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Maria Eagle: The number of disability living allowance (DLA) recipients with deafness as their principal disabling condition has increased by around 200 per cent. (8,700 to 26,500) since 1993, twice the increase in the overall caseload over the same period. More generally the number of people getting DLA is increasing by some 3 to 5 per cent. each year. Estimates of and research into the take up of DLA are not routinely undertaken, but the take-up of the benefit is kept under general review.
Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps he is taking to ensure that disability living allowance medical reports based on assessments in which (a) a deaf examinee was not
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provided with communication support or (b) the examiner was not experienced in the problems of deaf people are set aside. 
Maria Eagle: Arrangements exist for the rescheduling of a medical assessment if a claimant has not previously indicated the need for an interpreter, but it later transpires that the assessment cannot proceed without one. The same would apply should there be a need for communication support for a deaf claimant.
Current training for examining doctors already includes instructions to assess comprehension of speech and reaction to noise. It also includes instructions to take into account the effects of background noise when assessing hearing. A trainer-led module on sensory problems has been prepared, with help from RNID and other voluntary organisations to deliver to examining doctors.
Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will amend the Decision Making and Appeals Regulations so that appeals from deaf claimants which are heard without the requisite communication support can be set aside by a tribunal chair. 
Maria Eagle: Regulation 57 of the Social Security and Child Support (Decisions and Appeals) Regulations 1999 only allows set aside in limited circumstances. These are where a document relating to the proceedings was not sent or received or a party to the proceedings was not present at an oral hearing. A chairman may also set aside where there have been procedural irregularities or mishaps. In addition, under section 13(2) of the Social Security Act 1998, if a person applies for leave to appeal to a Commissioner, the tribunal chairman (or another legally qualified panel member) can set aside the tribunal's decision and remit the matter for redetermination provided he considers that the original decision was wrong in law. That would include where he considered that there had been a breach of natural justice, for example, where the evidence showed that the appellant was not able to hear or understand what was being said at an oral hearing.
Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will ensure that the Appeals Service is prepared to fund appropriate communications support for deaf applicants to hold preliminary meetings with their representatives in such appeals. 
Maria Eagle: Last year the Appeals Service commissioned the Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID) to undertake a disability audit of service provision. To improve customer service a strategic plan has been implemented to tackle the issues identified. We are seeking to ensure diversity issues are taken into account and successfully managed in each area of the agency, as part of normal business.
For those with hearing difficulties, "typetalk" and induction loops are available. Induction loops are now in most permanent venues, and plans are in place to ensure that all permanent venues have this equipment by 31 March 2002. For deaf appellants who require communication support, a British Sign Language interpreter is made available where appropriate.
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The Appeals Service does not fund advice or any communications support in advance of the tribunal hearing. This is often provided by welfare organisations, some of whom are already supported by central or local government, prior to an appeal being heard.
Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will ensure that each disability benefit centre within the Disability and Benefits Covers Directorate works towards accreditation with the Royal National Institute for Deaf People's 'Louder than Words' Charter. 
Maria Eagle: We are working with the Royal National Institute for the Deaf, to review those offices within the Disability and Carer Benefits Directorate that have achieved accreditation in the past and to prepare those offices which are working towards it.
Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will ensure that all those making decisions on awards of (a) disability living allowance and (b) attendance allowance receive appropriate training in (i) deaf awareness and (ii) related problems for those wishing to claim benefits. 
Maria Eagle: Training for new Decision Makers (DM) includes material on hearing impairment with information on how hearing occurs, sound frequency and volume. It also makes reference to British Sign Language and lip reading.
A programme of specialist training on people with hearing difficulties is currently being delivered to all DMs throughout the organisation. The "Understanding our customers" module includes material on living with a hearing impairment. There are training courses in place covering "Dealing with vulnerable groups" and "Deaf and hard of hearing", the latter run on our behalf by the Royal National Institute for the Deaf.
Mr. Prosser: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to review the rules relating to the pensions and benefits of people who stay in hospital for more than six weeks. 
Mr. Prosser: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) what estimate he has made of the annual costs to his Department of reducing the pensions and benefits of people who have long stays in hospital caused by delayed transfer in those cases where the Department is late in being notified that the stay exceeded six weeks; 
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Mr. McCartney: The Benefits Agency's administration costs are published in the Benefits Agency annual report and accounts 200001, copies of which are available in the House of Commons Library. The costs are not classified by individual tasks.
Mr. Prosser: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what proposals he has to (a) alleviate the administrative burden and (b) reduce the delays that pensioners leaving hospital following a stay of more than six weeks face when seeking to restore their pensions and benefits to former levels. 
Mr. McCartney: The benefit is restored to the appropriate level when the Benefits Agency receives notification of the pensioner's discharge from hospital. This is part of normal procedures and we have no evidence to suggest there is a widespread administrative burden.
Jeff Ennis: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many individuals in each of the last 10 years have applied for a formal determination of their national insurance contributions by the Secretary of State. 
The figures for the number of individuals who have applied for a formal determination about their national insurance contributions by the Secretary of State for Social Security during the last 10 years are not held.
Mr. Denis Murphy: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the average cost is of processing an application for disability living allowance when it is resolved following (a) receipt of the applicant's completed claim pack, (b) a medical examination in the home, (c) an appeal to a medical appeal tribunal and (d) an appeal to the independent tribunal service. 
Maria Eagle: The average cost of processing a new claim for disability living allowance (DLA), based on a claim pack only, is £33.65. Where a medical examination is carried out in the claimant's home, the average cost is £87.39. All appeals against DLA decisions are dealt with by disability appeals tribunals. The total average cost of a DLA appeal is £253.60 of which £168.00 is attributable to the tribunal service.
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