Fair play and foul

The government intends to widen eligibility for child benefit and child tax credit, and one of the new groups that will be included is parents of children in non-waged training. No public outcry has demanded this move, but it is long overdue.

Alongside the 2004 budget, the government published a virtually unnoticed report that proposed the reform of the financial support available to those aged 16-19. It included two key promises:

  • To end the ludicrous situation whereby a young person has to stop claiming income support as soon as they reach 19, even if they are “catching up” on non-advanced education and are living independently of parents or the care system. 
  • To end the distinction between education and non-waged training when delivering financial support.

On the first promise, the government is planning legislation that will allow the young person in non-advanced education who is living independently to keep their income support claim going until the end of the course that they are on.

On the second promise, legislation will have to be changed, to allow parents to keep on claiming child benefit if their child enters a scheme with a training allowance – for example, work-based learning for young people. This would give parity between the parents of a 16-year-old who stays at school and the parents of a 16-year-old on a training scheme.

Both proposals take us closer to the goal of a simpler, consistent and equitable system of financial support for young people that does not differentiate between young people in education, training or work. It is a system that is morally correct – but hardly a vote-winner.

Contrast that, however, with the latest news about the treatment of claims from asylum-seekers. It has been established law in this country for years that, if you have been refused benefit because of your immigration status, then you are due backdated benefit if your status is settled at a later date. This is clearly fair and reasonable. If you had been accepted as a refugee when first arriving in the country, instead of being placed in limbo by being classed as an asylum-seeker, then benefits would have been due to you from the date of arrival. Fair and reasonable, it seems, to everyone except some national newspaper editors and the Home Secretary.

A new government bill that will end automatic back payments to refugees has received Royal Assent. Section 12 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Act 2004 ends the backdating of benefits for an asylum seeker who is now a refugee. Instead, a new, discretionary “integration loan for refugees” is provided for by section 13 of the Act.

Politicians who play to the populist gallery can do things that extend rather than reduce a client’s rights – especially if those clients are part of the “deserving (and voting) poor”. While applications for pension credit received before October 2004 can already be backdated for up to 12 months, the maximum period of backdating for applications received after October 2004 had been set at three months. New regulations now extend the 12-month backdating to claims made after October 2004 as well.

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

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