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Local Reference Rent

Mr. Kirkwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) in how many and which registration areas the Rent Service uses administrative boroughs to determine the locality by which the local reference rent is ascertained; [27418]

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Malcolm Wicks [holding answer 15 January 2002]: Our priorities for housing benefit are to drive up standards of service, tackle fraud and error, reduce barriers to work and tackle social exclusion. In support of these aims we want to ensure that housing benefit does not provide a disincentive to work by subsidising accommodation which a person could not otherwise afford. That is why housing benefit for rented accommodation in the deregulated private sector is restricted to the broadly average rent level for similar sized properties in a locality (the local reference rent).

Our policy is that local reference rents should reflect the generality of the market and must therefore be based on a geographical area large enough to take account of the bigger picture, reflecting a broad choice of housing.

Rent officers use their professional expertise and judgment to determine the size and boundaries of localities. Using fixed boundaries, such as local authority areas, would not necessarily reliably reflect the market. Moreover, market forces mean that, over time, the size and shape of localities will change. Information on those localities which happen to be co-terminous with local authority areas at a particular point in time is not collected.

The Court of Appeal in its recent judgment Regina (Saadat and others) v. The Rent Service took the view that the locality used by the rent officer to calculate a local reference rent was larger than that needed reliably to decide such a rent. The formula arrived at by the court under the order then in force runs counter to our intention that localities should be based on broad geographical areas. The application of this formula could also have led to a large increase in the number of localities nationally, making it impractical to operate, resulting in delays for people claiming benefit and putting an extra burden on local authorities.

We therefore acted swiftly to introduce amending legislation in the Rent Officers (Housing Benefit Functions) (Amendment) Order 2001, SI 3561 which now defines locality in a way which reflects Rent Service good practice. These amendments are designed to ensure that our policy is achieved and to restore certainty. They are not designed to change the way in which localities and local reference rents are decided or to widen the definition of localities so that they increase in size. The position for people claiming housing benefit is therefore unchanged, irrespective of the affluence of the area in which they live.

The Department wrote to the local authority associations on 1 November 2001, four days before the order was laid before Parliament, outlining the nature of the proposed amendments. No representations were received in the intervening period. There is no statutory requirement to consult the Social Security Advisory Committee about proposals to make orders, but the

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committee was informed of the proposed amendments, as a matter of courtesy, at the same time as we wrote to the associations.

Benefit Recipients

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will estimate the number of people who will, in October 2003, be in households in receipt of one or more of (a) pension credit, (b) housing benefit, (c) council tax benefit, (d) child tax credit, (e) working tax credit, (f) income support and (g) income-related jobseeker's allowance. [27689]

Mr. McCartney: The estimated number of people receiving one or more of the following: pension credit, housing benefit, council tax benefit, income support and income-related jobseeker's allowance in 2003–04 is 6.9 million. Numbers of people expected to receive child tax credit and working tax credit are not available as the rates and thresholds have not yet been set.

Market Research

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what expenditure has been incurred by his (a) Department, (b) agencies and (c) non-departmental public bodies in each of the last four years on (i) opinion polling, (ii) focus groups and (iii) other forms of market research; and if he will list the surveys commissioned and the purpose of each. [27939]

Mr. McCartney: This information is not held centrally and could be provided only at disproportionate cost.

Regulatory Impact Assessments

Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many regulatory impact assessments have been produced by his Department since August 2001; and if he will list those produced (a) following initial consultation with affected parties about the most appropriate methodology for assessing costs and other impacts and (b) which set out full commercial impacts, including profitability, employment, consumer prices and competitiveness, as recommended in Good Policy Making. [28405]

Mr. McCartney: The Department has published one regulatory impact assessment (RIA) since August 2001. This related to the Disability Discrimination (Providers of Services) (Adjustment of Premises) Regulations 2001 which come into force on 1 October 2004. A copy of the RIA is available in the Library. No other regulations introduced in this period impact on business.

This RIA is based on one published in April 1999 on which full public consultation took place. Although no specific reference to commercial impacts was made in the RIA in that consultation, respondents were asked to suggest ways in which the assessment of costs, benefits

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and impact on small organisations could be improved. They were also asked for more general comments about the assessment and possible improvements to it.

I refer the hon. Member to the written answer my hon. Friend, the Cabinet Office Parliamentary Secretary gave on 17 January 2002, Official Report, column 483W, about the advice on RIAs contained in the Good Policy Making guide.

Winter Fuel Allowance

John Barrett: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many men aged 60 to 64 years have claimed the winter fuel allowance in Scotland; what percentage this represents of the total number of men aged 60 to 64 years who are eligible for the allowance; broken down by local authority area in Scotland; and if he will provide this information for each winter from 1997 to date. [29706]

Mr. McCartney: The information is not available in the format requested.

Hospital Stays

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, pursuant to his answer to the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), on 14 January 2002, Official Report, column 43W on hospital stays, if he will provide corresponding estimates for 2000–01 for other benefits affected by the rules; and if he will provide a breakdown in each case between pensioners and non-pensioners. [28676]

Mr. McCartney: The information requested is in the table:


Working agePension ageTotal reduction
Total reduction in benefit due to 6–52 weeks hospital downrating
Incapacity benefit6n/a6
Severe disablement allowance304
Total reduction in benefit due to 52 weeks hospital downrating
Incapacity benefit8n/a8
Severe disablement allowance19*221
Total reduction in benefit due to benefit being withdrawn after 4 weeks in hospital
Disability living allowance102232
Attendance allowancen/a8080
Invalid care allowance303


1. The information has been obtained from a number of administrative sources and a number of assumptions have been made, ie numbers marked * are taken from a small number of sample cases and are subject to a relatively high sampling error and should only be used as an indication of the current situation and it has been assumed that figures in a given quarter remain constant throughout the year.

2. Figures are rounded to the nearest million so total may not sum.

3. It is not possible to provide accurate total reductions for income support, housing benefit, or council tax benefit.

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