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Mobility Allowance

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions for what reason medical checks in respect of mobility allowance are carried out on a person who has a medically confirmed condition that will not improve; and what plans there are to change this system. [45893]

Maria Eagle: Entitlement to the mobility component of disability living allowance is based on the effects of a disabling condition and not the condition itself. Even where a condition remains unchanged, the effect on a person's ability to walk, or the help they need from other people when out and about, can change over time for a number of reasons, including medical treatment, therapy, or how the person adapts to their disability.

When considering entitlement to either care or mobility components of disability living allowance, the decision maker may request a report based on an examination by a specially trained Medical Services doctor. This is not primarily about diagnosis, but is intended to obtain an expert view of the disabling effects of the condition. The decision maker will consider this, along with any other evidence about their needs supplied by the disabled person, their medical attendants, carers or others with relevant information, to decide whether the relevant statutory provisions relating to entitlement are satisfied.

There is a substantial programme of work to modernise the administration of disability living allowance. This includes work to ensure that medical evidence is utilised as efficiently as possible.

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on eligibility for mobility allowance. [45891]

Maria Eagle: Mobility allowance was replaced by the mobility component of disability living allowance in 1992. The mobility component, which comprises a lower rate and a higher rate, is primarily to help people who are severely disabled early in life.

To qualify for the lower rate claimants must be aged five or over, and must be so severely disabled physically or mentally that they cannot take advantage of the faculty of walking out of doors without guidance or supervision from another person most of the time. To qualify for the higher rate claimants must be aged three or over, and must be so severely physically disabled that they are unable to walk or virtually unable to walk.

Approximately 1.5 million severely disabled people currently receive the higher rate and some 0.5 million receive the lower rate of the mobility component.

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how often medical checks are carried out to ensure a person is still eligible for the mobility allowance. [45892]

Maria Eagle: The former mobility allowance is now the higher rate mobility component of disability living allowance (DLA). Assessment of a DLA claimant's medical condition occurs at the time of the initial claim, and at any subsequent review of entitlement. A review normally occurs when a decision is being made on a renewal of benefit in the case of limited-period awards;

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or where the recipient themselves requests a review; or under the rolling programme of periodic review of long awards.

Jobcentre-Plus Offices

David Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) how many incidents of verbal abuse or damage to office equipment occurred in (a) 1999–2000 and (b) 2000–01 in branches of the Employment Service; [45506]

Malcolm Wicks: I refer the hon. Member to the answer given to the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) on 13 March 2002, Official Report, column 1118W.

Pension Service

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) what advice on pensioner benefits will be available in Jobcentre Plus offices following the introduction of the Pension Service; [45694]

Mr. Nicholas Brown [holding answer 21 March 2002]: The Pension Service will offer an improved service for both today's and future pensioners. There are no plans to outsource customer inquiries.

The new organisation, and in particular the local service will take time to build. In the mean time all of our current arrangements for face-to-face contact will continue to apply.

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In terms of the staff who will provide face-to-face advice, we are still determining precise numbers and the ratio of contact centre staff to local service staff. Final decisions have yet to be taken on where local service staff will be located. However numbers will reflect the needs of local communities and will not be assigned by local authority area.

Staff will be trained to identify potential entitlement to other benefits and will refer customers on as appropriate.

Retirement Ages

Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if the distinction between working and retirement ages constitutes the watershed between the respective responsibilities of the new Jobcentre Plus and Pensions Agency services; and what arrangements are being made to ensure that officers of either agency can handle client queries which do not fully match the division of administrative responsibilities. [44265]

Mr. Nicholas Brown [holding answer 20 March 2002]: The Pension Service and Jobcentre Plus will operate within a single Department.

The Pension Service will offer an improved service for pensioners. It will be customer focused and will give pensioners a modern, personalised, efficient service designed to meet their needs. It will also provide information for future pensioners to help them make decisions about their future pension arrangements.

Jobcentre Plus will provide work-focused benefit and other services to people of working age, and services such as New Deal 50 plus to people above retirement age who are looking for work.

Arrangements will be in place between the agencies to cover specific cross-cutting issues, such as access to the social fund by people above retirement age, and access to the minimum income guarantee by men aged between 60 and 64. To ensure that levels of service are maintained, officials will be provided with contact details across both agencies, and in the Department's other businesses, to ensure that customers are dealing with the right part of the Department for the service they require regardless of the route by which they first approached it.

Accounting Standards

Mr. David Stewart: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment he has made of the implementation, time scale and content of accounting standard FRS 17 and its effects on standard and final salary pension schemes. [45264]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: Accounting standards are a matter for the Accounting Standards Board which is independent of Government. There are many factors affecting occupational pension provision including longer life expectancy and falling stockmarkets. It is not possible to isolate the effects of FRS 17 from these other factors.

Legal Aid

Mr. Frank Field: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has for the re-introduction of legal aid in respect of civil claims for personal injuries and disease cases. [44992]

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Ms Rosie Winterton: I have been asked to reply.

The Access to Justice Act 1999 excludes most personal injury claims from the scope of Community Legal Service funding. However funding is still available for personal injury claims against public authorities which allege serious wrongdoing, such as child abuse claims and actions against the police. A personal injury claim may also be funded if it has a significant wider public interest. Support funding remains available for exceptionally expensive cases. Public funding is also available for clinical negligence cases, as we recognise that costly investigative work is necessary for these cases to be brought.

We believe that conditional fee agreements provide a suitable alternative to public funding for those personal injury cases excluded from the scope of the Community Legal Service scheme, and we have no plans to re-introduce public funding for those cases.

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