The Queen's Speech: Tories benefit plans to go on

Queen's Speech: Social Security
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The social security framework will be simplified and modernised in order to make it more cost efficient and quicker.

Procedures will be made more simple, the tax/benefit system will be streamlined and new technology brought in to replace the existing system, much of which was set up more than 50 years ago.

The Department of Social Security would not say yesterday exactly what form the changes would take, but it seems likely that it will carry on the emphasis started by Peter Lilley when he was Secretary of State for Social Security. A review of the DSS last October looked for cost-cutting by the Benefits Agency.

Employers will face fines if their employees' National Insurance contributions are not paid - following the regime introduced by the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise to combat tax evasion.

Employers will also be allowed to settle National Insurance liability on minor and irregular payments to employees in a single lump sum as they can for tax.

But consumer groups said that the changes could make it more difficult to appeal against decisions. Janet Allbeson, social policy officer for the National Association of Citizens' Advice Bureaux, said: "There is a shift in the balance which makes the system a lot easier for civil servants to administer but takes away important safeguards."

One suggestion in the consultation document last year had been to hurry up appeals by removing the automatic right to a hearing in person, and if it was heard in person to have only a chairman rather than two lay members as well.

Ms Allbeson urged Labour not to hurry through ideas which were thought up when the Conservatives were in power but "stop and think ... and put their own stamp on it".

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