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Winter Fuel Payments

Mr. David: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what progress has been made in discussions with the European Commission about winter fuel payments being available to people in EEA countries. [72209]

Mr. McCartney: We have now concluded our discussions with the European Commission with regard to the extent of the UK Government's responsibilities under European law. As a result, generally EEA nationals who first qualify for a Winter Fuel Payment in the UK and currently reside in another EEA country may now be entitled to Winter Fuel payments. We will publicise the change, and give details of the claims procedure.

Child Support Agency

Mr. Hepburn: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) what plans he has to introduce further measures to give the Child Support Agency power to take action against parents not paying their rightful alimony; [67043] (2) what action he will take to provide further support to single parents whose former partners are avoiding paying their rightful contribution to their child's upbringing. [67044]

Malcolm Wicks: The purpose of the child support reforms is to ensure that more children receive the maintenance that is their right.

To achieve this, the Government has legislated, in the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Act 2000, for a new child support scheme. This is simpler than the

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current scheme. This reduction in complexity will translate into fewer resources being required for initial and further assessment of cases, enabling more resources to be put into ensuring that liabilities are enforced.

To support the Child Support Agency in its administration of the new scheme, a new IT system is being built. The new scheme will only be introduced when the technical backup necessary to make a success of the scheme is in place. The combination of modern technology, informing the staff of the Child Support Agency of a failure to pay maintenance, and the Agency having more resources to act on that information, should ensure that maintenance due to children is paid.

In further support of the new scheme, to deter those seeking to avoid their responsibilities, section 13 of the Act created two new criminal offences, of failing to give information and of knowingly giving false information. Conviction for either of these offences carries fines of up to £1,000. The provision has been in force since last year.

Mr. Burns: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions when he expects to introduce the changes to the CSA; and if he will make a statement. [70799]

Malcolm Wicks: I refer the hon. Gentleman to the statement made to the House on 20 March 2002 by my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State (Mr. Darling), Official Report, columns 315–324W.

Decision Making

Mr. Doran: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions when he will publish his report into the standards of decision making in the Benefits Agency, Child Support Agency and Employment Service for 2000–01. [72210]

Maria Eagle: The report has been laid before Parliament today (HC 1017).

This is the first report under the new decision making and appeals system introduced by the Social Security Act 1998. It covers the period 1 April 2000 to 31 March 2001, the first full year of operation of the new regime. The report shows variable standards in performance. As the report explains, steps have been taken to improve performance in all areas.

Post Office (Cash Payments)

Mr. David Stewart: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what actions his Department is taking to promote the use by benefit and pension recipients of cash payments from post offices from 2003 onwards. [70847]

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Malcolm Wicks [holding answer 18 July 2002]: I refer my hon. Friend to the written answer I gave the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Brian Cotter) on 11 June 2002, Official Report, column 874W.

Mr. David Stewart: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what estimate he has made of the percentage of benefit and pension recipients who will wish to collect their benefit moneys (a) in cash from a post office and (b) by ACT payments in (i) 2003, (ii) 2004, (iii) 2005, (iv) 2006 and (v) 2007. [70848]

Malcolm Wicks [holding answer 18 July 2002]: Between 2003 and 2005 we will move to paying all benefits and pensions direct into bank accounts ("automated credit transfer" or ACT). Already over 40 per cent of customers are paid this way.

Even where a customer is paid directly into an account, they can still collect their cash at the post office, either through existing Network Banking arrangements between Post Office Ltd and several banks or, from 2003, through universal banking services at post offices. We have not estimated how many customers will choose to access their accounts at post offices, but research suggests that many will do so.

Pension Inquiry

Mr. Wiggin: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions when the recently started pension inquiry will be completed; and if he will make a statement on the methodology of this inquiry. [68993]

Ruth Kelly: I been asked to reply.

The information requested falls within the responsibility of the National Statistician. I have asked him to reply.

Letter from John Pullinger to Mr. Bill Wiggin dated 9 July 2002:
The National Statistician has been asked to reply to your Parliamentary Question on the pension inquiry. I am replying in his absence. (68993)
The National Statistician announced the review of pension contribution statistics in a statement on 2 July. The terms of reference, which have been placed in the House of Commons Library, state that the review should be completed by the end of September 2002.
The objectives of the review are:
To establish what information is needed, in terms of frequency, scope and quality, and to advise on the best available data.
To comment specifically on the quality, coverage and methodology of the range of sources of private pension contribution statistics available.
To advise on how this data should be presented.
To recommend appropriate action. The panel will include representatives from ONS, industry, academic experts, the Department for Work and Pensions, Inland Revenue, HM Treasury and the Government Actuary's Department.

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Pensions Schemes

Mr. Caton: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to support defined benefit occupational pension schemes with taxation breaks. [69996]

Ruth Kelly: I have been asked to reply.

The Government keeps all taxes under review as part of the normal Budget process.

The Government already provides very generous tax relief to encourage saving in pensions for retirement, including upfront income tax relief and tax-free lump sums on retirement, at a cost to the Exchequer of over £14 billion a year.

Council Tax

Mr. Coleman: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to adjust arrangements for council tax benefit restriction (a) thresholds and (b) caps in 2003–04. [68889]

Malcolm Wicks: I refer my hon. Friend to the reply given to him on 19 December 2001, Official Report, column 383W.

Consultation Documents

Mr. Don Foster: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will list the public consulations undertaken by his Department since 1997, indicating for each consultation (a) if copies were available online, (b) if copies were available in print, (c) the date the time period given for responses opened and (d) the date the time period given for responses closed. [69802]

Dr. Iddon: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how long the Department allowed for consultation on each consultation document it published in 2001 in (a) electronic and (b) printed form. [70083]

Malcolm Wicks: The Government's code of practice applies to written consultations which have a national impact on policy and services from January 2001. The Department for Work and Pensions came into being in June 2001. All copies of consultation documents are published online on both the Department for Work and Pensions and UK Online websites. Paper copies are also available.

The Department for Work and Pensions follows the Cabinet Office's guidance on written consultation that sets 12 weeks as the standard minimum period for a consultation. The table lists the consultations the Department has begun, or completed since 8 June 2001. There were two occasions where shorter consultations have been conducted, and the reasons for this are included in the table. All the Department's consultations are published electronically with paper copies available.

Title of consultationStart dateEnd DatePeriod in weeks Reason for shorter consultation
Changes to Invalid Care AllowanceJuly 2001July 200112
Amending the Vaccine Damage Payments Act 1979July 2001July 200112
The Minimum Funding Requirement: The next stage of reform. Consultation on the draft Occupational Pension Schemes (Minimum Funding Requirement and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2001 (Occupational Pensions Minimum funding requirements)September 2001September 200112
Occupational Pension Scheme Winding up Notices and Reports (etc) Regulations 2001August 2001October 200112
Occupational and Personal Pension schemes (Disclosure of Information) Amendment Regulations 2001August 2001November 200112
Private Pensions SimplificationOctober 2001January 200214
Bulk transfer of accrued pensions rights without member consentDecember 2001March 200213
Revised code of practice on for gathering of information as required in Social Security Fraud Act 2001April 2002April 20022 weeksThis was a follow-up to a previous exercise to which minor technical changes were introduced.
Consultation on Three Recommendations in the Myners' report—"Institutional Investment in the UK—a review."February 2002May 200212
Member nominated trustees and directorsFebruary 2002March 20024 weeksThe shorter period was needed to fit into a regulatory timetable.
Measuring Child PovertyApril 2002July 200212
Occupational Pensions Regulatory Authority (OPRA) quinquennial reviewMay 2002August 200212
The future of the Residential Allowance component of Income Support, Minimum Income Guarantee and Jobseeker's AllowanceMay 2002August 200214
Equality, opportunity, and independence for all [RRAA]May 2002September 200217

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Dr. Iddon: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many consultation documents published in 2001 in (a) electronic and (b) printed form his Department has monitored and evaluated in accordance with the Cabinet Office code of practice on written consultations. [69845]

Malcolm Wicks: In accordance with the Government's guidance on written consultation the Department for Work and Pensions evaluates all written consultation documents.

Dr. Iddon: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many complaints his Department has received about its 2001 consultations by (a) electronic and (b) printed means. [69829]

Malcolm Wicks: Of the consultations published by the Department of Work and Pensions since its inception, we have received one complaint on one document. This concerned the clarity of the wording of a specific proposal. Officials ensured that the point was clarified and gave additional time for a response, resolving the issue to the satisfaction of all parties.

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