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Mr. Goggins: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many additional households are entitled to the Winter Fuel Payment as a result of (a) eligibility being extended to men aged 60 to 64 years and (b) the inclusion of other groups of people not receiving a state pension or other benefit. 
Mr. Darling: An estimated 900,000 households will be newly eligible for a Winter Fuel Payment this winter. Of these, an estimated 850,000 contain a man aged 60-64 and a further 50,000 contain someone of pensionable age who is not in receipt of a State Pension or other qualifying benefit.
Following a ruling by the European Court of Justice, on 16 December 1999, we changed the conditions of eligibility for the Winter Fuel Payment scheme. In essence, the scheme was extended and Winter Fuel Payments became payable to men as well as women from age 60, and the need to be in receipt of a qualifying benefit was removed.
Mr. Goggins: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many people over the State Pension age (a) have no entitlement to the basic State Pension and (b) are not entitled to the full value of the basic State Pension. 
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Mr. Darling: An estimated 460,000 people of pensionable age in Great Britain have no entitlement to the basic State Pension. A further 890,000 people in receipt of the basic State Pension are not entitled to the full value of the Category A pension (in the case of men and single women) or the full Category BL rate (in the case of married women).
1. Estimates are based on a 5 per cent. sample and are therefore subject to sampling error.
2. Estimates are rounded to the nearest 10,000
Pension Strategy Computer System at 31 March 2000.
Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security, pursuant to his answer to the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) of 31 October 2000, Official Report, columns 349-50W, (a) how many people have been sent letters inviting them to apply for the Minimum Income Guarantee and of these (i) how many tear-off slips have been returned and (ii) how many of the letters have resulted in a successful claim and (b) how many people have contacted the Minimum Income Guarantee helpline and as a result (i) how many claims have been submitted as a result of a helpline inquiry and (ii) how many of the helpline inquiries have resulted in a successful claim. 
Mr. Rooker: Around 500,000 pensioners have requested claim forms or contacted the Minimum Income Guarantee helpline. The campaign is still in progress so comprehensive data are not yet available on the complete number of successful claims awarded. Of those processed half have been successful.
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pensioners who have started to receive the Minimum Income Guarantee as a result of his Department's current take-up campaign. 
Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what assessment he has made of the reasons for the fall (1) in new Housing Benefit claims determined within the statutorily required period of 14 days between 1998-99 and 1999-2000; and what plans he has to halt this decline; 
(3) in new Council Tax Benefit claims determined within the statutorily required period of 14 days, between 1998-99 and 1999-2000; and what plans he has to halt this decline. 
Angela Eagle: Recently published summary statistics for Great Britain indicate that the number of claims for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit that have been determined within 14 days has fallen. We are determined to secure improvements in Housing Benefit administration and have introduced a number of measures which will help to achieve this.
We have set Best Value performance indicators from this April designed to ensure that authorities provide their communities with a faster, more accurate Housing Benefit service which is more secure against fraud, and which provides value for money and takes account of the views and needs of clients. Authorities are required to set challenging targets against these indicators and demonstrate that they are achieving year on year improvements in the standard of service they provide.
The Benefit Fraud Inspectorate is conducting an ongoing programme of inspections of local authorities, encouraging them to develop action plans to improve administration and tackle fraud and error. Best practice guidance, developed through this programme, has been made available to all local authorities. As at 3 November 2000, the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate had published reports on over 70 local authorities. We have made it abundantly clear to all local authority Chief Executives that where the Inspectorate finds evidence of persistent failings, we will use our powers to direct the authority as to the improved standards it is to attain and the timescales for achieving them. We issued the first such Directions in August 2000.
We are making better use of IT to speed up administration and reduce the scope for fraud and error. Many millions of paper forms previously sent by the Benefits Agency to local authorities through the post are now sent electronically, significantly reducing the time taken just to transfer information.
We have made significant progress. Our Housing Green Paper, published in April, set out how we can take this further. We are currently studying the responses to the Green Paper and will announce our decisions shortly.
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Mr. Brady: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what estimate he has made of the amount of Housing Benefit which is currently owing to housing associations as a result of delays in the administration of Housing Benefit. 
Angela Eagle [holding answer 6 November 2000]: We keep in touch with the National Housing Federation about Housing Benefit owed to the tenants of housing associations and other registered social landlords. However, the Department does not hold information on the amount of benefit which might be involved. We are currently looking at what further steps might be taken to improve the administration of Housing Benefit.
Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many people have been eligible for the maternity payment and the Sure Start maternity grant, and how many people have received each of these benefits, in each month since May 1997. 
|Sure Start maternity grant|
1. Maternity payment figures May 1997 to March 1998 may contain very minor inaccuracies because of computer programming parameters.
2. Figures from April 1998 to September 2000 represent the number of initial awards plus the number awarded on appeal, reduced by the number of payments returned to the Department.
3. Maternity payments and Sure Start maternity grants must actually be claimed in order for an award to be made, therefore details of those who might have been eligible but did not claim are not available.
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