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Stakeholder Pensions

Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on compliance by small and medium enterprises with stakeholder pension notification arrangements. [64290]

Mr. McCartney: Firms with five or more employees are required to designate a stakeholder pension scheme for their staff, unless exempted from doing so because they provide an occupational scheme for their work force or allow their staff access to a personal pension scheme to which the employer makes a contribution of at least 3 per cent. of the employee's basic pay. Part of this designation process involves consulting relevant employees prior to selection of a scheme and then notifying them of the name and address of their designated stakeholder pension scheme. They must also allow representatives of the designated scheme reasonable access to their employees in order to supply them with information about the scheme. The Occupational Pensions Regulatory Authority (Opra), which has responsibility for regulating compliance with all aspects of the designation process, has received no specific reports of firms failing to notify employees of their stakeholder arrangements. However it is a matter that they sometimes come across on following up a report alleging non-designation. Reports to Opra tend to be of a general nature rather than alleging a specific breach of one part of the designation requirement. To date Opra has received 361 reports alleging lack of workplace access to a stakeholder pension scheme, of which 327 have been resolved.

Figures on designations of stakeholder pension schemes are not broken down by size of company. However the majority of employers required to designate a stakeholder pension scheme for their work forces are small to medium enterprises. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has reported that around 322,000 of those 350,000 employers estimated as required to do so had designated a stakeholder pension scheme for their staff by the end of March 2002. This represents a compliance rate of around 90 per cent.

Overseas Residents (Benefits)

Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will list in chronological order each reciprocal bilateral agreement involving the UK for the vertical payment of social security benefits, indicating restrictions on their payment in full to beneficiaries resident abroad. [64291]

Malcolm Wicks: The main purpose of such reciprocal agreements is to protect the social security position of workers moving between the two countries during their working lives. They prevent employees, their employers and the self-employed from having to pay social security contributions to both the home state and the state of employment at the same time and ensure that such workers' rights to certain benefits are maintained. They vary to some extent from country to country depending on the nature and scope of the other country's social security scheme. Generally, they cover contributory benefits in respect of the following contingencies: sickness, invalidity, unemployment, retirement, bereavement and industrial injuries. Workers who have contributed to both countries schemes during their working lives can usually

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receive an old age pension from each country which reflects the proportionate amount of their insurance in, or contributions to, each country's scheme.

The reciprocal bilateral social security agreements involving the UK are as follows:

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Jobseeker's Allowance

Mr. Rooney: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if it is possible for jobseeker's allowance claimants to have their records removed from the Department computer system. [64870]

Malcolm Wicks: Procedures are already in place to ensure that customer records are routinely deleted from the jobseeker's allowance computer system where they have been inactive for four years. There are important business reasons for retaining customer information for this period, for example, because these records may be needed to support Inland Revenue tax rebates.

Any information recorded by the Department must be factually correct. If a person believes that we have recorded inaccurate information about them, they should in the first instance approach the Department to request its amendment or removal.

Pensioner Poverty (Stroud)

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many pensioners have been lifted out of poverty in the Stroud constituency since 1997. [65009]

Mr. McCartney: Poverty and social exclusion are complex concepts, affecting many aspects of people's lives; including their living standards, health, housing and quality of environment. The third annual report, "Opportunity for All—Making Progress" (CM 5260), sets out the Government's strategy for tackling poverty and social exclusion and presents the latest information on the indicators used to monitor progress against this strategy. A copy is available in the Library.

The minimum income guarantee (MIG) was introduced in April 1999 to provide money for the poorest pensioners as quickly as possible. 2,600 pensioners are receiving the MIG in the Stroud constituency.

To ensure that all pensioners share in rising prosperity, the basic state pension has risen by £3 a week for single pensioners and £4.80 for couples on top of above-inflation increases last year. This is in addition to the introduction of winter fuel payments, currently £200 per household, made to 22,100 pensioners in the Stroud constituency and free TV licences for the over-75s.

City and County of Swansea Council

Clive Efford: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions when he will publish the inspection report of the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate in respect of city and county of Swansea council. [65665]

Malcolm Wicks: The Benefit Fraud Inspectorate's (BFI) report on the city and county of Swansea council was published today and copies of the report have been placed in the Library.

This follow-up inspection report shows that the council has progressed from being a poorly performing authority in 1999 to one that was now performing to a satisfactory level in most areas.

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The first inspection found that Swansea had struggled to administer housing benefit and council tax benefit effectively and that a backlog of work had built up. However, the follow-up inspection found that the council had taken steps to address the recommendations in BFI's first report, which had reduced the level of outstanding work.

BFI's first report stated that the council's counter fraud performance was suffering due to a lack of management control. Inspectors found that this had improved at the time of the follow-up inspection and Swansea was committed to the personal and collective development of the investigation team.

Swansea administered some £59.1 million in housing benefits in 2000–01.

The report makes recommendations to help the council address weaknesses and to improve the administration of housing benefit and council tax benefit, as well as counter fraud activities.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is now considering the report and will be asking the council for its proposals in response to the findings and recommendations of the BFI.

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