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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: moved Amendment No. 45:


The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 45 and to speak also to the amendments grouped with it. The amendments deal with two separate issues. The first amendment has been introduced after discussions with Scottish lawyers. I hope that I shall receive a beaming smile from the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, on the grounds that we are doing our best to be helpful. The intention is simply to ensure that the offences are comparable both north and south of the Border, allowing for the differences between our respective legislatures.

The second issue is to ensure that the responsibilities in Clause 15 to report changes of circumstances extend to those who receive benefit on behalf of benefit claimants as well as to claimants themselves and to third parties. In doing this, we have taken the opportunity to make clear the particular responsibilities placed on landlords who receive rent direct in the form of housing benefit to which their tenant is entitled. Their responsibilities are related to changes pertaining to the claimant's occupation of the dwelling for which the housing benefit is paid.

Clause 15 provides for two separate offences. One is the summary offence of failing to notify a change of circumstances which the individual knows will affect his benefit. The other is more serious and attracts a greater penalty commensurate with the offence. I could set out the detail of these differences but, given the hour, perhaps noble Lords will accept that originally, Scottish lawyers thought that we might be able to rely on the existing drafting. On further reflection, it was considered better to use the term "knowingly". The terms "dishonestly" and "knowingly" are used in the present versions of these offences in order to respond to the concerns expressed by the Scottish Law Society and to reflect the different approaches of the two criminal law systems.

This amendment seeks to "tidy up" the legislation in response to consultation and correspondence.

Perhaps I may turn now to the subsequent amendments. The purpose of these amendments is to ensure that those who receive benefit on behalf of claimants are held responsible for reporting changes, as are claimants themselves. We are dealing with two main groups here: appointees and landlords. Because of their different positions in relation to the claimant, the Government consider that different conditions should apply and this is reflected in the amendments.

I shall deal first with appointees. These are individuals and organisations who, because of the mental inability of the claimant to act for themselves, are appointed by the Secretary of State to act in the claimant's place. They make the claim, receive the

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payments and take responsibility for notifying changes of circumstances. Because they are standing in place of claimants, if they act fraudulently, we think that they should be treated in a similar way. For example, if an elderly, incapable lady is admitted into a nursing home and a relative acts for them and then acts fraudulently, we believe that they should be caught by the legislation in the same way.

The second group is landlords who receive their rent in the form of housing benefit paid direct to them, instead of the claimant, by a local authority. If the claimant leaves the address, the claimant himself has a responsibility to notify the local authority and so, too, does the landlord. However, if there is no incentive to do so, then the dishonest landlord could continue to pocket the housing benefit. The existing legislation is vaguely worded and has caused disquiet, in particular among landlords in social housing--for example some housing associations--who are not sure where their liability for "policing" their tenants begins and ends. The amendment aims to make their responsibilities absolutely clear. The changes that the landlord is responsible for reporting are those connected with the tenancy: the tenant's occupancy of the property for which housing benefit is being paid, and his liability to pay rent. I am sure that this will reassure honest social landlords as to what their responsibilities are. I hope that it will also send a clear message to landlords who receive rent direct that, if they continue to enjoy it when they should not, they too are liable for prosecution.

Finally, let me point out once more for the record that the offence in Clause 15 relating to "causing or allowing" a claimant to fail to notify a change of circumstances does not include third parties who merely learn of a change. To become guilty of an offence, a third party would have to be active in some way in the failure. This comes back to the CAB point that some knowledge of that failure is not in itself an offence.

I hope noble Lords will agree that, despite the apparent complexity of these amendments, they are in essence a simple replication of the offences so that they apply to third parties under an existing obligation to notify relevant changes in the claimant's circumstances. I hope that the law will now be clarified. I commend the amendments to the House.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for explaining the amendments. I have no doubt that the Scottish Law Society will be very happy with the first groupings.

I should also like to thank the noble Baroness for her letter following on from our amendment to Clause 15 at Committee stage. We welcome these amendments, which remove our concerns by placing the responsibility that landlords have in relation to their tenants on the face of the Bill. This includes details of the requirement to report changes in circumstances.

We believe that it is right that landlords and agencies should not be required to be the watchdogs of their tenants. They should have only a duty to report any

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change of circumstances that relate to the tenancy. The amendments will be welcomed both by landlords and by agencies which work in a confidential way with tenants and those receiving benefit.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 46 not moved.]

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendments Nos. 47 and 48:


    Page 20, line 28, at end insert--


"(1BA) This subsection applies where--
(a) there has been a change of circumstances affecting any entitlement of a person ('the claimant') to any benefit or other payment or advantage under any provision of the relevant social security legislation;
(b) the benefit, payment or advantage is one in respect of which there is another person ('the recipient') who for the time being has a right to receive payments to which the claimant has, or (but for the arrangements under which they are payable to the recipient) would have, an entitlement; and
(c) the change is not a change that is excluded by regulations from the changes that are required to be notified.
(1BB) In a case where subsection (1BA) above applies, the recipient is guilty of an offence if--
(a) he knows that the change affects an entitlement of the claimant to a benefit or other payment or advantage under a provision of the relevant social security legislation;
(b) the entitlement is one in respect of which he has a right to receive payments to which the claimant has, or (but for the arrangements under which they are payable to the recipient) would have, an entitlement; and
(c) he dishonestly fails to give a prompt notification of that change in the prescribed manner to the prescribed person.
(1BC) In a case where that subsection applies, a person other than the recipient is guilty of an offence if--
(a) he knows that the change affects an entitlement of the claimant to a benefit or other payment or advantage under a provision of the relevant social security legislation;
(b) the entitlement is one in respect of which the recipient has a right to receive payments to which the claimant has, or (but for the arrangements under which they are payable to the recipient) would have, an entitlement; and
(c) he dishonestly causes or allows the recipient to fail to give a prompt notification of that change in the prescribed manner to the prescribed person.
(1BD) In any case where subsection (1BA) above applies but the right of the recipient is confined to a right, by reason of his being a person to whom the claimant is required to make payments in respect of a dwelling, to receive payments of housing benefit--
(a) a person shall not be guilty of an offence under subsection (1BB) or (1BC) above unless the change is one relating to one or both of the following--
(i) the claimant's occupation of that dwelling;
(ii) the claimant's liability to make payments in respect of that dwelling;
but
(b) subsections (1BB)(a) and (1BC)(a) above shall each have effect as if after 'knows' there were inserted 'or could reasonably be expected to know'.").
Page 20, line 29, leave out ("and (1B)") and insert ("to (1BC)").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

27 Feb 2001 : Column 1201

[Amendment No. 49 not moved.]

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendments Nos. 50 and 51:


    Page 21, line 9, at end insert--


("(1BA) In a case where subsection (1BA) of section 111A above applies, the recipient is guilty of an offence if--
(a) he knows that the change affects an entitlement of the claimant to a benefit or other payment or advantage under a provision of the relevant social security legislation;
(b) the entitlement is one in respect of which he has a right to receive payments to which the claimant has, or (but for the arrangements under which they are payable to the recipient) would have, an entitlement; and
(c) he fails to give a prompt notification of that change in the prescribed manner to the prescribed person.
(1BB) In a case where that subsection applies, a person other than the recipient is guilty of an offence if--
(a) he knows that the change affects an entitlement of the claimant to a benefit or other payment or advantage under a provision of the relevant social security legislation;
(b) the entitlement is one in respect of which the recipient has a right to receive payments to which the claimant has, or (but for the arrangements under which they are payable to the recipient) would have, an entitlement; and
(c) he causes or allows the recipient to fail to give a prompt notification of that change in the prescribed manner to the prescribed person.
(1BC) Subsection (1BD) of section 111A above applies in relation to subsections (1BA) and (1BB) above as it applies in relation to subsections (1BB) and (1BC) of that section.").
Page 21, line 10, leave out ("and (1B)") and insert ("to (1BB)").

On Question, amendments agreed to.


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