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Child Support

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) if he will estimate when the Child Support Reforms New Rules Implementation computer system will (a) have completed full systems testing, (b) be fully operational, (c) deal with new cases assessed under the new formula and (d) deal with existing cases which are transferred onto the new formula; [43362]

Malcolm Wicks [holding answer 14 March 2002]: I refer the hon. Member to the statement made to this House by my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State, on 20 March 2002, Official Report, columns 315–16.

Employment Zones

Mr. Clappison: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many personal job accounts have been established as part of the Employment Zone scheme since its introduction in April 2000. [47931]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: The personal job account is the amount spent on a participant in step 2 of the Employment Zone process. Step 2 is the stage at which a costed action plan, developed in step 1, is implemented and the participant undertakes their concentrated jobsearch.

Between April 2000 and January 2002, 46,399 Employment Zone participants had moved from step 1 to step 2.

Mr. Clappison: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many jobseekers have been provided with (a) mobile phones, (b) driving lessons and (c) financial assistance to buy a motor vehicle as part of (i) the Employment Zone initiative and (ii) the Action Teams for Jobs scheme. [47925]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: The information requested is not available and could be provided only at disproportionate cost.

Higher Education

Hywel Williams: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what discretion local Benefit Agency offices have to discount the availability of student loans when assessing income support for part-time students pursuing higher education courses. [47615]

Malcolm Wicks: Since a student loan is intended to help towards everyday living costs it is taken into account as income. However, before the weekly income is assessed, £319 of the annual loan is disregarded towards the cost of travel and £260 towards the cost of books and

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equipment. In addition, any grants made specifically for these costs are disregarded in full. Once the weekly loan income has been calculated a further £10 a week is disregarded.

Local offices do not have any discretion to discount student loans as income when assessing entitlement to any income-related benefit. However as part-time students generally receive an annual loan of £500, which is below the amounts allowed for travel, books and equipment, the loan will normally be disregarded in full.

If a student loan is available, it is taken into account regardless of whether it has been applied for or received. If a loan is not available, a student must provide evidence to that effect.

Pension Credit

Dr. Kumar: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) what will be the average gain per person for pensioners benefiting from the new pension credit; [48579]

Mr. McCartney: I refer the hon. Member to the booklet, "The Pension Credit: the Government's proposals" which sets out how pension credit will work. A copy is available in the Library.

Subject to successful passage of the State Pension Credit Bill, pension credit will be introduced in October 2003. About 4.1 million pensioner households (over 5 million pensioners) will be eligible. On average they stand to gain around £400 a year.

Pension credit will ensure a guaranteed minimum income for those aged 60 and over so they need not live on less than £100 a week (£154 a week for pensioner couples). It will also ensure that pensioners no longer lose a pound in their benefit for every pound of pensions or other savings they have built up. From age 65 pension credit will give pensioners a cash addition of 60p for every £1 of income they have above the level of basic state pension up to a maximum of £13.80 week (£18.60 a week for couples). Pensioners with incomes up to £135 a week (£200 a week for couples) will benefit.

The housing benefit and council tax benefit schemes will be modified at a cost of £450 million a year to ensure that people who gain from pension credit do not lose those gains because of knock-on effects. As a consequence, almost 1.9 million pensioner households will be entitled to more help, or entitled to help for the first time, with their rent or council tax from October 2003.

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Private Finance Initiative

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what estimate he has made of the total savings to public funds of the Private Finance Initiative contract for the Employment Service IT Partnership by comparison with a non-Private Finance Initiative alternative. [49658]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: The savings to public funds were estimated to be £64 million (net present value) over the 10 year life-span of the contract with Electronic Data Systems. These savings were based on the comparison of the estimated costs of continuing to provide the service in-house and were forecast on the basis of planning assumptions known at the time the contract was let.

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many Private Finance Initiative projects have been subject to refinancing after the contracts have been signed; and what has been the financial effect in each case. [50287]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: None.

Winter Fuel Payment

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will estimate the number of people who had to make a claim for the 2001–02 winter fuel payment; and of that number how many failed to do so by 31 March. [50990]

Mr. McCartney: For winter 2001–02, an estimated 500,000 people became newly entitled to a Winter Fuel Payment. At least 255,00 of these people were paid automatically.

Exact numbers of people who need to claim are not available. However, by the deadline of 30 March, around 220,000 claims forms have been received. It is up to the individual to choose whether to claim.

Jobcentre Plus

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to transfer responsibility for the administration of local authority benefits to Jobcentre Plus offices. [52084]

Malcolm Wicks: We are encouraging Jobcentre Plus and local authority managers to build on the framework of liaison and service level agreements that already exist. This will help to ensure the efficient administration of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit, which is so important for many of the people using our services, not least in helping the transition to work.

New Deal

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many people employed by the non- departmental public bodies for which he is responsible under the New Deal for Young People in each of the last four years have subsequently (a) found unsubsidised employment for more than 13 weeks and (b) returned to jobseekers' allowance or other benefits. [49598]

Mr. McCartney: The Department sponsors 11 non- departmental public bodies. Of these, only four employ people. The Disability Rights Commission, the

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Occupational Pensions Regulatory Authority and the Pensions Ombudsman employ around 430 people between them. Many of these have been employed because of their particular expertise in their field. Remploy employs over 10,000 people, the majority of whom are disabled people in supported employment.

None of these bodies has employed anyone under the New Deal for Young People in the last four years.


Special Advisers

Mr. Burns: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, how many times special advisers have accompanied Ministers on overseas visits in each of the last five years; which countries were visited; and what the total cost of each individual visit was. [47143]

Ms Rosie Winterton: Since May 1997, the expert adviser for the Lord Chancellor's Department has accompanied a Minister overseas only once. On that occasion the Lord Chancellor, a senior Departmental official, the expert adviser, and a private secretary went to Brussels on official business. The total cost of the visit for the whole party was £1,670.00. All travel by special advisers is undertaken in accordance with the rules set out in the Ministerial Code and the Civil Service Management Code.

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