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Jobcentre Plus

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) if he will make a statement on the Jobcentre Plus computer system; and when he expects it to be fully operational in the new offices; [14034]

Mr. Nicholas Brown [holding answers 12 and 13 November 2001]: The information technology systems being used in the Jobcentre Plus pathfinders are based on the systems currently in use in the Benefits Agency and

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Employment Service, with enhancements to enable the Jobcentre Plus process to be carried out. All of these systems are currently operational.

We are investing in order to upgrade and replace the Department's outdated computer systems. We want to ensure that all people, including those who use Jobcentre Plus, can receive a modern service. The new and improved IT we are developing will allow us to capture the necessary information from people face-to-face or over the telephone, instead of getting them to fill in multiple benefit claim forms. And we will be able to offer on-the-spot calculations of by how much a person would be better off if they took a particular job. We will be replacing the main income support and jobseeker's allowance benefit processing systems and modernising the payment system so as to improve the efficiency of the service we provide.

Public Service Agreement Targets

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) if he will make a statement on the public service and service delivery agreements developed in the corporate serving directorate of his Department in 2000–01; [19265]

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Mr. Nicholas Brown: The 2001 departmental report, Cm 5115, sets out our progress against the public service targets. The 2002 report will set out our progress in the current financial year.

Housing Benefit Help Team

Mr. Kirkwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) in which local authorities the housing benefit help team has intervened since its creation; and when; [19507]

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Malcolm Wicks: The help team initiative is a voluntary partnership between central and local government. The team only visits local authorities which request its assistance, and works with these authorities to identify ways of improving their housing benefit administration.

The help team's visits started on 12 March 2001 and to date the team has visited Hull during March and April; Bristol during May and June; Lambeth during July and August; Northampton during August; Derwentside during September and October; and East Ayrshire during October and November. The team spent around four to five weeks at each local authority, apart from Northampton, where the visit lasted around two weeks.

At the conclusion of an initial visit, arrangements can be made for the help team to remain in contact by telephone and give informal advice, or for members of the team to undertake short return visits. Such return visits have taken place at Hull, Bristol and Lambeth, and one is planned for Northampton in mid-December.

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on the cost in (a) 2000–01 and (b) 2001–02 of the Expert Help Team set up to assist in the improvement of housing benefit delivery. [19008]

Malcolm Wicks: Separate figures are not available for 2000–01 as the help team visits did not start until March 2001. The total forecast costs for the project until March 2002 are £970,000.

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