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Tax Advice

Mr. Malcolm Bruce: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what is the policy of her Department on the purchase of tax avoidance advice; and if she will make a statement. [13270]

Mr. Field: The Department of Social Security follows the guidance and advice issued to Government departments by HM Treasury. It does not purchase any advice on tax avoidance.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what estimate she has made of the expenditure by (a) her Department, (b) its agencies and (c) non-departmental public bodies on (i) tax consultants and (ii) other external tax advice in (1) 1995-96, (2) 1996-97 and (3) 1997-98; and if she will make a statement. [13269]

Mr. Field: Approximately £10,000 has been spent in 1997-98 by the War Pensions Agency. Consultants were employed to review the procedures used by the Agency to account for VAT. This enabled under-deducted VAT to be identified and resulted in revised procedures being introduced. This will ensure that the Agency correctly reclaims those amounts that are due in future accounting periods within the statutory entitlements.

Inflation (Public Funding)

Mr. Malcolm Bruce: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what is her estimate of the additional expenditure by her Department, its agencies and other non-departmental public bodies in (a) 1997-98 and (b) 1998-99 as a consequence of higher uprating for inflation than was assumed at the time of the November 1996 Budget; if increases will be financed from the contingency reserve; and if she will make a statement.[13246]

Mr. Field: Higher inflation than expected in the 1996 Budget has no effect on 1997-98 benefit spending. 1998-99 benefit rates will be announced shortly. Increases in line with prices would mean an increase in benefit spending of about £600 million above that assumed in the 1996 Budget. The Government are committed to staying within their overall spending plans.

Index-linked Pensions

Dr. Vis: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security to which of the retail prices indexes pensions are linked; and on what basis the calculation is made. [13110]

Mr. Denham: We intend to honour our commitment to increase pensions at least in line with prices.

The all items Retail Prices Index for September will be used as a basis to increase Retirement Pension from 6 April 1998. The new rate of benefit will be calculated by uprating the current rate by the increase in the index and rounding the resulting sum to the nearest 5p. The value of the basic pension is being considered as part of our pensions review.

5 Nov 1997 : Column: 248

Correspondence

Mr. Laurence Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what is the average time taken by her Department to give full answers to letters received from hon. Members. [13954]

Mr. Denham [holding answer 4 November 1997]: I refer the hon. Member to the reply my right hon. Friend, the Prime Minister, gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) on 3 November, Official Report, column 5.

Information for 1997 is not yet available.

War Pensions

Mr. Dismore: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when the review panel looking into war pensions for noise-induced hearing loss will report. [13116]

Mr. Denham: The review of the science of the assessment of noise induced sensorineural hearing loss for the purposes of claims to war pensions is already under way. Sir Kenneth Calman the Government's Chief Medical Officer and the chairman of the review, requested written comments from the team members by 27 October 1997.

A meeting of the team is due to take place on 19 November 1997. The review team will report as soon as possible after that date once they have fully considered the scientific issues under review.

The outcome of the review will be made public.

Goods and Services (Payments)

Mr. Todd: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if she will list each of the functions relating to payment for goods or services supplied for which her Department is responsible indicating the management systems purchased, all sub-contractors involved in the work, co-operative arrangements with other Departments; and the costs of the systems and processes in the last year for which figures are available. [12570]

Mr. Field: The majority of this Department's payments for goods and services are generated via integrated computerised accounting systems, either by bank transfers (CHAPS and BACS) or as system generated payable orders. All invoices are the subject of specific checks and authorisations in accordance with standard Government accounting practice, with responsibilities for verification and certification separated from the actual process of payment.

The Department's primary accounting system is FAMIS (Financial Accounting Management Information System) and amounts due for payment are picked up overnight via the Central Payments Package and issued accordingly. The FAMIS system is based on Millennium software, substantially modified to meet Departmental needs.

The Department does not use sub-contractors for payment work although a number of private companies providing facilities management for Departmental accommodation receive invoices and undertake their initial processing prior to authorisation and payment through Departmental systems. The Department does not

5 Nov 1997 : Column: 249

provide payment services to other Government Departments except where it is the major occupier of accommodation, when, under established service agreements, it may meet the initial costs and recover any balance due. The Department does not use payment systems provided by other Government Departments except where it is a minor occupier under the arrangements described above.

A variety of circumstances can apply to individual payments each of which impact on the administrative cost, but high level information collected by the Department indicates that the total administrative cost of making each payment varies between £2.30 and £5.95. The accounts payable and cashier applications which support departmental payments form elements of much wider accounting packages and specific capital and development costs are therefore not readily available.

Means-tested Benefits (Pensioners)

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many pensioners are (a) receiving at least one means-tested benefit and not paying income tax, (b) not receiving a means-tested benefit and not paying tax, (c) not receiving a means-tested benefit and paying tax and (d) receiving a means-tested benefit and paying tax; and if she will break down each category into five-year age bands identifying within each age group the number of (i) single male pensioners, (ii) single female pensioners and (iii) married pensioners. [12823]

Mr. Denham: The information is in the tables and is based on estimates for 1997-98 of numbers of pensioner benefit units in each of the groups.

Pensioners receiving a means tested benefit and not paying income tax

000s
Single maleSingle femalePensioner couplesTotal
60-6490140170400
65-6980220170480
70-7480360160600
75-7970370150590
80 +120570130820
Total4401,6607802,880

Pensioners not receiving a means tested benefit and not paying income tax

000s
Single maleSingle femalePensioner couplesTotal
60-643030110170
65-6940130270440
70-7440210310560
75-7940200200430
80+50310150510
Total2008801,0402,110


5 Nov 1997 : Column: 250

Pensioners not receiving a means tested benefit and paying income tax

000s
Single maleSingle femalePensioner couplesTotal
60-64901708401,100
65-69110140520770
70-74100160350610
75-7960100190360
80+80120140340
Total4406902,0403,170

Pensioners receiving a means tested benefit and paying income tax

000s
Single maleSingle femalePensioner couplesTotal
60-6410302070
65-6910201040
70-7420201040
75-791020(2)--30
80+1020(2)--30
Total6011040210

Notes:

(2) Less than 5,000.

1. Pensioner benefit units are defined as being any benefit unit containing at least one person aged over 59.

2. Pensioner couples are allocated to age bands according to the age of the oldest partner.

3. Figures are rounded to the nearest 10,000.

Source:

1995-96 Family Resources Survey.



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