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Staff (Local Elected Representation)

Mr. Jenkins: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many members of staff at his Department are locally elected democratic representatives; and if he has a strategy for his Department to encourage members of staff to become locally elected democratic representatives. [44539]

Ruth Kelly: Information on whether staff are locally elected democratic representatives is not held centrally. Staff who are representatives of bodies covered by Section 50 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 are allowed 10 days paid special leave to undertake their duties.

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Inland Revenue Customer Call Centres

Mr. Swayne: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what targets are in place at Inland Revenue contact centres in respect of the time taken to answer to customer telephone inquiries; and if he will make a statement. [44702]

Dawn Primarolo: Inland Revenue contact centres work to the following targets for call handling:

An attempted call is counted each time a customer dials the contact centre number.

Mr. Swayne: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the policy of the Inland Revenue is with respect to providing customers with direct line numbers for inquiries to customer call centres; and if he will make a statement. [44699]

Dawn Primarolo: Ten million PAYE taxpayers have new Inland Revenue contact centres as their first point of telephone contact. By July 2002 this number will have grown to 15 million (50 per cent. of PAYE taxpayers).

For these taxpayers, where there is ongoing correspondence with an individual tax officer or inspector, a direct dial number will be provided so that the customer can make contact with the individual concerned. Unsolicited calls are handled by the contact centre, which provides a local rate number to customers.

Mr. Swayne: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what mechanisms exist to establish whether sufficient telephone lines are in place at Inland Revenue customer call centres to handle the volume of customer telephone inquiries. [44700]

Dawn Primarolo: Staffing levels of the first five of Inland Revenue taxpayer contact centres were based on analysis of an experimental IR contact centre opened in 1998 in East Kilbride. Statistical analysis of call volumes there was used to inform the rollout programme.

The number of advisers is intended to allow the centres to meet targets on all but 15 days each year using a mixture of full and part time staff. Resource teams in each office match staff resources to the predicted call volumes.

On the 15 days where excess volumes are anticipated, calls are overflowed to customer service units in local offices.

Mr. Swayne: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what targets exist at Inland Revenue contact centres for the time taken returning customer calls; and if he will make a statement. [44701]

Dawn Primarolo: Where a customer has raised a query that cannot be handled by the Inland Revenue contact centre they have contacted, the call will be passed to an officer in the service office to resolve the inquiry. Where that is not possible, or where further research is required, the target is to return to the customer within one working day. This will be extended if

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In these situations a different time scale would be agreed with the customer.

Business Regulations

Mr. Flight: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what recent representations he has received from groups representing business and commerce regarding the burden of regulation and taxation on businesses. [44690]

Dawn Primarolo: As is normal in the run up to the Budget, the Government have received a number of representations from business organisations.

Mr. Flight: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if it is a goal of his policies to improve United Kingdom productivity that the burden of regulation on business should fall. [44724]

Mr. Boateng: The Government are committed to ensuring that regulations are fair and effective, so that they protect the vulnerable but do not stifle enterprise or productivity.

The Government have significantly strengthened the systems that control the regulatory burden. In February the Cabinet Office announced the "Government's Action Plan for Regulatory Reform" which included 260 reforms, with over 60 expected to make use of the Regulatory Reform Act.

National Insurance

Mr. Flight: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what assessment he has made of the number of people who would pay more in national insurance contributions if the ceiling on Class 1 contributions were aligned with the higher rate tax threshold. [44687]

Dawn Primarolo: Around 3¾ million people would pay more in national insurance contributions on an average weekly basis during 2002–03 if the Class 1 ceiling were aligned with the income tax higher rate threshold. This estimate was provided by the Government Actuary's Department.

Mr. Flight: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what assessment he has made of the revenue implications of removing the upper earnings limit on employee national insurance contributions. [44688]

Dawn Primarolo: I refer the hon. Member to my reply to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) on 1 March 2002, Official Report, column 1573W.

Mr. Willetts: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what has been (a) the maximum and (b) the average underpayment to pensioners adversely affected by NIRS2 since its introduction. [42516]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: I have been asked to reply.

The maximum underpayment of retirement pension caused by the NIRS2 problems is not known. The average underpayment to the small percentage of pension claims that have been affected by NIRS2 problems since June 1998 is £339. The arrears have been paid in nearly all the affected cases along with compensation, where appropriate. The NIRS2 computer is now stable and the difficulties caused to pensioners and other benefit claimants by the delayed implementation of some of the functions are now almost resolved.

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Mr. Flight: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he intends to reform the requirement to purchase an annuity at the age of 75 years. [44723]

Ruth Kelly: I refer the hon. Gentleman to my answer of 4 March 2002, Official Report, column 9W.

Tax Law Rewrite Project

Barbara Follett: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what further developments there have been as a result of the Tax Law Rewrite Project. [46550]

Dawn Primarolo: The Tax Law Rewrite Project continues to make good progress. At the end of this month it will be publishing its thirteenth Exposure Draft, containing draft clauses on foreign income and property income.

The project is also currently working on an Income Tax Bill rewriting the provisions on employment income, pension income and taxable social security benefits. In preparation for that Bill, this year's Finance Bill will included some small amendments to the tax legislation on employment income. Copies of this draft Finance Bill legislation will shortly be published on the project's website.

Copies of the Exposure Draft and the draft Finance Bill legislation will be placed in the Library as soon as they are available.

Preston Case

Ian Stewart: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the tax treatment of settlements between employers and employees to implement the House of Lords decision in the Preston case. [46642]

Ruth Kelly: The Preston judgment means that many employers must give all their part-time employees and certain of their ex-employees, retrospective access to membership of their occupational pension schemes from April 1976 or in some cases later. The employers concerned have a responsibility to settle with their employees and ex-employees how this should be achieved in each case. There are outstanding cases before Employment Tribunals which are designed to determine how employers and employees should meet their liabilities.

Where employees are entitled to membership rights in an occupational scheme in respect of past periods of employment, the normal rules about tax relief on contributions continue to apply. That is:

In some cases, employers and employees may prefer to agree on lump sum settlements rather than additional membership rights in occupational schemes. In these

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cases, the lump sums are not taxable as income under schedule E but will be liable to capital gains tax subject to the normal annual exemption.

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