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Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 106:

Page 59, line 24, leave out (“making") and insert (“who--
(i) makes")

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this group of government amendments makes two main sets of changes. First, the amendments implement the recommendations of the Select Committee on delegated powers, as they relate to Clause 53. Secondly, they clarify that all claimants have the right to launch an appeal against, or ask for a review of, a personal adviser's decision that they have failed to take part in an interview. The amendments also make a minor technical change to support joined-up government within the ONE programme.

Firstly, I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 106 to 111, 258 and 259, which implement the recommendations of the Select Committee. I should like here to offer my thanks to the committee for its positive response to the department's memorandum and for its broad endorsement of our use of delegated powers. I am happy to say here that we have taken on board all the recommendations.

Amendments Nos. 106 to 111 are intended to exclude men and women aged 60 and over from having to take part in compulsory work-focused interviews, either as part of a training process or during the lifetime of an award. I assure your Lordships that it

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has never been the Government's intention to require this group of people to have work-focused interviews. Originally we had planned to exempt them through regulations, but we are happy to accept the committee's recommendations and to place this exemption on the face of the Bill.

As state retirement age gradually equalises over the next two decades, there is likely to be a need to amend the Bill to include all claimants below the age of 65. In the mean time, men and women aged 60 to 65 who do want help to stay in touch with the labour market will still be able to access support through the ONE service. However, this will be available on a purely voluntary basis.

We are also happy to accept the committee's recommendations for full parliamentary scrutiny of the first set of regulations under this clause, setting out the detail of how the mandatory phase of the ONE service will operate. Amendments Nos. 258 and 259 insert a new paragraph into Schedule 12 of the Bill, amending Section 190 of the Social Security Administration Act. This will ensure that the first set of regulations made under Clause 53 are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.

Amendment No. 118 seeks to give clearer effect to our policy intention that all claimants should have a right to lodge an appeal against, or to ask for a review of, a personal adviser's decision that they have failed to take part in a work-focused interview. It has been made clear in this House and in another place that where personal advisers make the decision on non-participation the claimant should be able to challenge that decision in line with our new dispute resolution procedures. In other words, claimants should be able to contact the ONE service within one month to examine the reasons behind the personal adviser's decision.

If an error has been made, the personal adviser, in looking afresh at the case, should be able to correct it. In addition, we have always made clear that the claimant should also have a right of appeal against a personal adviser's decision. Subsection 2B of Clause 53 was intended to give all claimants a right of appeal to a tribunal under Section 12 of the Social Security Act.

However, the current drafting fails to achieve our stated policy intention. For example, a claimant who received a negative decision from a local authority personal adviser would not be able to access the dispute resolution procedures, and in some circumstances would also be denied a right of appeal. In addition, local authority personal advisers would not be able to revise their own or another decision, even where it was clearly incorrect. The amendment makes absolutely clear our stated intention that dispute resolution procedures and rights of appeal should apply in all cases.

Amendment No. 262 clarifies that a claimant has a right of appeal against a decision that they have failed to take part in an interview rather than a right of appeal against the consequences of that decision either terminating or reducing a benefit. This makes things simpler for claimants by giving them a single route of appeal which is focused on the key decision that caused

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the penalty to be imposed, even where it impacts across a number of benefits and follows a model adopted elsewhere in the benefit system.

Amendments Nos. 151 and 152 make necessary changes to support closer working. They give local authority staff working in the one service the same powers as those possessed by the Employment Service and the Benefits Agency to require JSA claimants to attend for interview. Amendments Nos. 156 and 208 are consequential. Amendments Nos. 274 and 280 provide consequential changes to the commencement and extent provisions of the Bill. I hope that, with this explanation of a large number of amendments we have grouped together for the convenience of your Lordships, your Lordships will accept them. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 107:

Page 59, line 25, after (“applies,") insert (“and
(ii) is under the age of 60 at the time of making the claim,")

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 108 and 109 not moved.]

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendments Nos. 110 and 111:

Page 59, line 27, leave out (“in a case where") and insert (“at a time when")
Page 59, line 28, after (“is") insert (“under that age and")

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 112 not moved.]

Baroness Turner of Camden moved Amendment No. 113:

Page 59, leave out lines 38 to 40

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, although this amendment relates to widow's benefit, it also refers to a rather different aspect. I have given my noble friend the Minister an indication of what I intend to raise. My real purpose is to seek clarification.

Clause 53 sets out the arrangements for work-focused interviews. The recipients of certain listed benefits are to be asked to attend these interviews. Clearly, the intention of the interviews is to get claimants off benefit and into work, but they could result in a loss of benefit. Among the benefits included are widows' benefits, which I take to mean widows' benefits already in payment and not those which are to be put into operation under this Bill.

The inclusion of widows' benefits under this heading raises some quite serious issues. When proposals relating to widows were first made public a guarantee was given to the Widows Advisory Trust that women already receiving widows' benefits would not be affected. They would continue to receive their benefits for which contributions had been paid, as before, and they would not be affected by the new legislation. Indeed we have had that assurance repeated today.

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However, as already indicated, widows' benefits under present legislation are paid as of right and on the basis of the contribution record. They are not dependent on means-testing or income received from elsewhere, either from a pension or a job. If existing recipients are being asked to attend for a work-focused interview on pain of losing benefits if they do not attend, this is an alteration in the conditions for receipt of their benefit and it undermines the assurances given by the Government that the benefits will not be affected.

What happens if a widow, believing that she had assurances that her benefit would not be affected, simply does not attend? She might then find that her benefit will disappear. I hope that such a thing could not be a result of what is said in the Bill. That would be unacceptable, and I would very much welcome the comments of my noble friend. I beg to move.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, as my noble friend has explained, this amendment seeks to exclude widows and widowers from the requirement to participate in a work-focused interview. As with other amendments--I do not think they have been moved and so I will not speak to them now--to exclude certain groups from the provisions of this clause, I have every sympathy with the proposal that has been made.

We must have regard to individual circumstances in which those who have recently been bereaved find themselves and we must treat them with appropriate respect and compassion.

However, the Government believe that the amendment is not the way to achieve this. A blanket exclusion of all those claiming bereavement benefits does nothing to address the needs of individual claimants. Again, it would deny many people the help and support they may need at a difficult time.

As I tried to make clear in Committee the ONE service is not just about jobs, although work for those who can is a central aim. It is about providing an holistic approach to the welfare needs of each claimant based upon their individual circumstances. If those needs are best met by helping individuals move towards the labour market, then that is what will be provided irrespective of the reason for their benefit claim. If they have different needs--such as help in stabilising their financial position or bereavement counselling--then we will provide that help, each person treated according to their personal needs, which is the philosophy behind ONE.

The amendment moved by my noble friend would perpetuate the failing of the current benefits system, which makes broad assumptions about people according to which benefit they claim. This approach does nothing to address the wider welfare needs of individuals or help them to realise their potential. The ONE approach treats people individually, including widows.

We must remember that many widows and widowers choose to work. Many widows and widowers were in work at the time of their

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bereavement and they will go back to work very quickly after their bereavement. Others may have given up work to provide care for their spouses and may wish to move back to work quite quickly. Others, particularly those with children, may wish to stay in touch with the labour market to improve their future employment prospects while not seeking to return to work straightaway. Those are three different possibilities. The ONE service will enable people--widows and widowers alike--to receive the help and advice they need by providing tailored assistance through their adviser.

Advisers will, of course, receive full training and guidance to ensure that they are sensitive to the needs of those recently bereaved and to help them deal with clients in an appropriate way. Of course, if an immediate interview is not appropriate in the individual circumstances of any particular claim, the requirement will be deferred and benefits put into payment in the normal way. It may frequently be the outcome where a bereaved client makes a claim to benefit that the interviews are deferred until a later and more appropriate time. I hope that my explanation reassures my noble friend and that, as a result, she will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

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