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12 Nov 2001 : Column: 574W
Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, pursuant to his answer of 24 October 2001, Official Report, column 242W, on pensions, if he will provide quarterly figures on the sales of personal pensions for the last five years. 
|Time period||Number of personal pension and Group Personal Pension contracts sold|
1. Figures sourced from the Association of British Insurers.
2. The figures include both single premium and regular premium pensions. They do not include additional voluntary contributions.
Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment he has made of the feasibility of using the administrative mechanisms that he uses to ensure that women receive their retirement pension as
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soon as they reach 60 years to allow him to pay winter fuel payments to women who reach 60 years after the qualifying date but before the end of the winter. 
Mr. McCartney: Using a qualifying week allows us to gather and verify household information in order for payments to be made in time for the coldest weather. To do otherwise could compromise our ability to make timely payments to more elderly recipients.
Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many people have responded to the recent winter fuel payment advertising campaign; and what steps have been taken to evaluate the effectiveness of the campaign. 
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Mr. Nicholas Brown: The first 49 Jobcentre Plus offices opened on 22 October providing, for the first time, a fully integrated employment and benefit service. First reactions from both individual customers and employers have been overwhelmingly positive. We plan progressively to extend this integration nation-wide beginning later next year.
Mr. Chaytor: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many (a) cases were referred to OPAS, (b) complaints about OPAS were referred to the Pensions Ombudsman, (c) other complaints were referred to the Pensions Ombudsman and (d) complaints were upheld by the Pensions Ombudsman in respect of (i) OPAS and (ii) others and (e) complaints were rejected by the Pensions Ombudsman in each of the last three years. 
|Year ended 31 March 1999||Year ended 31 March 2000||Year ended 31 March 2001|
|Inquiries and complaints received by OPAS||30,984||32,174||36,322|
|(7,176 written)||(7,304 written)||(8,415 written)|
|Inquiries and complaints received by the Pensions Ombudsman||3,067||3,269||3,215|
|Inquiries and complaints rejected by the Pensions Ombudsman as not suitable for investigation(19)||2,395||2,594||2,409|
|Complaints upheld by the Pensions Ombudsman to some extent(20) (percentage)||59||49||39|
(19) Most rejections are because the case is not within jurisdiction (eg referred to a different ombudsman) or because the matter has not been fully explored with the body complained against, or because OPAS has not been given an opportunity to resolve the matter. The complainant receives a decision in almost all cases which are within jurisdiction and where the matter has been explored/OPAS consulted.
(20) As a percentage of those investigated.
Complaints about OPAS are not within the Pensions Ombudsman's jurisdiction and no specific records are kept of complaints made about OPAS and rejected, but if people are unhappy with the result of inquiries made by OPAS they can refer the matter to the Pensions Ombudsman.
Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions which Jobcentre Plus offices provide the facility for benefit claims to be made over the telephone; what length of time he estimates such telephone calls to take; and who is responsible for paying for the calls. 
Mr. Nicholas Brown: Customers making new and repeat claims in all of the 15 Jobcentre Plus areas that have been operating since 22 October are encouraged to make initial contact with Jobcentre Plus by telephone. During this call the member of staff will collect initial details about the customer, and subsequently send them the appropriate claim forms. We estimate that the phone call should take no longer than 20 minutes. Customers are told the expected call length at the beginning of the call and can request they are called back by the member of staff.
Mr. Clappison: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many of the new Jobcentre Plus offices (a) have been risk assessed and (b) are awaiting risk assessment to determine the necessary level of security to be employed following the removal of glass screens. 
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Mr. Clappison: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions at what level of risk assessment it will be deemed necessary to provide a Jobcentre Plus office with security staff; and how many security staff he expects will be employed in Jobcentre Plus offices in the next 12 months. 
Mr. Nicholas Brown: Decisions on whether individual offices require security staff have been made on the basis of the recommendations of the risk assessments carried out in each office. Currently, 78 security staff are in place in 28 offices. Further risk assessments are shortly to be carried out in all Jobcentre Plus offices, in the light of experience of their actual operation. Further deployment of security staff will be decided in the light of the recommendations of these assessments.
Mr. Clappison: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what consultation with Benefits Agency staff was undertaken before the decision to remove glass security screens from new Jobcentre Plus offices; and what were the results of such consultation. 
Mr. Nicholas Brown: Jobcentre Plus management have been involved in lengthy discussions nationally with the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union regarding the layout and furnishings of the new Jobcentre Plus offices including in respect of the Risk Assessment process. Local PCS representatives have also been consulted about the safety arrangements in each of the new Jobcentre Plus offices, including in respect of local Risk Assessments. There have also been frequent and regular communications direct with staff in both the Benefits Agency and the Employment Service.
Mr. Clappison: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions who is responsible for carrying out risk assessments in the new Jobcentre Plus offices; and if this process is subject to reassessment following (a) appeal from office staff and (b) review at designated time intervals. 
Mr. Nicholas Brown: Risk assessments in Jobcentre Plus offices were carried out by specialist staff employed by the Employment Service and the company Land Securities Trillium which is responsible for the Benefits Agency estate.
Mr. Clappison: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what his Department's estimate is of the costs involved in equipping all new Jobcentre Plus offices with (a) CCTV, (b) panic alarms and (c) security staff. 
Mr. Nicholas Brown: The estimated additional costs in respect of these measures in the new Jobcentre Plus pathfinder offices are currently in the order of £1 million£2 million, which represents a mix of one-off and continuing costs.
Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many Jobcentre Plus offices have opened (a) with and (b) without protective screens; and what contingency plans the Government have to ensure that claimants who live in areas affected by industrial action continue to receive their benefit entitlement. 
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Mr. Clappison: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what personal safety advice has been given to Jobcentre Plus staff following the removal of glass security screens in new offices. 
Mr. Clappison: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions according to what criteria new Jobcentre Plus offices will be risk assessed; and what protection will be offered to staff in offices determined to be high risk. 
Mr. Nicholas Brown: Risk assessments for each of the new Jobcentre Plus offices have been carried out within the framework of a generic risk assessment which was developed earlier in the year in consultation with staff representatives. This generic risk Assessment recommended a wide range of potential risk control measures which risk assessors used as a basis for completing risk assessments at each Pathfinder office. The list of control measures set out in the generic risk assessment is not prescriptive and assessors were free to make whatever recommendations were appropriate to each office.
Drawing on those assessments, and following consultation with local trade union health and safety representatives, a series of extra security measures have been introduced. These include wide coverage by closed circuit television; training for staff in how to handle difficult situations; better management in each office to avoid difficult situations building up; panic alarms; and more visible and effective security guards. Additionally, in each pathfinder area there are screened facilities to deal with individuals and parts of the business which pose a greater risk.
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