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Housing Benefit

Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) what statistics are collected (a) nationally and (b) by region, on the time it takes to process housing benefit; [99865]

Angela Eagle: The Audit Commission in England and Wales, and the Accounts Commission in Scotland, collect and publish data annually for all local authorities administering housing benefit. This includes data on the number of claims determined within 14 days. Data are also collected and monitored by this Department. The Benefit Fraud Inspectorate is responsible for reporting to the Secretary of State on the administration of housing benefit by local authorities.

Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans he has to bring the housing benefit service within the Best Value Framework. [99868]

Angela Eagle: A comprehensive range of best value performance indicators for the delivery of housing benefit was included in the recent joint Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions and Audit Commission consultation exercise ("Performance Indicators for 2000-01"). Indicators will be finalised by the end of 1999 and will cover the key aspects of local authorities' performance in delivering housing benefit. We are committed to driving forward improvements in the benefit services authorities provide so that they are faster, more accurate and more secure while also achieving value for money and taking account of the views and needs of local people.

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Mr. Kirkwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when he expects to introduce measures to reform housing benefit. [99011]

Mr. Stephen O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement on the timetable for bringing forward his proposals for housing benefit reform. [99901]

Angela Eagle: We intend to publish a Housing Green Paper in due course. This will present proposals for housing benefit within the overall strategy for housing.

Students (Benefits)

Mr. Llwyd: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) what benefits are available to students who are (a) pregnant and (b) single mothers; [100121]

Angela Eagle: Most full time students are not eligible to claim income-related benefits--their primary source of financial support comes from the education system. However, certain students in vulnerable groups, for example lone parents or disabled students, can claim these benefits.

A full time student is not eligible to claim an income-related benefit on the grounds of her pregnancy. However, students who are also working and earning at least £66 a week may qualify for Statutory Maternity pay from her employer, or Maternity Allowance from the Benefits Agency.

If she or her partner were in receipt of Income Support, income based Jobseeker's Allowance, Working Families Tax Credit or the Disabled Person's Tax Credit she would be able to claim a Social Fund Maternity Grant payment.

During the last three months we have received a small number of letters concerning students, their incomes and benefits.

Departmental Estate

Ms Roseanna Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) what his estimate is of the value of land and property held by his core Department (a) in Scotland and (b) in total; [99820]

Angela Eagle [holding answer 26 November 1999]: In early 1998 all of the Department's land and property throughout the UK, both freehold and leasehold, was transferred to the private sector under two separate Private Finance Initiative contracts. We now no longer own nor hold any land or property. Instead serviced office accommodation is purchased from our two private sector partners, Trillium and the Newcastle Estate Partnership.

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Under the PRIME contract, assets related to the properties were transferred to Trillium. The Department, however, retains a relatively small amount of low value property related assets in the Newcastle Estate.

The total net book value of all fixed assets held by the Department's Executive Agencies at 31 March 1999 is as follows:

Benefits Agency34,220,000
Child Support Agency7,327,000
War Pensions Agency1,035,000
Information Technology Services Agency25,153,000

For the Department's Independent Statutory Bodies, valuation information is being developed as part of the implementation of resource accounting. This information is currently being audited. The first set of resource accounts will be published in respect of 1999-2000.

Inter-departmental Group

(Poverty and Social Exclusion)

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how frequently the inter-departmental group that met to advise on the report from his Department, "Opportunity for All, Tackling Poverty and Social Exclusion" (Cm 4455), will meet in future, with representatives of which Departments, under what terms of reference, and with what involvement of representatives of voluntary and community organisations. [100724]

Mr. Bayley: In preparing "Opportunity for All", our first annual report on its strategy for tackling poverty and social exclusion, all relevant Government Departments met frequently to discuss the report. We are currently considering the terms of reference and membership for the inter-departmental group that will steer the second report.

Disability Living Allowance

Mr. Hammond: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans he has to allow people with severe and enduring mental illness, who have been discharged from hospital and whose circumstances remain unchanged, to claim Disability Living Allowance and severe disablement premium without having to complete any additional forms. [99877]

Mr. Bayley: Scope already exists for Disability Living Allowance (DLA) claimants discharged from hospital on a long-term or indefinite basis to have their benefit reinstated on a weekly basis, providing they notify the DLA unit of their discharge, and providing there is no change to their care and mobility needs. Reinstatement cannot however be automatic; much will depend on the circumstances of the individual case. For example, a person who has been discharged from hospital may have greater or lesser care needs than they had before they were admitted and this could alter the rate of benefit to which they are entitled.

We recognise the special problems that people with mental health problems face when dealing with the benefits system. We are currently looking at different ways of gathering information necessary to deal with claims for DLA that will place less reliance on lengthy

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forms, allow more face to face contact with claimants, and develop a system which is more sensitive to the needs of individual disabled people. As part of this, we have been working with organisations representing people with mental health problems to address particular concerns about DLA periodic inquiries. Discussions have been constructive, and are being taken forward in a revised approach, which we believe should lead to an improved service for such people.

Invalid Carer's Allowance

Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many recipients of invalid carer's allowance are estimated to have earnings per week of (a) 0-£10, (b) £10-£20, (c) £20-£30, (d) £30-£40 and (e) £40-£50; and how many carers who would otherwise be entitled to invalid carer's allowance are estimated to have earnings per week of (i) £50-£60, (ii) £60-£70, (iii) £70-£80, (iv) £80-£90 and (v) £90-£100 or earnings in other ranges for which estimates are available. [99921]

Mr. Bayley: The information is not available.

Pension Scheme Trustee Boards

Ms Atherton: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans he has to improve the representation of pensioners on the trustee boards of pension schemes. [99999]

Mr. Rooker: We believe that member trustees add value to pension schemes, and want to increase their coverage.

Our priority is to ensure that schemes have member- nominated trustees, and that members have a fair say in determining the arrangements for appointing them.

The consultation document, "Strengthening the Pensions Framework", which was issued in December 1998, made a number of proposals on member-nominated trustees, including a proposal that large mature schemes should be required to reserve a place on the trustee board for a pensioner member. Responses showed widespread support for the principle of member trustees, but concern about the practical implications of some of the proposals, including that for a reserved place for a pensioner member in large mature schemes.

In the light of the concerns, we set up a working group with the pensions industry and other representative bodies to review the proposals. A further consultation document with revised proposals was issued on 7 October 1999.

The changes we are proposing do not require schemes to have a pensioner trustee, but will ensure that pensioners are given a fair say in the procedures.

Responses to the revised proposals were mostly very encouraging, and we plan to legislate in the forthcoming child support, pensions and social security Bill.

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