Benefits crackdown to get go-ahead

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THE GOVERNMENT is to press ahead with measures to crack down on foreign dole scroungers and remove single mothers' automatic rights to council houses - despite pleas from churches, pressure groups and its own experts.

In a return to the back-to-basics theme, Peter Lilley, Secretary of State for Social Security, will this week introduce a 'habitual-residence test' to prevent European Union visitors from claiming benefits in Britain. And Sir George Young, housing minister, is to brush aside the objections of 500 church-based organisations and 9,000 other submissions, to withdraw the right of the homeless, such as single mothers, to go to the top of the housing queue.

The moves will anger campaigners, charities and Opposition politicians and will be seen as evidence that the themes of last year's Conservative Party conference have been revived.

Mr Lilley's clampdown on 'benefit tourism' has been attacked by the Government's own social security advisory committee. But from 1 August visitors will have to prove they have had a job, or a home, or family in the UK for at least five years before they qualify for social security.

The Department of Social Security believes that figures for 'benefit tourists' - estimated at 7,000 a year - vastly understate the true scale of claims. Introducing the habitual-residence test, which can be done by amending regulations and without a vote in Parliament, will save at least pounds 7m a year, say officials.

Mr Lilley will lay new regulations before the Commons this week, arguing that the changes simply bring the UK into line with the rest of Europe.

However, in a concession to the advisory committee - which wanted the plans scrapped - the new regulations will not apply to people from Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

Sir George, a candidate for promotion in the forthcoming reshuffle, will announce in a statement before the House rises that the Government will proceed with its plan on homelessness. The changes will be made as soon as possible, but Sir George will not be able to commit himself to a Bill in the next session of Parliament.

His department will amend the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977, under which lone parents under 21 have an automatic right of priority for council housing, and which makes local authorities responsible for permanent housing for those over age 18.