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Benefit Fraud

Mr. Evennett: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what further studies he has made to measure the amount of benefit fraud; and if he will make a statement. [15901]

Mr. Burt: My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State, announced in July 1995 that he had instigated a series of benefit reviews across the major social security benefits to identify and quantify the level of fraud and error. Results of the reviews of income support, unemployment benefit, housing benefit, retirement pension and invalid care allowance have already been announced.

A review has now been completed on disability living allowance, a benefit which is paid to disabled people to help with some of the extra costs associated with disability. Not all disabled people satisfy the conditions for an award of DLA, which is based on the care and mobility needs arising from the effects of a disability rather than on the disability itself.

The review shows that some 73 per cent. of customers are entitled to the DLA they are receiving. In 27 per cent. of cases, therefore, DLA is being paid at an incorrect rate. Reasons for incorrectness, which involved both underpayments and overpayments of DLA, ranged from departmental or customer error right through to deliberate fraud.

In 12.2 per cent. of the cases surveyed, officials considered that customers did not satisfy the qualifying condition for receipt of either all or part of the benefit in payment due to their deliberate overestimate of their care or mobility needs or failure to report an improvement in their condition. Grossed up from the sample this represents an estimated annual overpayment of £499 million.

In addition there was a further 3 per cent. of customers who were found by the review to have been overpaid but where they might have been unaware that the changes in their condition was such that they should have reported it to the Benefits Agency. These represent an estimated annual overpayment of £83 million.

The exercise also identified another 9.3 per cent. of customers who were not receiving the appropriate rate of benefit because of an unreported deterioration in their condition. This represents an estimated annual underpayment of £227 million.

The results of this exercise will be studied and will help to inform plans to tackle incorrectness in DLA.

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Customers who are entitled to the benefit have nothing to worry about from the findings of this exercise. But there are changes in medical conditions which can affect that entitlement level. The nature of some disabilities is such that there can be improvements where care or mobility needs, or both, become slight or non-existent. Customers have a duty to report such subsequent changes in their condition to the Benefits Agency and this requirement is clearly set out to customers when they receive benefit.

Elderly People (Winter Assistance)

Mr. Steen: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what measures he has taken to help the elderly during the winter months in each of the last three years; and at what cost. [15385]

Mr. Roger Evans: During the last three years, help has been available to pensioners awarded income support through the social fund cold weather payments scheme. This gives help towards additional heating costs during sustained periods of very cold weather. Estimates of benefit expenditure for each of the last three years are as follows:

YearTotal cold weather payments expenditureEstimated expenditure to pensioners

(26) Estimated expenditure figures for pensioners are based on the income support quarterly statistical enquiry at February 1994, 1995, and 1996. Families with children under five, disabled people and pensioners on income support were eligible for cold weather payments. Expenditure on pensioners has been estimated on a pro rata basis.

Expenditure figures rounded to nearest £1,000.


Civil Service Briefings

Mr. Robert McCartney: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make it his policy to offer to hon. Members briefings by the Northern Ireland civil service similar to those provided for the Anglo-Irish Secretariat on appropriate topics. [12173]

Sir John Wheeler: Briefings are provided for the Irish side of the Anglo-Irish secretariat, in accordance with the terms of the Anglo-Irish agreement, on appropriate matters. These briefings can be instigated by either side.

My ministerial colleagues and I also offer briefings to hon. Members on occasions but, in addition, always stand ready to consider favourably requests from hon. Members on issues relevant to the Northern Ireland Departments.

Gallaher Ltd.

Mr. Pendry: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland from which budget the award of £9.957 million to Gallaher Ltd. towards development at its Ballymena factory was made. [15182]

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Mr. Ancram: The selective financial assistance offered to Gallaher Ltd. for development at the Ballymena factory will be payable from the Northern Ireland block, Department of Economic Development vote 1 section D (Assistance to Industry).

Job Skills Programmes

Dr. Godman: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what requests he has received from the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action to discuss matters relating to the use of European Union funding for mainstream job skills programmes and related programmes; and if he will make a statement. [14910]

Sir John Wheeler: My right hon. and learned Friend has not been asked by the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action for a meeting to discuss these matters.

EU Funding

Dr. Godman: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what plans he has to modify his proposals for the mainstreaming of current temporary funding schemes from European Union programmes, with particular reference to the special support programme for peace and reconciliation and the European social fund; and if he will make a statement. [14906]

Sir John Wheeler: All projects developed under the special support programme for peace and reconciliation and the community initiatives component of the European social fund will be evaluated in due course to see what lessons may be learned. Apart from this, there are no such plans.

Training and Employment

Dr. Godman: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (1) what has been the change in the funding of the action for community employment scheme in the past 12 months; what further changes are planned in the near-future; and if he will make a statement; [14907]

Mr. Ancram: Responsibility for the subject in question has been delegated to the Training and Employment Agency under its chief executive Mr. Ian Walters. I have asked him to arrange for a reply to be given.

Letter from Ian Walters to Dr. Norman Godman, dated 12 February 1997:

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has asked me, as Chief Executive of the Training and Employment Agency, to reply to your questions about the Action for Community Employment (ACE) scheme, the role of the voluntary sector and long-term unemployment.

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