LETTER:Best-kept secret in the welfare system

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The Independent Online
From Mr Philip Boyd

Sir: Stephen Timms MP is wrong to say that "for the first time in this country, Britons have no welfare safety net at all" ("Britons failing benefit test", 23 March). The truth is far more damning; there is a statutory safety net, but the Government simply doesn't tell people about it, even when it is in dire straits.

It is hardly surprising that Mr Timms is not aware that the Secretary of State does have powers to make interim payments to Britons and others who are denied benefits by the new "benefit tourist" provisions; these powers are amongst the best-kept secrets in the social security system.

Regulation 2 of the Social Security (Payments on Account Overpayments and Recovery) Regulations 1988 (SI 1988 664) provides that:

2-(1) The Secretary of State may, in his discretion, make an interim payment, that is to say a payment on account of any benefit to which it appears to him that a person is or may be entitled in the following circumstances -

(a) ...

(b) a claim for that benefit has been so made, but it is impracticable for it or a reference review application or appeal which relates to it to be determined immediately ...

Later regulations go on to secure the Treasury's position by providing that if anything is paid under this provision which it later transpires should not have been paid, the Secretary of State can recover it.

Perhaps Mr Timms might like to ask the Secretary of State where this provision is publicised in DSS or benefit agency literature; why Mr Bevis was not told about it when he applied for income support and a crisis loan; how many of the 2,599 Britons in Mr Bevis's position have been told about it; and how many times the Secretary of State has exercised his discretion to make payments on account to such people.

Yours faithfully,

PHILIP BOYD

Cheslyn Hay,

Staffordshire

23 March

The writer is an independent benefit consultant.

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