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Benefit Fraud

Mr. Goggins: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what steps she is taking to minimise fraud in the transition from family credit to the working families tax credit. [46202]

Mr. Field: I refer my hon. Friend to the Written Answer I gave on 25 June 1998, Official Report, columns 623-24.

Government Policies

Mr. Fabricant: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if she will list the projects undertaken by her Department since 1 May 1997 to research public reaction to (a) Government policies and (b) potential new policies; and if she will place the results of the research in the Library. [46680]

Mr. Field: In line with the practice of successive Administrations, the Department routinely consults the public, interested parties and client groups by way of consultation papers, White Papers and discussion groups on a wide range of policies and proposed legislation. It is our normal practice to make the findings of all projects in the Department's Research Programme available to the public, including placing copies in the Library.

In my Written Answer to the hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb) on 11 May 1998, Official Report, columns 29-30, we provided a list of the focus group

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projects which the Department has undertaken since 1 May 1997 to explore qualitatively public attitudes to existing and future policies.

Two additional focus group studies have been commissioned since then:

Work commissioned under our ongoing call-off contract with Social and Community Planning Research has included studies on attitudes to lone parents working; to child support arrangements following relationship breakdown; and views on proposals for partners of Jobseeker's Allowance claimants.

Since 1 May 1997, we have also tested public attitudes quantitatively. A small-scale telephone poll was undertaken exploring attitudes to welfare reform issues, and we have on occasion commissioned questions for inclusion in the Office for National Statistics Omnibus Survey which have allowed us to test quantitatively attitudes to particular policy areas. Questions have been asked about sickness and disability benefits, lone parents working, financial top-ups, conditions attached to receipt of benefits, partners of the unemployed.

Council Tax Benefit

Mr. Coleman: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) if she will make a statement on the numbers of claimants affected by the changes to council tax benefit regulations introduced on 1 April; [47424]

Mr. Keith Bradley: An estimated 8,000 claimants will be affected by the restriction of Council Tax Benefit in properties in Band F and above in 1998/99. The long-run estimate of those affected is 66,000.

Information for those households affected in London is not available. However, in Greater London the long-term estimate of those claimants affected is 28,000. This represents approximately 40 per cent. of the total affected by the changes.

Jobseeker's Allowance

Mr. Opik: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans she has to review the degree of flexibility available to staff implementing the jobseeker's allowance in relation to imposing conditions on a client's claim; and if she will make a statement. [47405]

Mr. Keith Bradley: The conditions of entitlement for receipt of Jobseeker's Allowance are set out in legislation. Adjudication Officers make decisions on entitlement to Jobseeker's Allowance within this framework. Their decisions are monitored regularly by the Chief Adjudication Officer who reports annually on the standards achieved.

An extensive programme of research has been commissioned as part of the evaluation of Jobseeker's Allowance. The findings will be available in the Summer of 1999 and will enable us to consider what changes need

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to be made to ensure that the design and operation of the benefit meets the principles set out in the Welfare Reform Green Paper.

Social Fund Grants

Jackie Ballard: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) what plans she has to allow the reclaiming of expenses for hospital visits by spouses whose income is at the level of income support; [48083]

Mr. Denham: Social fund community care grants can be paid to people on Income Support or income-based Jobseeker's Allowance to help with travelling expenses to visit a partner in hospital. Any award is subject to the level of priority which can be sustained from the district budget, and the circumstances of the particular case. Grants for visits to a child in hospital would normally be given a high priority.

In addition, social fund crisis loans can be paid to people, whether on benefit or not, where the applicant needs help with fares to hospital for treatment for the applicant or a member of their family. Such a payment would have to be the only means of preventing serious risk or serious damage to the applicant or a member of their family. The Hospital Travel Costs Scheme, administered by the Department of Health, provides financial help to patients in receipt of Income Support and, where deemed medically necessary, an escort for travel to hospital for treatment under the care of a consultant.

Benefit Integrity Project

Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security, pursuant to her answer of 9 June 1998, Official Report, columns 545-46, concerning the BIP, for what reasons she was unable to list the operational and legal issues that have prevented a review of BIP cases prior to 9 February 1998. [45770]

Mr. Denham [holding answer 15 June 1998]: On 17 June, we announced that action will be taken to look again at Benefit Integrity Project cases decided before 9 February 1998, where a decision to reduce or remove benefit was based solely on evidence provided by the claimant and where the claimant did not seek a review of the decision.

In order to make this announcement legal issues needed to be resolved relating to: our scope to take review action on cases that had already been reviewed as part of the Project; how and when the claimant should be involved, and what sort of decisions might be made. Operationally, we also needed to identify the scale of the exercise and how it might be conducted sensitively, without raising false expectations. Claimants need to be fully informed about the possible outcomes of a further review of their entitlement but in such a way that they are not dissuaded from exercising their right to have their case looked at again if that is what they choose. We are currently finalising the details of this new exercise.

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Benefits Agency

Mr. Goggins: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans she has to realign local Benefits Agency boundaries so as to make them coterminous with local authority boundaries. [47490]

Mr. Keith Bradley: The administration of the Benefits Agency is a matter for Peter Mathison, its Chief Executive. He will write to my hon. Friend.

Letter from Peter Mathison to Mr. Paul Goggins, dated 29 June 1998:


Ritual Slaughter

Mr. Wyatt: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what action he proposes to take to seek implementation of the EU Slaughter Directive which would outlaw the slaughter of animals without pre-stunning at open air festivals. [46765]

Mr. Morley: Directive 93/119/EC on the protection of animals at the time of slaughter or killing is not clear as to whether religious slaughter is permitted outside of slaughterhouses. The Directive was implemented in GB by the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995. The Regulations permit the slaughter of animals elsewhere than in slaughterhouses without stunning for reasons of religion. Such slaughter must be carried out in accordance with specific legal requirements, by a licensed slaughterman and in the presence of an authorised person. More recently, the European Commission has stated that in its opinion open-air religious slaughter is in fact prohibited by the Directive. We therefore intend to reconsider the position, in consultation with all those with an interest, later this year.

Mr. Wyatt: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will introduce measures for the labelling of meat to identify at the point of sale meat which has been ritually slaughtered. [46766]

Mr. Morley: Meat from animals slaughtered to provide food for the religious communities is already identified at the point of sale. It is the Government's intention to discuss with representatives of the religious communities all aspects of religious slaughter, including the entry onto the general market of meat from animals slaughtered without prior stunning.

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