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Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999

7.Miscellaneous Measures

The Act also contains various miscellaneous measures. These are:

A number of pensions measures (Sections 9 – 18, and Schedule 2). The Green Paper A new contract for welfare: PARTNERSHIP IN PENSIONS ( Cm 4179, December 1998) explained that the Government will continue to support occupational pension schemes and simplify regulation where possible. The Pensions Act 1995 sets out the framework for regulating occupational pension schemes and clarifies the responsibilities of scheme trustees, advisers and sponsoring employers. Monitoring of this Act in the light of the Government’s commitment has identified a case for simplification in some areas and removal of a few anomalies. Four groups of measures are therefore contained in the Act:

  • provisions relating to the late payment of employers’ contributions to pension schemes (including personal pension schemes);

  • provisions increasing the compensation payable by the Pension Compensation Scheme;

  • further protection for pensions on bankruptcy – but with provision for recovering excessive contributions made by people who become bankrupt;

  • minor measures, e.g. bringing the reporting periods of the Pension Compensation Board into line.

Preservation of “inherited” SERPS rights (section 52). Widows and widowers can currently “inherit” the full amount of their spouse’s state earnings-related pension (SERPS). But under changes made in 1986, the amount will be halved for all new cases from 6 April 2000. This change was not fully publicised, and some people were incorrectly told that they or their widower could expect to inherit the full amount of SERPS. Section 52, which was added to the Bill at Lords Report stage, gives the power to make regulations to:

  • postpone the 50% reduction from 2000 to a later year; or

  • set up a scheme to determine who has been misled by incorrect or incomplete information about the 50% reduction, so as to ensure that the reduction is not applied to them or their spouses.

Until regulations implementing at least one of the options provided by section 52 are in force, widows and widowers will continue to “inherit” the full amount of their spouse’s SERPS.

Extension of entitlement to state Maternity Allowance (section 53). In his 1999 Budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a reform of Maternity Allowance so that women earning below the lower earnings limit for National Insurance contributions, but earning at least £30 a week, would be entitled to the benefit for the first time. Section 53, which was added to the Bill at Commons Report stage, makes the necessary changes to the legislation.

Requirement for a National Insurance Number to claim Child Benefit (section 69). The Social Security Administration (Fraud) Act 1997 introduced a requirement for a National Insurance Number for all claims to all benefits. However, because of the definition of “benefit” used, this requirement does not apply to Child Benefit. Section 69 extends the requirement to Child Benefit.

Sharing of Functions relating to claims and information (section 71). This section gives local authorities and central Government further powers to collect and share information relating to benefit claims. At present, local authorities may only deal with claims for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit. However, since they will be involved in delivering the ONE pilots, they will need to be able to handle claims and information relating to a wider range of social security benefits. Section 71 aims to achieve this. It also ensures that there is no doubt about the ability of other partners in joint working arrangements with local authorities – for example, the Benefits Agency and the Employment Service – to deal with claims for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit.

Disclosure and use of information (section 72). This section will facilitate cross-Government working in a number of social security and employment-related areas. It provides the powers to use and supply information which are needed to deliver the ONE pilots and Employment Zones. It will also ensure that information can be used to best effect in the New Deal for Lone Parents, New Deal for Disabled People, New Deal for Partners of Unemployed People and the new Personal Capability Assessment.

A housing under-occupation scheme (section 79) which will allow tenants living in the social rented sector (typically, property owned or managed by a local authority or a housing association), who are in receipt of Housing Benefit, to keep part of any benefit saving generated by moving to cheaper and smaller accommodation. It is intended to bring this into force initially on a pilot basis in selected areas.

Information sharing between the Inland Revenue and Child Support Agency (section 80). This measure will enable the Child Support Agency to undertake a full maintenance assessment of self-employed earnings in cases where a non-resident parent has refused to provide the necessary information. The proposed power will allow the Inland Revenue to disclose tax information in those cases where the Child Support Agency has been unable to obtain the information through any other route.

A power to incur preparatory expenditure in advance of future legislation (section 82). This enables the Secretary of State to seek specific Parliamentary approval to incur expenditure to prepare for future changes in the functions for which he is responsible (i.e. social security benefits, child support, war pensions), before Royal Assent is given for the Act that would give effect to the change. For example, a new benefit, or major changes to existing provisions, require a significant amount of preparatory work – such as developing and testing new computer systems, and preparing manuals for use by staff. Often such work has a significant lead-in time. This power will enable the Secretary of State to seek the approval of the House of Commons to commence such work, and so avoid the risk of a delay in implementation.

Extending benefit splitting to hardship payments in Jobseeker's Allowance (Schedule 8, paragraph 29(3) to (5)). These are technical changes to correct anomalies in the Jobseekers Act 1995. All or part of a person’s standard income-based JSA can already be paid to a third party where it is in the family’s interest to do so. This change extends that power to JSA hardship payments.

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