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Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many people have contacted the minimum income guarantee helpline since the new advertising campaign began; how many application forms have been sent out to people who have telephoned the helpline; how many application forms have been returned; how many people have had their minimum income guarantee payments increased after returning a completed application form; how many people are in receipt of minimum income guarantee for the first time as a result of returning a completed application form; and if, pursuant to his written answer to the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), of 14 June 2000, Official Report, column 654W, he will provide this information broken down into five year age bands. 
Mr. Bayley: Around 60,000 claim forms have been returned. Around half of the claim forms that have already been processed have been successful and these claimants are now receiving the Minimum Income Guarantee.
Mr. Bayley: Currently, 1.46 million pensioners in receipt of the Minimum Income Guarantee have declared they hold capital below £3,000. From next April, the lower capital limit will be increased to £6,000. That will benefit some 70,000 pensioners who will not have any of their savings taken into account.
Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will set out, for pensioners in receipt of the Minimum Income Guarantee, the rate of interest assumed on savings of £3,000 to £8,000 in £1,000 bands, incorporating the effect of disregarding the first £3,000 of savings. 
Mr. Bayley: The basis for the Department's calculation of tariff income in the income-related benefits, with a system of graduated deductions between lower and higher limits, was established with the introduction of Income Support in 1988. It was not intended to represent any return that could be obtained from investing capital and hence is not based on any particular rate of return. A tariff income of £1 per week is assumed for each £250, or part thereof, held between the appropriate lower and upper limits 1 .
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Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what assessment he plans to carry out of (a) the performance of local authorities in the administration of Housing Benefit and (b) the commitments in each authority's Best Value performance plan. 
Angela Eagle: We are determined to drive up the standards of Housing Benefit administration and have introduced a number of initiatives, like Best Value and the Verification Framework, which are designed to promote improved performance. We have a number of measures in place to monitor closely the progress authorities are making towards better service delivery.
The Benefit Fraud Inspectorate has an ongoing programme of inspection of Housing Benefit administration and reports on the performance of each of the local authorities it inspects. As at 27 October 2000, and since its inception in 1998, the Inspectorate has completed and published reports of 72 inspections. A further 47 inspections are in progress or planned.
With the introduction of Best Value, from April this year, the Inspectorate will also carry out inspections which will consider whether local authorities are complying with the requirements of the Best Value framework. In addition, a number of Best Value performance indicators relating to Housing Benefit have been introduced. These will allow us to assess how well authorities are carrying out their benefit administration and whether they are delivering the continuous improvement which Best Value requires.
Best Value also requires each local authority to publish an annual performance plan in which they must set themselves realistic, but challenging, targets for improvement. Auditors review whether the plans have been prepared and published in accordance with the statutory guidance and whether the systems in place are adequate for producing accurate information. Where they are concerned about a performance plan, the auditors can recommend that a Best Value inspection is undertaken.
Angela Eagle: There are a number of safeguards in place to prevent Housing Benefit from meeting the full contactual rent where it is excessive or includes charges for services that do not relate to the provision of adequate accommodation. In addition Housing Benefit is an income-related benefit, and entitlement therefore takes account of other income available to those claiming it. The principal restrictions on Housing Benefit entitlement are:
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Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what estimate the Government have made of the likely number of pension-sharing orders that will be made (a) in the financial year 2000-01 and (b) the following financial year. 
Mr. Rooker: Pension-sharing will provide a fair option for divorcing couples who wish to share their pension rights. However, it is up to the courts and divorcing couples to decide what use they make of this option.
The number of pension-sharing orders in the current financial year is likely to be negligible. Best estimates for the year 2001-02 are that about 20,000 pension-sharing orders may have been made by the end of that financial year, but this will depend on judicial decisions.
Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement on (1) measures for increased co-operation in pensions matters at EU level in the context of Com (2000) 622 which it is his policy to support; 
Mr. Rooker: We welcome the steps the Commission is taking to encourage co-operative exchange on the sustainability of pension systems. We will take this opportunity to underline the major advantages of the UK pensions model and of our approach to pension reform.
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