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Mr. Hepburn: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to give the Child Support Agency the power of surveillance in tackling fraud; and if he will make a statement. 
Malcolm Wicks: I refer my hon. Friend to the reply I gave to hon. my Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mrs. Merron) on 24 June 2002, Official Report, column 676W.
Linda Perham: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions whether student loan repayments and student overdraft interest payments are counted as outgoings when the CSA calculates payments due from absent parents. 
Vera Baird: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in how many cases a parent with care withdrew a claim for income support after action by the Child Support Agency in each year from 199394 to 200102. 
Malcolm Wicks: The information is not available.
Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the length was of each public consultation undertaken by his Department since 8 June 2001. 
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Malcolm Wicks: The Department for Work and Pensions follows the Cabinet Office's guidance on written consultation which sets 12 weeks as the standard minimum period for a consultation. The table lists the
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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.
|Title of consultation||Start date||Period in weeks||Reason for shorter consultation|
|Changes to Invalid Care Allowance||23 July 2001||12|||
|Amending the Vaccine Damage Payments Act 1979||23 July 2002||12|||
|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)||18 September 2001||12|||
|Occupational Pension Scheme Winding up Notices and Reports (etc.) Regulations 2001||1 August 2001||12|||
|Occupational and Personal Pension schemes (Disclosure of Information) Amendment Regulations 2001||13 August 2001||12|||
|Private Pensions Simplification||19 October 2001||14|||
|Bulk transfer of accrued pensions rights without member consent||20 December 2001||13|||
|Revised code of practice on for gathering of information as required in Social Security Fraud Act 2001||8 April 2002||2||This was a follow-up to a previous exercise to which minor technical changes were introduced|
|Consultation exercise on Pension Scheme Trustees, Independent Custodians and Encouraging Shareholder Activism (Myners report)||4 February 2002||12|||
|Member nominated trustees and directors||12 February 2002||4||The shorter period was needed to fit into a regulatory timetable|
|Child Poverty measures||18 April 2002||12|||
|Occupational Pensions Regulatory Authority (OPRA) quinquennial review||10 May 2002||12|||
|Residential Allowance||22 May 2002||14|||
|Equality, opportunity, and independence for all (RRAA)||30 May 2002||17|||
Dr. Iddon: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions whether consultation documents published by his Department in 2001 carried the consultation criteria as recommended in the Cabinet Office code of practice on written consultations. 
Malcolm Wicks: The Department for Work and Pensions was formed in June 2001. From then to the end of 2001, the Department published eight consultation documents. Of these, two included the consultation criteria listed in the Cabinet Office Code of Practice on written consultation. Procedures are now in place to ensure that all new consultations include this information.
Dr. Iddon: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions which consultation documents published by his Department in 2001 were not made available as paper copies. 
Malcolm Wicks: The Department for Work and Pensions was formed in June 2001 from the former Department of Social Security and parts of the Department for Education and Employment. All written consultations published by the Department were available as paper copies.
Mr. Davidson: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps have been taken to simplify the benefits system over each of the past three years; what steps it is proposed to take to simplify the system further; and if he will make a statement. 
Malcolm Wicks: There will always be an element of complexity in the benefits system due to the diverse range of contingencies for which it must cater. However, we are overhauling service delivery to meet the different needs of the Department's client groups and investing in improved and modernised services that are more accurate, make better use of technology, and are simpler for people to understand and access.
For people of working age, we are delivering this through Jobcentre Plus, building on the success of the ONE pilots in bringing together employment and benefit
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services at a single point of contact. Some 50 pathfinder offices opened in October 2001, and Jobcentre Plus was launched as a national organisation at the beginning of April 2002. 56 integrated Jobcentre Plus offices are now open, and we aim to roll out a further 225 between October of this year and April 2003. The 2002 spending review further advances our reform and modernisation programme by announcing the roll-out of Jobcentre Plus nationally by 2006 to deliver an enhanced work-focused service for all people of working age.
Further steps to promote work include the introduction of the Working Tax Credit from April 2003 which extends support to low income workers without children. And the new Child Tax Credit, also from April 2003 will provide a single, seamless system of support for families.
The new Disability and Carer Directorate operates as a discrete business within the Department, responsible for the civil rights agenda for disabled people. Through the Disability and Carers Service, it also delivers Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance and Invalid Care Allowance and will, over time, streamline benefits delivery and improve customer service.
The Pension Service replaced the Benefits Agency services for pensioners from April 2002, and is working to introduce an improved service tailored to the needs of today's and future pensioners. For the first time, there is a service dedicated to the needs of pensioners and helping people understand their pension options and ways to save for their retirement. Pensioners can use The Pension Service as a gateway to other services such as Housing Benefit and Attendance Allowance.
The Pension Service will also deliver Pension Credit from October 2003. This replaces the Minimum Income Guarantee and represents a major simplification of provision for pensioners. For example, it does away with the rules excluding pensioners with savings of £12,000 or more from receiving help and, from age 65, most pensioners will not have to report changes in income for a fixed period of five years, effectively abolishing the weekly means test.
Mr. Clappison: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what notification his Department has provided to benefit recipients about the move to automated credit transfer from April 2003; and what role Jobcentre Plus and the Pension Service will have in ensuring that all claimants are aware of the changes. 
Malcolm Wicks: The department intends to conduct a customer information campaign, which will inform customers about the changes to the way we pay benefits and pensions. The campaign will begin in the run up to April 2003 when we will start to move customers to payment into bank or building society accounts so that customers have the information they need at the point of their transfer from payment by order book. The campaign will incorporate the Pension Service and Jobcentre Plus.
Mr. Roy: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps he will take to co-ordinate activities between the Child Support Agency and the Benefits Agency to combat benefit fraud; and if he will assess the advantages of measures to deal with deliberate evasion of child support maintenance by absent parents. 
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Malcolm Wicks: Jobcentre Plus and the Child Support Agency (CSA) already work closely to identify and investigate benefit fraud.
In a Child Support case where either parent is in receipt of prescribed benefits and fraud is suspected or detected, the case is referred to Jobcentre Plus to investigate. All Departmental fraud investigations (including those carried out by the CSA) are to a common standard informed by a single Professional Standards Unit established in Jobcentre Plus. All fraud structures and processes are informed by the Fraud Head of Profession in Jobcentre Plus who has the function of integrating and co-ordinating good practice.
In January 2001 new criminal offences were introduced to the Child Support legislation. Parents who seek to avoid their child support responsibilities by lying to the Child Support Agency or refusing to provide information now face criminal proceedings. The legislation provides for a fine of up to £1000. The CSA has so far successfully prosecuted 5 non-resident parents under this legislation.
Legislation was also introduced in April 2001 to allow the courts to consider disqualifying a non-resident parent from holding or obtaining a driving licence as an alternative to a term of imprisonment for non-payment of maintenance. The courts decide which, if either, option to use. Since April 2001 the CSA has submitted 94 cases for committal. Of these, 44 non-resident parents began paying maintenance when they learned of the possible disqualification. The courts withdrew one driving licence and imposed a suspended disqualification in three other cases.
Mr. Rooney: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what action he intends to take following the second report by the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate on the administration of housing benefit and council tax benefit in Kirklees Metropolitan Council. 
Malcolm Wicks: Using the powers available to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in Section 139D of the Social Security Administration Act 1992, my right hon. Friend is today giving Directions to Kirklees Metropolitan Council, following the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate's second report on the Council's administration of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit.
We are disappointed that Kirklees Metropolitan Council has been the subject of two critical reports by the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate before taking action to remedy their problems with benefit administration.
However, we are pleased that the Council is now starting to take its responsibilities seriously and that significant improvements are being made in benefit administration.
We hope the council will look upon the Directions as a further stimulus for continuing improvement.
A copy of the Directions has been placed in the Library.
Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will estimate the (a) total cost of benefit fraud investigations and (b) the net savings from benefit fraud investigations in each of the last five years. 
Malcolm Wicks [holding answer 22 July 2002]: We set out our strategy for tackling fraud and error in the paper "A New Contract for Welfare: Safeguarding Social
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Security" (CM4276) published on 23 March 1999. The overall aim of the strategy is to have a benefit system that is secure from first claim to first payment.
The implementation of this strategy means that an anti-fraud focus is integral to the work of the Department, as is dealing with the wider agenda of error and incorrectness in benefit payments. It is therefore not possible to account for the cost of anti-fraud work separately.
The work of benefit fraud investigators has an important effect both through fraud detected and as a deterrent that prevents fraud happening in the first place. It is therefore not possible to provide an estimate of net savings from benefit fraud investigations. However, we know from our continuous measurement of the level of fraud and error in income support and jobseeker's allowance that by March 2001 we had achieved a reduction of 18 per cent.almost twice the target of 10 per cent. for March 2002 and a year ahead of schedule.
The Spending Review announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 15 July includes an increase in our existing target to reduce fraud and error in payments of income support and jobseeker's allowance. We are now committed to a 33 per cent. reduction in these payments by March 2004, as a milestone towards a 50 per cent. reduction by March 2006. And for the first time we have set a target for tackling fraud and error in housing benefit that aims for a 25 per cent. reduction by 2006.
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