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Appeals Tribunals

Mr. Llwyd: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) what consultation was conducted prior to introducing the change in the composition of social security appeals tribunals hearing all-work test appeals; and if he will make a statement; [65583]

Angela Eagle: I refer the hon. Member to the written answer I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) on 29 October 1998, Official Report, column 266. The recent change to the composition of Social Security Appeal Tribunals (SSATs) hearing All Work Test Appeals was the second phase of measures introduced by His Honour Judge Harris, the President of the Independent Tribunal Services under transitory powers afforded to him by Schedule 6 of the Social Security Act 1998.

This provision was introduced to give the President flexibility over the composition of SSATs during a period of substantial change in 1999. The President wanted to be able to monitor the effect of change before regulations varying the composition of tribunals are debated in Parliament. The President consulted widely within his organisation. The decision to introduce the change is a judicial matter.

The President's initial monitoring of the changes indicates that the new flexibility appears to be working well. Tribunal Chairmen, operating the new arrangements, are reporting overall improvements in service as a result of the change. There is no evidence to suggest that the percentage of appeals upheld has been affected by the introduction of the new arrangements. The Department has not received any representations from appellants who have had their appeals decided by a legally qualified panel member supported by a medical assessor. These are initial results and monitoring is continuing.

We are firmly committed to tackling the unacceptable delays in the appeals service--currently averaging seven months, with some appellants waiting over a year for the decision on their case. The flexibility to tailor the composition and expertise of the Tribunal to the issues raised by an appeal will provide appellants with good quality decisions, quicker.

Regulations varying tribunal composition under Section 7 of the Social Security Act 1998 will be debated shortly under affirmative procedures. Draft regulations are being discussed with the Independent Tribunal Service, the Council of Tribunals, the Office of the Social Security Commissioners and an ad hoc group of representative bodies including the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux and the Child Poverty Action Group.

Lone Parents

Ms Harman: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will list for each quarter since May 1997

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the number of lone parents claiming income support; and if he will estimate the number of lone parents who will be claiming income support for each of the next four quarters. [65767]

Angela Eagle: The information is in the table.

Published (1)
May 19971,014,000
August 19971,012,000
November 1997982,000
February 1998972,000
May 1998961,000
Forecast (2)
August 1998957,000
November 1998933,000
February 1999927,000
May 1999918,000
August 1999919,000
November 1999895,000

(1) Figures are based on a 5 per cent. sample and as such are subject to a degree of sampling error.

(2) Figures are consistent with forecasts produced for the pre-budget report and are estimates of the number of lone parents that will be shown in future quarterly Statistical Enquiries.


Lone parents are defined as those single people with dependants who are not in receipt of a disability or pensioner premium. Figures are rounded to the nearest thousand.

Prepayment Gas Meters

Dan Norris: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will estimate the percentage of people receiving income support who pay their gas costs with prepayment meters. [65969]

Angela Eagle: We estimate that 24 per cent. of households receiving Income Support pay for gas with prepayment meters.

Invalid Care Allowance

Mr. Chaytor: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans he has to amend the Social Security (Overlapping Benefits) Regulations 1979 to mitigate their impact on recipients of invalid care allowance who lose their benefit on reaching retirement age. [66351]

Mr. Bayley: It is a basic principle of the Social Security system that only one benefit at a time can be paid for income maintenance. Retirement Pension is an income replacement benefit for those who have reached pensionable age. It replaces Invalid Care Allowance at pension age. Invalid Care Allowance provides a measure of financial support to those who give up the opportunity of full-time paid employment to care for a severely disabled person. It is not an "extra-costs" benefit. To pay both benefits in full therefore would duplicate provision for the same need. There are no plans to change these arrangements.

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Benefits Agency (Computers)

Mr. Laurence Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how the £7 billion project for computers in the Benefits Agency is to be phased; what payback period is expected; and if he will make a statement. [66251]

Mr. Timms: The ACCORD project, announced on 5 November 1998, will deliver the next generation of computer systems fit to support a modernised Welfare State.

The Department is currently working with the preferred supplier, Affinity, on the development of a plan for the implementation of new Information Systems/Information Technology (IS/IT) which is expected to start with delivery of systems for Income Support and Child Support early in 2001. Negotiations on the costs of the new service have not yet been concluded.

Industrial Injuries Scheme

Mr. Ivan Lewis: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what discussions he plans to have with relevant representative groups about the future of the industrial injuries scheme. [67200]

Mr. Darling: As part of our wider programme of Welfare Reform, we have been examining the scope for modernisation of the Industrial Injuries scheme. The scheme provides no-fault compensation benefits for those injured at, or suffering a disease caused by work, and was designed over 50 years ago for a very different social and industrial climate.

The Government's aim is to provide better protection from the risks and consequences of occupational disablement for the workforce of the future. We have asked officials to explore with the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council, industry, trades unions and other key representative groups whether there are alternative replacement no-fault compensation arrangements which would meet those objectives.


New Deal (Young People)

Mr. Rowlands: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what estimate his Department has made of the number of young people against whom sanctions have been taken for failure to comply with the New Deal. [64745]

Mr. Hain: Up until the end of October 1998, out of a total of some 12,000 young people who entered the New Deal Gateway in Wales, 95 young people have been sanctioned because, without good cause, they failed or refused to start a New Deal option or left an option early, or because they were dismissed from a New Deal option due to misconduct.

Bus Services

Mr. Barry Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what initiatives he is taking to improve bus services in (a) urban and (b) rural areas, with particular reference to Flintshire. [66410]

20 Jan 1999 : Column: 475

Mr. Hain: For 1999-2000, I am making £5 million available to local authorities to support local bus services, of which at least £3 million must be spent on rural services with the remainder for urban services. This grant is in addition to the provision which local authorities make in their own budgets for subsidised services. All authorities in Wales, including Flintshire, will receive a share of this money. I am currently consulting on the precise method of allocating funds to authorities, and will announce the individual allocations shortly.

Mr. Barry Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what measures he proposes to help senior citizens to use buses; and if he will make a statement. [66419]

Mr. Hain: From April, I expect all local authorities in Wales to be operating concessionary travel schemes for pensioners which at least meet the Government's proposed minimum standard of a maximum of £5 for a bus pass and a minimum discount of 50 per cent. on bus fares. In addition, I have announced that we intend to provide free concessionary bus travel for pensioners over the next two to three years.

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