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Housing Benefit

Dr. Iddon: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if a claimant's absence when visited by a housing benefit verification officer is considered a negative identification check if the visit is unannounced; and if he will make a statement. [130066]

Angela Eagle: No, if the claimant is not available when visited unannounced, the local authority would either make a further visit or collect the information in another way. A visit is not required to establish the claimant's identity.

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Dr. Iddon: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security for what reasons it is necessary for pensioners to comply with the requirements of the housing benefit verification framework. [130067]

Angela Eagle: The Verification Framework guidance is aimed at ensuring proper standards in the administration of Council Tax Benefit and Housing Benefit by local authorities. This ensures that the right amount of benefit is paid to any claimant who is properly entitled to it. The checks local authorities are required to make under the Framework apply to all claimants, no matter what their age or status.

That said, as we announced in the Housing Green Paper, we are moving towards organisational changes, which will see services to pensioners being better tailored to their needs. This includes looking at whether there is a need to require pensioners to make claims as often as they have to at the moment. However, any change is still likely to need rigorous checking at the outset to ensure that the full and correct amount of benefit is put in payment.

Anecdotal evidence from local authorities indicates that in some areas the introduction of the Verification Framework has highlighted a significant number of incorrect payments to pensioners. Although in many cases overpayments have been identified, there are also a substantial number of cases where underpayments have been established and rectified as a result of verification.

Benefit Payments

Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many people were in receipt of both Widows Benefit and Housing Benefit in the latest year for which figures are available. [130063]

Angela Eagle: The information has already been published in both Social Security Statistics--May 1998 (table 3.12, page 82) and in Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit Annual Summary Statistics--May 1998 (table 3.10, page 15). The figures for May 1998 are the latest available.

Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what was the percentage increase in (a) Widows Benefit and (b) Housing Benefit for the most recent year for which figures are available; and if he will use a common index for uprating both. [130064]

Angela Eagle: Following the normal practice, Widows Benefit was uprated in line with RPI of 1.1 per cent. with effect from April 2000. Housing Benefit for non- pensioners was uprated by the Rossi index of 1.6 per cent. for the same period. Housing Benefit for pensioners was uprated by average earnings of 4.6 per cent. We have no plans to use a common index for uprating Widows Benefit and Housing Benefit.


Pupil Statistics

Mr. Pearson: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what the average staying-on- in-education rate was of 16-year-olds in the Metropolitan

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Borough of Dudley between 1995 and 1998, (a) overall and (b) broken down by those who attended (i) schools and (ii) further education colleges. [128928]

Mr. Wicks [holding answer 4 July 2000]: Participation in education by 16-year-olds in England rose to 77.4 per cent. (provisional) at the end of 1999, from 76.2 per cent. in 1998. The Secretary of State recently launched a major £3 million advertising campaign aimed at encouraging this year's school leavers and others to stay on in some form of learning. The "Don't Quit Now" campaign is particularly aimed at those who left this year with few, if any GCSEs and are in danger of dropping out of education and training.

Figures for participation in education in Dudley LEA are given in the following table; data for 1998-99 are not yet available. Figures for GST in Dudley TEC are also shown, as there is evidence that in TEC areas high rates of training compensate to some extent for lower levels of full-time education.

Participation in education of 16-year-olds in Dudley LEA/ Dudley TEC, 1995-96 to 1997-98

Dudley LEA:
Full-time education605957
Of which:
Further education545351
Part-time further education131710
Total education737666
Dudley TEC:
Government supported training141514


Statistical Bulletin 14/99: Participation in education and training by young people aged 16 and 17 in each local area and region, England, 1993-94 to 1997-98. Totals may not add due to rounding.

National Insurance

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what has been the policy since 1989 on writing annually to those of his Department's staff who are paying reduced rates of National Insurance contributions, reminding them of the rules governing the payment of reduced rates, as recommended in the Inland Revenue guidance note on reduced rate National Insurance contributions for married women. [129489]

Mr. Wills: The Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) writes to staff identified as paying reduced rate National Insurance contributions each year, reminding them of the rules governing the payment of reduced rate contributions. This is in line with Inland Revenue guidance that employers may consider it worthwhile to have arrangements in place to issue a periodic reminder to these employees. 1

This exercise was first completed in October 1997 and now occurs at the beginning of each financial year.

Musical Chairs

Mr. Maclean: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment if he will make a statement

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on the proposal to limit the practice of the game musical chairs in schools, included in the document "Towards a Non-violent Society: Checkpoints for Early Years", launched by the Minister for Employment, Welfare to Work and Equal Opportunities. [129084]

Ms Hodge: We oppose any suggestions that musical chairs should be banned. Musical chairs is a reasonable traditional game which has been enjoyed by children for generations and should continue to be so.

The publication "Towards a Non-violent Society: Checkpoints for Early Years" was produced by the Forum on Children and Violence. It was not guidance from my Department and was not produced, commissioned or distributed by the Department for Education and Employment. Although there are some useful tips in the document, the reference to musical chairs is not something we endorse. Newspaper reports suggesting otherwise were wrong.

Neo-natal Hearing Screening

Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment (1) what communication his Department has had with the Department of Health about developing the provision of language and educational support for children from zero to two years in preparation for the pilot project and the introduction of universal neo-natal hearing screening; [130099]

Ms Hodge: Discussions between DfEE and DH have taken place at both ministerial and official level about neo-natal hearing screening, including the consequential need for educational services. Similarly, both Departments are in regular contact with key organisations in this field.

The National Screening Committee advises Ministers on proposed screening programmes and follows set procedures for setting up pilot projects. These include establishing an executive group to represent the various interests to discuss and determine the practicalities of how the pilot projects will develop. When the National Screening Committee establishes an executive group for neo-natal hearing screening, it will include a representative from this Department.

A key function of the executive group and indeed of the pilot projects is to provide an opportunity to explore all the implications of neo-natal hearing screening. During this process both Departments will contact and discuss issues with all the relevant bodies.

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Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what research his Department has conducted into the language and educational benefits of neo-natal hearing screening and effective follow-up support for deaf children from zero to two years. [130103]

Ms Hodge: At this time the Department has not conducted any research in this area.

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