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Winter Fuel Allowance

25. Mr. Swayne: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what action he is taking to ensure all pensioners receive their Winter Fuel Allowance before the end of this winter. [136132]

Angela Eagle: In order to make appropriate Winter Fuel Payments to those newly eligible as a result of the changes made to the scheme following the Taylor ruling, we asked that a claims process be developed as a matter of urgency. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced details of the claims process on 11 April. In parallel an information campaign--which includes national and regional press advertisements, a telephone helpline, leaflets, posters and the internet--aims to make existing and potential customers aware of the changes and what action, if any, is required.

In May this year we also wrote to around 1.2 million people, identified by the Department as being newly eligible for the payments, inviting them to claim.

The information campaign will continue to ensure that customers are kept fully informed.

On current plans, all payments should be made before the end of this winter--the end of March 2001. However, the timing of payments made to those who have to claim will depend upon when the claims are received.

For this winter--all automatic payments will be made before Christmas as will those in respect of claims that were returned before 22 September. Claims will still be processed if they are received after 22 September but payment before Christmas cannot be guaranteed. Claims for this winter's payments must be made--where necessary--before 31 March 2001.

For past winters, people must make a claim for each winter for which they think they may now be eligible. As at 6 November, over one million people had chosen to make a claim for payments in respect of previous winters and nearly one million payments have already been issued to people whose claim was successful. Because claims in respect of past winters are not subject to a time limit, and we continue to receive them daily, it is not possible to state categorically that all will be made by the end of March 2001. It all depends on when people choose to make their claim.

34. Mr. Forth: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what percentage of men aged over 60 years will receive their winter fuel payments by March 2001. [136142]

Angela Eagle: For this winter, all automatic payments will be made before Christmas, as will those in respect of claims returned before 22 September 2000. Claims will still be processed if they are received after this date but payment before Christmas cannot be guaranteed. Claims for this winter's payments should be made before 31 March 2001. Because people who need to claim their payment this winter can do so up to the end of March 2001, it is not possible to estimate the percentage as requested.

For past winters, people must claim Winter Fuel Payments for each winter for which they think they may now be eligible. As at 6 November, the number of newly eligible men who have chosen to make a claim stands at around 950,000 and around 930,000 payments have

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already been issued in respect of successful claims. Because claims for past winters are not subject to any time limit, and we continue to receive them daily, it is not possible to estimate the percentage as requested.

Pensioners

26. Mr. Blizzard: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans he has to increase the income of pensioners who have modest second pensions. [136133]

Mr. Rooker: The Pension Credit will increase the incomes of those with modest second pensions, by ensuring that these savings are rewarded.

We published our proposals for the Pension Credit last week.

29. Dr. Julian Lewis: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement on poverty among pensioners living in rural areas. [136136]

Mr. Rooker: We know that many pensioners, including those living in rural areas, experience poverty. That is why we have a broad strategy, which includes raising the minimum income guarantee to £92.15 from next April, and an above earnings increase in the basic State pension.

33. Mr. Baldry: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what percentage of those of pensionable age receive no pension other than their State Retirement Pension. [136141]

Mr. Rooker: Just over 60 per cent. of pensioner families receive an occupational or other private pension on top of their State Pension. The remaining 40 per cent. do not, but many of them receive other income instead. in 1998-99, single pensioners in this group had an average net income of £117 a week although the basic State Pension was only £64.70; the figures for couples are £206 and £103.40 respectively. The State Earnings Related Pension Scheme (SERPS) plays a role in increasing State Retirement Pension above the basic State Pension.

Dr. Julian Lewis: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what assessment he has made of the impact on the standard of living of pensioners having awarded them an additional 75 pence per week. [136258]

Mr. Rooker: The increase in the basic State Retirement Pension in April 2000 was based on price inflation during the relevant period. The hon. Member will be aware that the living standard of the poorest pensioners was increased by raising the Minimum Income Guarantee by £3.45 for pensioners aged 60-75. However, pensioners will also receive a Winter Fuel Payment of £200 this year, which equates to just under £2 a week more than the previous year (when it was £100), and pensioners over age 75 will receive a free TV licence, which is worth a further £2 a week.

In addition, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has just announced a further package of measures for pensioners which, when taken together with changes already in place, will mean that next year, pensioner households will, on average, be £11 a week better off compared with 1997, with the poorest being at least £15 better off in real terms.

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Mr. Viggers: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what proportion of the amounts paid in benefits to pensioners are means tested. [136107]

Mr. Rooker: In 2000-01 an estimated 19 per cent. of benefits paid to pensioners were means tested. This compares with over 21 per cent. of benefits in 1996-97.

31. Mr. Wilkinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what recent representations he has received on pensioners' reactions to the Government's 75p per week pension increase. [136138]

Mr. Rooker: We have received numerous representations regarding pensions since the uprating statement in November 1999. These have come from pensioners, pensioner organisations, voluntary organisations and right hon. and hon. Members.

The Government have listened to these representations.

Savings

28. Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement on the extent to which the benefit system provides an incentive to those on low incomes to save. [136135]

Mr. Bayley: We have introduced a number of measures that demonstrate our commitment to rewarding those people who have worked hard and saved hard.

These include the new State Second Pension, and stakeholder pensions will give many more people the opportunity to build a good second pension; increases in the capital limits for the Minimum Income Guarantee from next April--benefiting half a million pensioners by £5 a week, on average; and our proposals for the new Pension Credit, from 2003, will specifically reward saving with a cash addition--benefiting 5½ million pensioners.

Benefits Administration

32. Mr. Pike: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what changes he proposes to make to the administration method in housing and council tax benefit cases. [136139]

Angela Eagle: We have already introduced measures to bring about improvements in housing benefit administration. Since April, all local authorities have had to set challenging targets to secure year on year improvements in performance standards for housing benefit delivery. Our Housing Green Paper, published in April 2000, set out a range of further proposals for modernising the system. We are currently studying the responses and will announce our decisions shortly.

Pensions (Self-employed)

35. Ms Keeble: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans he has to provide pension schemes for self-employed people. [136143]

Mr. Rooker: Self-employed people can currently contribute to a personal pension. From April 2001 they will be able to contribute to a stakeholder pension scheme, which will provide a flexible and low cost pension option for them.

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Pensioners (Rotherham)

37. Mr. MacShane: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many pensioners in Rotherham are eligible for (a) the winter fuel allowance, (b) a free television licence for over-75-year-olds and (c) the minimum income guarantee; and if he will make a statement. [136145]

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

Statistics on pensioners in Rotherham at May 2000
Thousand

Number
Minimum Income Guarantee recipients(34)2.8
Pensioners over 75 2 , 3 5.2
Winter Fuel Payments recipients in winter 1999-2000(37)13.4

(34) Source: Income Support Statistics Quarterly Enquiry, May 2000

(35) Source: Statistical samples held by ASD Information Centre--May 2000

(36) Number of pensioner households who will receive free TV licences is not directly known, but from the Statistical Samples it is possible to produce data on the number of pensioners receiving one or a combination of RP, IS, AA, DLA, IB or SDA by parliamentary constituency and are aged 75 or over.

(37) Source: Matching Intelligence Data Analysis Service Winter Fuels Payment 1999-2000 exercise.

Notes:

1. All except Winter Fuels Payment data are based on 5 per cent. samples, therefore subject to sampling error.

2. Figures have been rounded to the nearest 100.

3. Cases are allocated to each parliamentary constituency by matching the postcode against the 2000 version 1 of the Postcode Directory supplied by ONS.



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