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Welfare Reform Act (Northern Ireland) 2007

Section 38: Social security information

Section 38 inserts a new section 5B into the Administration Act to provide for the use by a “relevant authority” of social security information in connection with the administration and promotion of claims for benefit and amends section 5A of that Act which deals with the receipt by relevant authorities of claims for benefit and the collection and verification of evidence relating to claims. These measures support joint working arrangements and are intended to improve the take-up and delivery of benefits and other services administered by the Department and relevant authorities.

Currently section 5A of the Administration Act allows regulations to be made which enable the Department and relevant authorities administering housing benefit to perform certain functions on behalf of one another. It enables claims for prescribed benefits administered by the Department to be made to a relevant authority, and claims for housing benefit to be made to the Department. It also allows the Department and relevant authorities to collect and forward information and evidence for each other’s respective benefits as prescribed. Current powers do not expressly permit relevant authorities to verify claims-related evidence and information on behalf of other relevant authorities.

Specific provisions in the Contributions and Benefits Act impose a duty on authorities administering housing benefit to promote the take up of housing benefit. Section 38, through the inclusion of a new section 5B in the Administration Act, enables relevant authorities to promote the take up of benefits administered by the Department. For example, the new section will enable a relevant authority to use information obtained on a claim for housing benefit to pre-populate a claim form for pension credit (which is administered by the Department). This partly completed form could then be submitted to the claimant to encourage him to apply for pension credit.

New section 5B(1) enables a relevant authority to use for a relevant purpose, any social security information which it holds. Subsection (3) clarifies that a relevant purpose is activity intended to encourage a claim which is made or could be made for a specified benefit. This power broadens the boundaries governing authorities’ use of the information that it holds. The Department has existing powers under section 3 of the Social Security Act 1998 to use information that it holds for one of its functions for another of its functions.

New section 5B(2) allows regulations to specify the procedure to be followed by a relevant authority where it receives information and evidence that has already been used or verified and forwarded by another relevant authority. The purpose of this provision is to reduce claims processing times and the incidences of duplicate requests for information. Regulations under section 5B could ensure that information and evidence that has already been used by the Department, for example, must, subject to certain safeguards, be accepted as correct by the receiving authority for purposes connected with another benefit claim. Without this provision, receiving authorities could opt to continue as before by requesting and verifying the evidence from scratch, thereby duplicating information requests.

Section 5B defines the term “social security information” as covering information relating to social security (including child support and war pensions data), and also evidence obtained in connection with any claims or awards relating to these areas and clarifies that a “specified benefit” (in respect of which this section applies) is to be prescribed in regulations, to provide maximum flexibility in developing these provisions.

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Text created by the Northern Ireland Assembly 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 accompany all Acts of the Northern Ireland Assembly.


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