Some choice offerings

It is time for one of my occasional round-up of the bits and pieces
changes to social security that you might have missed – let’s face
it, an increase in the permitted work upper earnings limit hardly
makes it onto News at Ten, does it?

So here are a few snippets of news that just might make a
difference to one or two of your clients.

– The personal allowance for children and young people within
income support, jobseeker’s allowance and housing benefit increases
by £3.50 per week from 14 October 2002. This means that the
allowance for a child aged 0-16 will now be £37 a week, which
is 80p less than an older dependent child would get. Any payments
your authority makes that are based on income support rates should,
of course, reflect these new amounts. However, the rates for tax
credits don’t increase.

– Don’t forget the major change to invalid care allowance from 28
October 2002, when it gets extended to people aged 65 or over. Even
if a pensioner doesn’t get paid the benefit because their
retirement pension is higher than the ICA, it’s still worth
claiming as it can have a knock-on effect on income support and
housing benefit.

– Also from 28 October 2002, there are new rules for couples who
claim JSA. From that date, where one or both members of a couple
were born on or after 28 October 1957, they will have to make what
is known as a “joint claim” for JSA. Although there are some
exemptions – for people with children, for example – it will mean
that both partners will have to make themselves available for work
to get the couples’ rate of benefit.

– From 1 October 2002, people who receive incapacity benefit and
work fewer than 16 hours a week will be able to earn £67.50
without losing benefit, instead of £66. The minimum wage goes
up from that date, from £4.10 to £4.20 (adult rate) and
from £3.50 to £3.60 (for workers aged between 18 and

– Last July, the High Court ordered the home secretary to
reconsider his decision that an asylum seeker who cannot breastfeed
her child because she is HIV-positive should not have access to
free milk for her baby.

– On a less positive note, the government has withdrawn the right
to work of asylum seekers who have been in the UK for six months or
more. Those who had permission to work, or who had applied by 23
July 2002, can carry on working. Only if given refugee status will
asylum seekers now be able to work legally.

– So much for the promise that claimants wouldn’t be forced to
switch to payment through bank accounts instead of order books. In
the tax credit legislation, due to take effect next April,
claimants will have their tax credit claim stopped after eight
weeks if they don’t have a bank account for the benefit to be paid
into. There is then a three-month period when the claimant can open
a bank account and have their lost credit reinstated.

– The pensions service is pressing ahead with its plan to move all
benefits processing for pensioners to regional centres. One key
element of this plan is a new national phone number for the
service. The idea is that a pensioner calls this number, the
telephone equipment detects where the call is coming from and
diverts the call to the appropriate regional centre. So, if you
live or work in London and want to ring the pensions service about
a relative or client who lives in Birmingham, your call will go
automatically to the London office that covers your address, not
theirs. And, apparently, calls can’t be transferred from one
regional centre to another. Back to the drawing-board,

Gary Vaux is head of money advice, Hertfordshire Council. He is
unable to answer queries in person, either by post or by telephone.
If you have a question to be answered in Welfare Rights, please
write to him c/o Community Care

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