saying, "You are probably entitled to benefit". He might now receive a letter saying, "You have not met a condition of benefit".

We are all familiar with small differences which cross a watershed. I think that this probably does. All I am asking for is information. I am still asking for information. However, I do not think that I shall get it today, so meanwhile I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Addington moved Amendment No. 93:


Page 59, line 14, at end insert ("save where a person has a mental illness diagnosis")

The noble Lord said: We now turn to the specifics of the rather general debate that we have had. Amendment No. 93 refers to,


    "a person [who] has a mental illness diagnosis".

Amendment No. 94 refers to,


    "a person [who] has been an in-patient of a mental illness hospital within the previous three months".

No matter how well the interview is conducted, it may put undue pressure on this group of people. The amendments do not address the question of trying to get the person to an interview, or how it should be conducted, but of whether that interview will extract the information to which the Minister referred.

I think we can accept that properly conducted interviews can potentially do far more good than harm. However, these individuals may not be able to handle the concept of an interview. A severely depressed person who is worried about the fact that he cannot function as he should or used to do will regard an interview as a form of torture. If he regards it in that way, it does not matter what one does in the interview, one will not gain the correct information. Someone who is manic will give false information. He may say, "I can do everything. Wonderful--life's great". A manic depressive will go through those two cycles.

That is why I suggest that these two exemptions should be included in the legislation, or that they should be provided for in guidance. There is a grave danger that one will obtain the wrong information. One will not have the interchange which allows the system to be honed to the needs of those individuals. I beg to move.

Baroness Buscombe: I support Amendments Nos. 93 and 94. Following debate on the previous amendment,

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it is important that I clarify that while we and disability organisations believe that engaging disabled people--engaging all people--in the gateway and encouraging them to find work is important and right, it is also crucial to ensure that genuinely disabled people are not pushed into interviews which they do not feel well enough to attend. The amendments address a genuine concern with regard to those caught by this clause. We do not believe that they should be forced to attend this "one" process in order to receive their benefit. We appreciate that there is a provision for some people not to have an interview, or to have it deferred because the interview would not be helpful or appropriate.

We understand that the circumstances will be set out in regulations. The Minister has already stated that a number of people would not have an immediate interview: those who are recently bereaved; and lone parents with very young children. I think we all agree that people with heavy caring commitments have to be considered, and those suffering from acute illness, or a severe mental illness. In such cases people would be given an adviser who would follow up the question of possible work at a later stage. But we are concerned with the prospect of making the personal adviser interview compulsory and linking it to the claim process. We believe that people should have access to advice and support and be free to use it at a time when it is most helpful to them; otherwise, people will feel threatened, especially those with an invisible disability, such as mental distress. It could be damaging to their mental health and there is a real risk that the claims of some vulnerable people will fall by default if they are not well enough to deal with calls to an interview.

It is perhaps worth noting at this point the possible number of claimants who may be affected by this clause and who may find the "one" process immensely stressful and too difficult a hurdle to surmount. One in four of the adult population will experience some form of mental health problem in any year.

If the noble Minister were not minded to accept these amendments, then a related concern--that of the training of personal advisers--must also be addressed. Realistically, can personal advisers be trained to such a degree as to be competent to respond to the very special needs of these people? If people are already receiving incapacity benefit and/or severe disablement allowance, they will have already been assessed, probably with the benefit of medical reports, perhaps numerous reports, and certificates confirming this inability to work. Indeed, I will turn to this very point under our Amendments Nos. 101, 102 and 103.

There is also a problem of accessibility for interviews for the disabled in particular. May I suggest that the home is not necessarily the panacea? It can be felt to be intrusive and uncomfortable for a claimant to have such an interview taking place in his or her home. We shall return to this and other matters raised in connection with these amendments in later amendments on this clause.

Regard should be given to the cost of this whole process: training of advisers, administering "one", where, for example, the home visits are preferred and for those with certain ailments where the claimant is

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subject to relapses and remission. There is no doubt that the whole interview process will be prolonged, often over an unforeseeable period of time, placing a considerable burden upon personal advisers. The cost of administering multiple interviews necessary to respond to changing and unforeseen needs must be considered.

Taking the specific wording proposed by these amendments, while we are supportive of the principle that they address, that of protecting those who are clearly not equipped to deal with the "one" process, I question whether they would achieve their aim as drafted. In other words, are the right criteria being applied where a person has a mental illness diagnosis and/or where a person has been an in-patient of a mental illness hospital within the last three months? Surely it would be much simpler and probably less expensive to apply a straightforward test: is the claimant already in receipt of incapacity benefit, severe disablement allowance, and invalid care allowance, in which case they will already have been assessed and therefore it would be much more straightforward and much easier to assess. I shall return to this point under our proposed Amendments Nos. 101, 102 and 103.


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