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Mr. Dismore: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department when he expects benchmark costs arrangements to commence and for what types of case; if benchmark costs will cover pre-litigated cases; what progress is being made in relation to fixed costs for fast track cases; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Lock: The Department has no intention or powers to introduce benchmark costs. However, I understand that the Senior Costs Judge is currently undertaking consultation on a draft scheme for certain short and routine applications in civil proceedings. The first round produced a list of applications which might be suitable. A second round of consultation (incorporating figures for localities and grade of fee earner) is now taking place.
The Government have an open mind on the introduction of fixed costs in the fast track but no current plans to seek their introduction. Any changes to the way in which the costs regime operates should not limit the effectiveness of conditional fee agreements and other innovative methods of funding and insuring litigation.
Mr. Rooker: Pensioners with modest occupational pensions will have gained from some or all of the extra increases in basic state pension, tax allowances and minimum income guarantee, together with winter fuel payments and free TV licences.
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25. Mr. Purchase: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what changes have been made to the social security system to help pensioners with small occupational pensions in the last year. 
Pensioners with small occupational pensions will have gained from some or all of the extra increases in the basic state pension, tax allowances and minimum income guarantee, together with winter fuel payments and free TV licenses.
Sir Nicholas Lyell: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many Winter Fuel Payments have been claimed in (a) 1997, (b) 1998, (c) 1999 and (d) 2000; how many have been paid to date; how many remain outstanding; what is the total amount of money as yet unpaid in respect of each year; and what proportion of eligible pensioner households have claimed such payments in each year. 
Following the European Court decision, we decided to equalise the age--at 60--from which Winter Fuel Payments could be made. Also, the need to be in receipt of a qualifying benefit was removed. As a result, up to 1.5 million people, mostly men aged 60-64, became newly eligible for the winter of 2000-01. Up to 1.9 million people could also be newly eligible for payments for the first three winters of the scheme. Most of these newly eligible people need to make a claim.
For this winter, over 1 million claims have been made and paid, and over 11 million payments have been made overall. Claims for this winter continue to be received and processed, and payments made. For past winters, 1 million payments have been made so far.
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Mr. Rooker: Our record speaks volumes. Around two million of the poorest pensioner households are now at least £15 a week, or £800 a year, better off in real terms as a result of Government measures since 1997. That's a real terms rise in living standards of at least 17 per cent.
Mr. Bayley: We think it is right that some account should be taken of pensions which duplicate the purpose of Incapacity Benefit--to provide some replacement of earnings. The changes will not affect people in receipt of Incapacity Benefit on the date change, 6 April 2001, and will not affect four in five people who become eligible for Incapacity Benefit after this date. Of the people affected, nearly half will have pensions which will take them above the national average income.
As well as making this change we will provide greater support and security through such initiatives as our carers' package of extra help worth £500 million over three years, the Disability Income Guarantee that will help the poorest severely disabled adults, and families with severely disabled children, the increase in the disabled child premium in income-related benefits, the extension of Incapacity Benefit to people disabled early in life who have not had the opportunity to earn and pay National Insurance contributions and the extension of Disability Living Allowance higher rate mobility component to three and four-year-old children.
Angela Eagle: The Welfare State has always used means-tested benefits as part of a complementary mixture of provision alongside contributory and universal benefits. Each plays a part in meeting people's needs. Spending on income-related benefits amounted to 34 per cent. of overall benefit expenditure in 1997-98. Next year we expect this proportion to decrease to 29 per cent.
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Angela Eagle: In preparing for the child support reforms, the Agency is providing improved telephone access over longer hours and face to face interviews where this is the best way of dealing with inquiries.
Improved information technology will allow staff from across the Department to share information and the Agency will be making use of the internet to provide another information gateway for customers.
Angela Eagle: The new child support scheme will be introduced for new cases by April 2002. Existing cases will be transferred to the new scheme at a later date once we are sure that the new scheme is working well. Changes in the levels of assessment will be phased in.
29. Mr. Leigh: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what representations he has received from financial institutions in relation to the purchase of annuities at the age of 75 years. 
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