Appeal from decision of social security appeal tribunal on a question of law decision of the social security commissioner




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Commissioner's File: CIS/263/1989

*54/90

SOCIAL SECURITY ACT 1986

APPEAL FROM DECISION OF SOCIAL SECURITY APPEAL TRIBUNAL ON A QUESTION OF LAW

DECISION OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY COMMISSIONER

 

Name:



Social Security Appeal Tribunal: Mansfield

Case No:

[ORAL HEARING]

 

1. My decision is that the decision of the social security appeal tribunal dated 10 March 1989 is erroneous in law and I set it aside. As it is appropriate, in the circumstances referred to below, for me to do so I give the decision which the tribunal should have given which is that the claimant's husband did not at the material time fall to be treated as engaged in renumerative work because his absence from work was not without good cause: regulation 5(3) of the Income Support (General) Regulations 1987, and accordingly the claimant is not disentitled to income support by reason of that provision.



2. The claimant is a married woman living with her husband and their three dependant children. The claimant's husband had been employed as a residential social worker at a children's home for 18 years when, in late 1988, he was given, by his employers who were willing to grant him unpaid leave of absence, the opportunity of attending a two year full-time course leading to the Certificate of Qualification in Social Work. The achievement of that qualification would, it is said, improve the claimant's husband's ability to carry out his work in the children's home, improve his chances of promotion and widen his possible area of work. The family had to decide quite quickly whether the husband should start the course or the opportunity would be lost, at least for that academic year. And as the employers would not agree to paid leave of absence and no grant was available they turned to the possibility of income support. There were discussions with the local office of the Department of Social Security about this; it was made plain that the claimant's husband would not himself be entitled to income support while he was a full-time student, and the discussions seem to have concluded on the basis that if the wife made a claim in her own name that would be considered. When she did so, after her husband had started the course, an adjudication officer took the view that the husband was absent from work without good cause and was thus to be treated as engaged in remunerative work in accordance with regulation 5(3) of the General Regulations; that meant the claimant could not get her income support: section 20(3)(c) of the Social Security Act 1986. The claimant appealed to the tribunal. They confirmed the adjudication officer's decision. She now appeals to the Commissioner; at the oral hearing of her appeal she was represented by Mr G W Richardson, a senior             officer. The adjudication officer was represented by Mrs H Wheatley of the Office of the Solicitor to the Departments of Health and Social Security. It was common ground that the tribunal's decision is erroneous in law for insufficiency of reasons. They did not sufficiently explain why they concluded that the absence of the claimant's husband from his work was without good cause - they merely expressed that conclusion.

3. Paragraph 1 of regulations 5 defines remunerative work for the purposes of section 20(3)(c) of the 1986 Act as "work in which a person is engaged, or where his hours of work fluctuate, he is engaged on average, for not less than 24 hours per week being work for which payment is made or which is done in expectation of payment" and paragraph (3) provides that -

"(3) A person shall be treated as engaged in remunerative work during any period for which he is absent from work referred to in paragraph (1) if the absence is either without good cause or by reason of a recognised, customary or other holiday."

And the only issue in this case throughout has been whether in the circumstances to which I have referred the claimant's husband was absent from work without good cause. As I have said, the tribunal's decision is erroneous in law for insufficiency of reasons but none of the facts as I have recounted them is in dispute and I accordingly propose, as both parties agreed I should, to give the decision which the tribunal should have given. What then is the meaning of "good cause" in regulation 5(3)? Now "good cause" in that provision, which of course is relatively new, has not, it appears, yet been the subject of any case before the Commissioner. It is well known in the context of late claims - see now regulation 19(2) of the Social Security (Claims and Payments) Regulations 1987. And in that context, as is made clear by the time-honoured statement in R(S) 2/63, the matters to be taken into account tend to be entirely personal to the claimant - his state of knowledge, health, willingness to make enquiries etc. That case was decided by a Tribunal of Commissioners who said (paragraph 11) -

"Good cause" in these regulations has the same meaning as "reasonable cause" in the corresponding regulations made for the purposes of claims for industrial injury benefits (Decision C.S.I. 10/50 (reported)). There have been a very large number of decisions on the meaning of the words under the two sets of regulations. In Decision C.S.371/49 (reported) the Commissioner said "'good cause' means, in my opinion, some fact which, having regard to all the circumstances (including the claimant's state of health and the information which she had received and that which she might have obtained) would probably have caused a reasonable person of his age and experience to act (or fail to act) as the claimant did." This description of good cause has been quoted in countless cases. It has stood the test of time. In our judgment it is correct. The word "fact" of course includes a combination of events happening either simultaneously or in session".

Indeed, it maybe that "good cause" in the context of late claims depends on little more than showing reasonableness. But "just cause" in section 20(1)(c) of the Social Security Act 1975 (voluntarily leaving employment without just cause) is harder to satisfy. There one has to take into account the interests of other contributors to the National Insurance Fund with the view to determining whether it is right that the burden of the claimant's unemployment should be cast on that Fund: see Crewe v Anderson [1982] 1WLR1209. And in that case it was said that good cause and just cause were not the same. 'Reasonableness maybe "good cause" but it is not necessarily "just cause"', said Lord Denning, page 1213.

4. Mr Richardson contended that the test of "good cause" in regulation 5(3) should be the same as for good cause in relation to late claims. Mrs Wheatley contended that the test should be the stricter one of "just cause" in section 20(1)(c) of the 1975 Act. I do not accept Mrs Wheatley's contention. If "just cause" in the unemployment benefit sense had been met I am sure, because it is so well known, that that phrase would have been used. In the case of contributory benefits it makes sense to consider the interests of other contributors. But it seems to me there is no such readily available principle in the case of non-contributory benefits. The interests of the general body of tax-payers or the community would seem too broad a notion to assist to determine "good cause" in relation to regulation 5(3). Such interests have never been a consideration, at least in terms, in "good cause" in relation to late claims - no doubt because they are too problematic to identify. Now one would not necessarily want to apply exactly the same considerations in relation to "good cause" in regulation 5(3) and in regulation 19(2) of the Claims and Payments Regulations. The contexts are too different. So, for example, while a claimant's knowledge of his rights and the steps that have been taken to ascertain them will always be relevant to regulation 19(2) it is hard to see that such matters would have any bearing on "good cause" in regulation 5(3) of the General Regulations. For my part I do not see any reason to try to define once and for all the criteria for "good cause" in that provision. I think it is enough to say that what must be shown is that the claimant's absence from his work was reasonable in all the circumstances, keeping in mind that the consequence of establishing good cause in regulation 5(3) will be to transfer from the employer to the state the burden of providing for the claimant and his family. So the essence of the test of "good cause" in regulation 5(3) is, while taking account of the different context, the same as for "good cause" in the Claims and Payments Regulations. It is not the same as for "just cause" in relation to unemployment benefit.

5. What then is the outcome in this case? I take the view that it is entirely reasonable for a person such as this claimant's husband to absent himself from work, with his employer's agreement, to embark on a training course leading to a professional qualification which, on the evidence, would not only be an advantage in relation to his work in the children's home but would also enable him to advance in his field no doubt to the benefit of all concerned. And, to the extent that the community generally are to be taken into account, I would also hold that it is likely to be in the community's interests that an untrained social worker who has demonstrated his commitment to his work over many years should improve his knowledge and his usefulness by seeking to improve his skills. I accordingly decide that the absence from his work of the claimant's husband in the period in question was not without good cause. The claimant's appeal is allowed. I would expect that the Department will be able to give effect to this decision without any difficulty. If there are problems in that respect the case can come back to me on the application of either party.

 

(Signed) R A Sanders

Commissioner

Dated: 9 July 1990

 

RAS/l/LM



SOCIAL SECURITY ACT 1986

THE SOCIAL SECURITY COMMISSIONERS PROCEDURE REGULATIONS 1987 REGULATIONS 24(1)

APPEAL FROM DECISION OF SOCIAL SECURITY APPEAL TRIBUNAL ON A QUESTION OF LAW

DECISION OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY COMMISSIONER - CORRECTION

 

Name:



Social Security Appeal Tribunal: Mansfield

Case No:

 Page 3 Paragraph 4 line 27 delete "claimant's absence"

insert "claimant's husband's absence"

Page 3 Paragraph 4 line 31 delete "his" insert "her"



 (Signed) R A Sanders

Commissioner

Date: 23 November 1990  

 

Commissioner's File: CIS/263/89


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