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Council Tax Benefit

Mr. Dobbin: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans he has to make the payment of council tax benefit and housing benefit faster and more efficient. [101367]

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Angela Eagle: We are committed to driving forward improvements in the benefit services authorities provide so that they are faster, more accurate and more secure whilst also achieving value for money and taking account of the views and needs of local people. A comprehensive range of best value performance indicators for the delivery of Housing and Council Tax Benefit was included in the recent joint DETR and Audit Commission consultation exercise ("Performance Indicators for 2000/2001"). Indicators will be finalised by the end of 1999 and will cover the key aspects of local authorities' performance in delivering Housing and Council Tax Benefit.

A number of initiatives are also currently being developed and implemented in partnership with local authorities to improve the efficiency and speed of Housing and Council Tax Benefit delivery.

Remote Access Terminals are now installed in 346 local authorities. These terminals provide the authorities with direct access to relevant benefit information held by the Benefits Agency and contribute towards reducing the time it takes to process Housing and Council Tax Benefit claims.

The Department has now completed piloting the Electronic Transfer of Data in 20 sites. This initiative, if implemented nationally, will remove the need for approximately 20 million paper transactions each year between Benefit Agency and local authority offices, while reducing transfer time to two working days.

Child Benefit

Mr. Luff: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will instruct the child benefit centre to write to all recipients of child benefit reminding them of their right to claim benefit in cash from their local post office; and if he will make a statement of his policy on encouraging benefit payments to be made by direct transfer to a local bank account. [101327]

Mr. Rooker: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave the hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb) on 1 December 1999, Official Report, column 238W.

We do not intend to take active steps to move customers on to automated credit transfer (ACT) before 2003. Until then, the Department will continue, in the normal way, to provide customers with the information they need on benefit payment options, and customers will continue, as now, to be able to choose between payment by order book at post offices and payment by ACT.


Dr. George Turner: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will estimate (a) the numbers of those resident in North-West Norfolk who will or would benefit from and (b) the full-year cost to his Department of delivery to those people of (i) the increase in the basic state pension (1) as announced and (2) if it had been raised this year in line with the rise in earnings, (ii) the minimum income guarantee for pensioners, (iii) the £100 payment for pensioner households and (iv) the free television licence for those over 75 years. [101380]

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Mr. Rooker: The information requested is not available at Parliamentary constituency level.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is responsible for introducing the free television licence for the over 75s.

Benefits (Method of Payment)

Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) in preparing for the transfer of benefits business from the Post Office to banks, what agreement has been reached with the banks to manage their branch operations consistent with the special needs of low income customers; [101607]

Mr. Rooker: We have decided to move to automated credit transfer (ACT) from 2003 as a modern, more secure and efficient method of paying benefits. The Department will be arranging discussions with the banking industry on issues surrounding benefit recipients, charges and other matters in due course.

Savings Limits

Mr. Cousins: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if the value of suspended or party-paid endowment plans is taken into account in the calculation of savings for the savings limits in means-tested benefits. [101401]

Mr. Bayley: The surrender value of any policy of life insurance, including these types of policy, is disregarded in the assessment of entitlement to means-tested benefits (Income Support, Jobseeker's Allowance, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit).

PRIME Contract

Mr. Field: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will place a copy of the PRIME contract in the Library. [101841]

Angela Eagle: The PRIME contract contains not only technical data but also information of a commercially confidential nature. It is therefore subject to a confidentiality agreement between the Department and the contractor, Trillium. The Department will, however, take the matter forward with Trillium, with a view to obtaining an acceptable solution to the publication or disclosure of the document.

Mr. Field: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) if the PRIME contract with Trillium allows his Department to sub-let immediately surplus parts of the estate above the 2 per cent. per year which his Department is allowed to vacate without charge; [101842]

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Angela Eagle: Now that the Department no longer owns any freehold accommodation, and has transferred the risk of all former leasehold properties to Trillium, we can no longer sub-let to the open market. We believe, however, that we have negotiated sufficient flexibility with this contract to meet our changing business needs.

On 1 April 1998, at the outset of the PRIME contract just under 30 per cent. of the total estate (some 1,644,089 square metres including surplus space) was designated "flexible". This is accommodation which we are entitled to vacate over the course of the contract without charge.

Up to 2 per cent. of this flexible space can be released each year with any unused allowance being carried forward until required. In addition to this, a further 10 per cent. of the total estate can be vacated subject to a charge, to cover Trillium's "unavoidable costs".

Having already given back to Trillium some 10 per cent. of the estate that was surplus to requirements on day one of the contract, we effectively have a package in place that will allow us to vacate half of the entire estate.

In the first year of the contract, however, only 1 per cent. of our flexible accommodation was returned to Trillium, so that we now have some 3 per cent. available for release this year. The current indication is that we will return around 0.5 per cent. before April, so, with the roll over allowance, we could feasibly give back 4.5 per cent. of space to Trillium in the third year of the contract.

The Department is, therefore, well within the flexibility allowance. If a situation arose where we were ever in a situation that we had used up all flexibility in the contract, we could still attempt to return space to Trillium by negotiation or offer it to other Government Departments.

Money Purchase Plans

Mr. Cousins: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what the total value of money purchase plans presented for annualisation or income drawdown plans was in (a) 1990, (b) 1997 and (c) 1998; and what value is estimated for (i) 1999, (ii) 2000 and (iii) 2004. [101844]

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

The total value of lump sums used to purchase pension annuities or income drawdown plans is given in the following table. The information does not distinguish between money purchase and other pension plans which are presented for annuitisation or income drawdown. The information on annuity purchase is only available from 1991 and the income drawdown information from 1996. No projections for future years are available.

£ million
New single premiums for pension annuitiesNew single premiums for income drawdown plans


Association of British Insurers (ABI)

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Mr. Clappison: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he plans to reply to the Question of 17 November (ref 98578) from the hon. Member for Hertsmere. [101696]

Dr. Reid: I replied to the hon. Member yesterday, 6 December 1999, Official Report, columns 365-66W.

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