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Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999

Commentary

Section 71: Sharing of functions as regards certain claims and information
Background

This section provides powers which are intended to enable closer working between central and local government in order to make the delivery of social security benefits more customer-focused and better co-ordinated. In particular, the section provides new functions for local authorities, enabling them to collect and record information, and give advice, in respect of benefits which are administered by central government.

The Department’s aim is an integrated service which allows clients, as far as possible, to claim social security benefits, child support and war pensions, give information and make enquiries through a single point of contact.

Local authorities are responsible for the administration of Housing Benefit (HB) and Council Tax Benefit (CTB) and, under current legislation, they may only collect information relevant to those particular benefits. It is intended that regulations will be made under this section to enable local authorities to play a full part in integrated working initiatives, in particular, the ONE service (see sections 57, 58 and 72), by allowing them to handle a wider range of social security functions. The section will also enable other partners in integrated working arrangements, such as the Benefits Agency and Employment Service, to provide a similar service in relation to claims for HB and CTB.

It is also intended that clients will be able to claim a range of social security benefits using a single, integrated, claim form. For example, the Department’s longer-term plans for improving and streamlining service to pensioners envisage that people wanting to claim Retirement Pension, Income Support, HB and CTB will be able to do so on the same form, rather than having to complete separate claims and provide the same information to both the Benefits Agency and the local authority.

This section does not make any changes to current responsibilities for determining claims. Local authorities will remain responsible for HB and CTB, and claims or information they collect relating to war pensions, child support, or benefits administered by the Benefits Agency will be passed to the relevant Agency for processing.

Schedule 12 provides for local authorities to be paid for the extra work arising from this section (and the provisions for work-focused interviews in sections 57 and 58). See the commentary after this section for more details.

Commentary

The section inserts a new section 7A into the Administration Act.

Subsection (1)(a) confers power to make regulations enabling claims for HB and CTB to be made to a body other than a local authority, which will be specified in the regulations.

In the case of pilots of the ONE service, for example, the specified bodies will be the local Benefits Agency or Employment Service, or offices run by private or voluntary sector providers on their behalf.

Regulations under subsection (1)(b) will provide for the mirror image of arrangements under subsection (1)(a) by enabling claims for prescribed social security benefits and war pensions, and applications for child support, to be made to local authorities.

Subsection (2)(a) enables regulations to be made that allow claims made under the provisions of subsection (1), and information provided in connection with those claims whether supplied by the claimant or by a third party (such as the claimant’s partner), to be forwarded to the appropriate administering authority.

Subsection (2)(b) provides for the making of regulations enabling the receipt, collection and forwarding of information about social security matters from people who are making claims, or have made claims, for HB, CTB or any prescribed benefits, or from a third party in connection with such claims.

These regulations will enable a claimant, or partner, to carry out routine social security transactions, such as reporting a change of personal circumstances, at a single point of contact. For example, a person would be able to report changes affecting his HB claim to the Benefits Agency, which would then forward the details and any supporting evidence to the local authority.

Regulations under subsection (2)(c) will provide for the recording and holding of information and evidence relating to social security matters.

The regulations will enable an office to hold information which relates to benefits for which it has no administrative responsibilities. This situation would arise, for example, where a single claim form is used for a mixture of centrally and locally administered benefits, such as an integrated claim for Income Support and Housing Benefit. The form may be stored by the Benefits Agency, even though the Agency has no administrative responsibility for the Housing Benefit claim.

Subsection (2)(d) provides for the making of regulations enabling advice and information to be given to claimants on a range of social security matters.

It is proposed that regulations made under this provision will allow local authorities greater access to information held on Benefits Agency systems than is currently the case, in order to deal with claimants’ enquiries concerning social security benefits administered by the Agency.

Subsection (3) clarifies that subsections (2)(b) (obtaining, receipt and forwarding of information) and (2)(d) (the giving of advice and information about social security matters) apply whether or not the original claim was made under the provisions of subsection (1).

It also clarifies that those paragraphs apply both to people making initial claims to Housing Benefit, Council Tax Benefit or any prescribed benefits, and to those to whom an award has already been made.

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Explanatory Notes

Text created by the government department responsible for the subject matter of the Act to explain what the Act sets out to achieve and to make the Act accessible to readers who are not legally qualified. Explanatory Notes were introduced in 1999 and accompany all Public Acts except Appropriation, Consolidated Fund, Finance and Consolidation Acts.

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