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Regulatory Panel

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office when the Regulatory Panel last met; and if she will make a statement on the nature of their discussions and the decisions taken. [107007]

Mr. Stringer: The Panel for Regulatory Accountability met for the first time on 15 December 1999 to discuss its role and future work programme. The members of the Panel agreed to:

    Ensure any necessary improvements in the regulatory system and to the performance of individual departments; and

    Take account of the particular impacts of regulation on small businesses.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office if she will list the terms of reference for the Regulatory Panel. [107006]

Mr. Stringer: The Panel for Regulatory Accountability has been established at the heart of Government with the remit to modernise the regulatory system, simplify existing regulation and ease regulatory pressures on business and the public sector.


Child Support

Mr. Fitzpatrick: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when he intends to introduce the new

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child support measures contained in the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Bill; and if he will make a statement. [108106]

Mr. Darling: The reform of the child support scheme is a major programme of work involving new legislation, new computer systems and significant changes to the way the Child Support Agency operates. We have always made it clear that we would not repeat the mistakes of the previous Government by introducing the reforms too quickly or before robust and reliable computer systems were in place and staff were properly trained. We therefore propose to introduce the new child support scheme for new cases by April 2002, by which time successful introduction can be achieved without unacceptable risks.

As we have always made clear, existing cases will be transferred onto the new scheme once we are sure that the new arrangements are working well. Attempting to move existing cases across too quickly would, again, present unacceptable operational risks.

The Child Support Agency is already making improvements to the service within the constraints of the current scheme and we are determined that it will continue to do so between now and 2002.

Jobseeker's Allowance

Mr. Fitzpatrick: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what provisions he has made to allow hardship payments of Jobseeker's Allowance to be paid to a third party. [108107]

Angela Eagle: The provision that enables all or part of a person's benefit to be paid to a third party, where it is in the interests of the claimant or a member of his family to do so, has been a long standing feature of the Social Security system.

An anomaly in the Jobseekers Act 1995 prevented this provision from applying to hardship payments of Jobseeker's Allowance. This restriction has now been removed by Part V of Schedule 8 to the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999, which came into force on 11 November 1999.

Maternity Grants

Mr. Paul Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many mothers he estimates will benefit from the sure start maternity grant in (a) Shrewsbury and Atcham and (b) Shropshire in the first year of its operation; and if he will make a statement. [107256]

Angela Eagle: The Sure Start Maternity Grant Scheme, which will replace maternity payments, commences on 27 March for parents who are expecting a baby on or after 11 June 2000. It is a grant of up to £200 per child which may be payable to claimants (or their partners) of Income Support, Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, Working Families Tax Credit (WFTC) and Disabled Persons Tax Credit (DPTC).

We are unable to provide an estimate in the format requested. The Benefits Agency (BA) collates statistics by BA district office. The district boundaries do not correspond to constituency boundaries. The Shires district comprises offices at Shrewsbury, Telford, Hereford, Worcester and Kidderminster.

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In the last complete year for which figures are available, April 1998 to March 1999, 2,495 maternity payments were awarded in the Shires district. We predict that there will be 2,535 payments in 1999-2000. This leads us to believe that there may be 2,688 payments in 2000-001, the first year of the new scheme.

Benefit Reduction

Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many children living with parents with care will under the new formula in the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Bill be entitled to reduced support; and what the average loss for each child will be. [106571]

Angela Eagle: Overall, more than 1 million children will be better off as our reforms take effect. If all existing cases moved to the new scheme today, we estimate that, where the non-resident parent is in work, around 350,000 parents with care, with around 500,000 children, would have a lower assessment. The average reduction for parents with care would be around £17 a week in total, which equates to around £11 per child.

However, because of the introduction of a maintenance premium in Income Support and the 100 per cent. disregard of maintenance in Working Families Tax Credit, around 85 per cent. of children will be better off at the point they first come to the CSA than they would have been under the old arrangements. In the remaining cases, although assessments may be lower under the new scheme, we will get more of what is due actually paid--compliance is expected to increase to 80 per cent. or more, compared with 66 per cent. now--so the difference in cash terms will not be so marked. Also, changes in liability for existing cases will be phased in.

    1. New scheme maintenance modelled on August 1998 5 per cent. scan of Child Support Computer System.

    2. Caseloads calibrated to forecast 'A' day levels, and rounded to the nearest 10,000. The average change in maintenance entitlement is rounded to the nearest 50 pence.


Mr. Garnier: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when he will reply to the letter dated 20 September 1999 from the hon. and learned Member for Harborough on behalf of Mr. Edward Hynes of Market Harborough to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for City of York (Mr. Bayley). [106306]

Mr. Bayley: A reply was sent on Friday 27 January 2000.

Minimum Pension Guarantee

Mr. Field: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security, pursuant to his answer to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cousins) of 25 January 2000, Official Report, column 169W, on the minimum pension guarantee, if he will place a copy of his letter to the hon. Member in the Library. [107759]

Mr. Rooker: I have placed a copy of my letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cousins) in the Library.

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Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security on how many occasions in each of the past five years computer systems in his Department have been illegally accessed by computer hackers (a) within and (b) outside his Department. [106227]

Angela Eagle: There have been no recorded cases of Departmental computer systems being illegally accessed by internal or external hackers.

Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many cases of computer (a) fraud, including fraudulent use of computer chips, and (b) theft his Department has recorded in the last five years. [106218]

Mr. Rooker: The information is not available in the format requested. Such information as is available is in the tables.

Incidents of fraud

Financial yearFraud

(30) Figures not yet available. Will be collated for HMT Return on Internal Fraud approximately May 2000

Incidents of theft

YearTotalBy outsidersBy staffUnattributed

Automated Credit Transfer

Mr. Corbett: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) if he will estimate the cost to the Benefits Agency of making payments to claimants via automated credit transfer; and if he will state how that figure is calculated; [107452]

Mr. Rooker: The overall average unit cost to the Benefits Agency of making a payment to a claimant via automated credit transfer (ACT) is in the order of 1p.

It is not appropriate to give a full breakdown of how this figure is calculated as part of the costs are commercially confidential between the Benefits Agency and its suppliers.

The vast majority of benefit customers already have bank accounts. We will be making arrangements for the people and payments where ACT is not the right answer. This may include supporting people as they access the

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increasing number of simple banking products being introduced. As these arrangements will not be required until after 2003 we are still researching our customers' needs and studying current market trends.

In 2003, the transition from current paper-based methods of payment will begin, and by the end of 2005 the majority of benefit recipients will receive payments via automated credit transfer. Detailed migration plans are not yet in place. We are still researching our customers' needs and will ensure that the migration is managed carefully and in a way that will not put at risk the efficient distribution of benefit payments.

Around one third of benefit recipients already choose to have their benefits paid by automated credit transfer, direct into their bank accounts, and the vast majority, around 85 per cent, already have access to a bank account. However, there will be some limited exceptions. We have given an assurance that those benefit recipients, whether paid by automated credit transfer or otherwise, who wish to collect their benefits in cash at post offices will continue to be able to do so.

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