Amendments discussed covered clauses 15 to 21 of the Bill. Committee stage continues on Tuesday 1 November when further amendments will be discussed.
Amendments discussed on Monday 24 October covered clause 12, on the inclusion of extra elements in addition to the standard allowance – such as for claimants with caring responsibilities, including an amount towards the childcare costs of working claimants – to clause 14.
Discussion of proposals for changes to clause 11 of the Bill on housing costs continued on Thursday 20 October.
Amendments discussed covered deductions in the housing cost element of universal credit for non dependent members of households, such as grown up children living at home, and the award for housing costs for people aged 35 or younger living in shared accommodation. An amendment that would have required the housing costs award in universal credit to be reviewed every two years to ensure that a proportion of private rented properties remained affordable to tenants was also discussed.
Amendments to clause 11 concerning the amount within universal credit towards housing costs were debated on Tuesday 18 October.
Amendment 34A, moved by Baroness Hollis of Heigham, sought to take into account the availability of suitable accommodation in the amount toward housing costs in universal credit. Under the Bill as drafted, tenants claiming universal credit who are under-occupying a property – such as a single person living in a three bedroom property – would have the housing element of the benefit cut to the size of the property the tenant should be occupying.
Speaking to the amendment Baroness Hollis explained: ‘We sanction people in JSA [Job Seekers Allowance] if they do not seek work, because they can and should. We use the threat of sanction to change their behaviour ... Similarly, it may be reasonable to sanction by HB [housing benefit] cuts someone who is grossly under-occupying a house that a much larger family desperately needs and who could change their behaviour by downsizing. We could debate that, but to sanction families for not moving when they cannot change their behaviour and cannot move because of the housing stock is not a sanction but a punishment of people who not only have committed no offence but who can do nothing to avoid the sanction by changing their behaviour.’
Amendment 34ZA querying the rate of universal credit for claimants while appealing decisions on any aspect of the benefit, and Amendment 35 on the payment of mortgage interest for people with long-term disability were also discussed.
Discussion on Thursday 13 October included proposals for changes concerning the inclusion of an amount towards extra living costs for dependent children, and an amount towards housing costs in the universal credit award.
Amendments discussed covered clause 8: Calculation of awards, clause 9: Standard allowance, clause 10: Responsibility for children and young persons and clause 11: Housing costs. Clauses 8, 9 and 10 were agreed to.
Members of the Lords discussed amendments to clauses 5-8 on capital and income thresholds for entitlement to universal credit, such as Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs), general savings and child trust funds on Monday 10 October.
Amendments 2, 3, 6, 12, 16, 17 and 21 were discussed on Thursday 6 October, concerning the amounts towards costs universal credit may cover, the provisions about claims for universal credit, entitlement to universal credit, and the conditions for a person to qualify to receive universal credit.
Members of the Lords discussed amendment 1 to Clause 1, moved by Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope, to insert the term 'working age entitlement' in place of 'universal credit' on Tuesday 4 October.
The Welfare Reform Bill makes provision for a wide range of reforms to simplify the welfare system, including the introduction of a new, single, streamlined benefit – which will be known as 'universal credit' – to replace benefits for people of working age, including jobseeker’s allowance, income support, housing benefit, child tax credit and working tax credit. The Bill will also provides for the introduction of a new benefit – the 'personal independence payment' – to replace the existing disability living allowance.
The Bill follows the November 2010 White Paper, 'Universal Credit: welfare that works', which sets out the Coalition Government’s proposals for reforming welfare to improve work incentives, simplify the benefits system and tackle administrative complexity.
More than 50 Members of the Lords took part in the second reading debate on the Bill on 13 September, including Members with firsthand experience of the benefits system. A petition on housing was presented before the debate.
A report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, published in July, recommends a greater level of parliamentary scrutiny of some of the powers granted to the Secretary of State under the Bill. These include powers to determine entitlement to and the award of universal credit, the imposition of obligations on claimants and their ability to comply with a work availability requirement and hardship payments; and to determine the appropriate maximum housing benefit; and the mechanisms for setting a ‘benefit cap’.
The report recommends that the powers it draws attention to should be subject to affirmative procedures – a vote of approval – to come into effect.
The Grand Committee on the Welfare Reform Bill is taking place in Committee Room 4A. Members of the public can attend House of Lords debates.