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Pension Rights

Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions when he intends to introduce primary legislation to protect the pension rights of British citizens who have worked in Australia. [69936]

Mr. McCartney: We will legislate at the earliest suitable opportunity to ensure that, for British citizens who went to live in Australia before the end of the reciprocal Social Security Agreement on 28 February 2001, any periods of residence in Australia from the start of the Agreement on 29 January 1958 up to and including 5 April 2001 will be used in the calculation of basic state pension if they return to live permanently in the United Kingdom.

Until we can introduce primary legislation, we will continue to make extra statutory payments to such people who return to the UK on a permanent basis, if they have less than the standard rate of basic pension.


Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions when the Government expects the installation of the hardware and software for the ACT system to commence; when the training for Post Office staff will commence; and when guidance for customers will be issued. [70189]

Malcolm Wicks [holding answer 22 July 2002]: Plans are progressing to put all of the necessary changes in place from April 2003.

Training for Post Office staff is an operational matter for the Post Office, who say they are also on track for April 2003.

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The Department is currently planning an information campaign to give customers the information they need about the move to paying directly into bank/building society accounts.

Pension Credit

Mr. Michael Jabez Foster: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what estimate he has made of the number of pensioners in the Hastings and Rye constituency who will benefit from (a) the guaranteed credit and (b) the savings credit when the pension credit provisions take effect in April 2003. [70332]

Mr. McCartney: I regret that the information requested is not available. Pension Credit will be introduced in October 2003. The guarantee credit will ensure that no pensioner need live on less than £100 a week. The savings credit will ensure that even those with modest savings will see that it pays to have saved. On average pensioners who qualify for Pension Credit will be £400 a year better off.

Currently in the Hastings and Rye constituency there are around 3,600 pensioners receiving the Minimum Income Guarantee. Those in receipt in October 2003 will be automatically transferred onto Pension Credit which will subsume the Minimum Income Guarantee.

1. Based on a 5 per cent. sample; therefore subject to sampling variation.
2. Figure has been rounded to the nearest 100.
3. Parliamentary Constituency has been allocated using the relevant ONS postcode directory.
4. Minimum Income Guarantee claimants are defined as Income Support benefit units where the claimant, and/or partner, is aged 60 and over.
Income Support Quarterly Statistical Enquiry, February 2002.

Age Discrimination

David Hamilton: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the Government are doing to encourage private companies to combat age discrimination. [71360]

Mr. McCartney: The Government are determined to combat age discrimination in employment, and are actively doing so under the banner of our Age Positive campaign. We are working hard to encourage companies to use non-ageist employment practices, leading up to the implementation of age legislation in 2006.

In consultation with employers, we have produced the Code of Practice on Age Diversity in Employment. The Code sets the standard for non-ageist employment practices. Evaluation of the impact of the code shows that the number of companies whose policies discriminate against older people has halved, from 14 per cent. to 7 per cent., since 1999.

Our Age Positive campaign is strongly promoting the business benefits of an age diverse work force to employers of all types. Small and medium sized companies are currently participating in our second series of 20 good-practice workshops. Age Positive awards recognise businesses that are tackling discrimination by means of non-ageist employment policies. Employers are

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supporting the campaign by sharing their experiences with others. These case studies are on the Age Positive website, together with the Code of Practice and other guidance. Last month we published the report 'Flexible Retirement—a snapshot of large employers' initiatives', which shows that an increasing number of companies are now adopting more flexible retirement policies.

Children (Low-income Families)

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what baseline figure is to be used in assessing progress in meeting his target of reducing the number of children living in low-income households by at least a quarter by 2004. [71783]

Malcolm Wicks [holding answer 22 July 2002]: The baseline used to measure this Public Service Agreement target is 1998–99 Households Below Average Income figures. This target is shared with HM Treasury. Full details of the target, its baseline and how it is measured are contained in a technical note which has been placed in the Library.

The latest available HBAI figures for 2000–01 show that there has been a fall of 0.3 million children on the after housing costs measure and 0.4 million children on the before housing costs measure. Therefore, after a third of the way through monitoring this PSA target we are a third of the way to meeting it.

Car Allowance

Paddy Tipping: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what rate of car allowance is payable to a person attending a medical or appeal board; when the rate was set; how the rate is calculated; whether there are plans to raise it; and if he will make a statement. [72013]

Maria Eagle: For people attending a medical board, the standard rate of car allowance payable is 6.5 pence per mile, which is paid towards meeting the fuel costs of customers attending for a medical examination when public transport is not available.

The rate, which was chosen by the Department for Work and Pensions, reflected the rate in payment to its own staff, at the time it was set, where the only element of reimbursement was in respect of fuel. This decision was taken in the interests of safeguarding public resources and was intended to correct the wide variations in interpretation of previous instructions, so as to ensure that customers received the same rate of recompense regardless of where in the country they lived.

In order to continue improving the standard of information provided to its customers, SchlumbergerSema have revised the AL1C form that provides important information about the medical examination.

The AL1C form now states: 'if you do not travel by public transport we will make a 6.5 pence per mile contribution to fuel costs if you use a private motor vehicle'. This will enable the customer to be aware of exactly how much they will receive if they travel by car.

The rate of car allowance payable to people attending an appeal board is set by the Appeals Service, who pay 12 pence per mile and 2 pence per mile for each additional passenger. The rate was set on 1 January 2002. It is

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calculated by using the average petrol costs as researched by the Automobile Association. The rate is for actual fuel costs and does not cover running costs.

There are no immediate plans to raise the rates. However, a full review of departmental policy with regard to the reimbursement of travelling expenses to interviews, tribunals and examinations is being carried out, with the recommendations to be made later in the year.

Social Fund

Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions when the (a) annual report on the social fund 2001–02 and (b) Social Fund Commissioner's annual report on the standard of social fund inspectors' decisions will be published. [72421]

Malcolm Wicks: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's annual report on the social fund for 2001–02 (CM 5492) was published today and has been laid before Parliament.

The report records that gross expenditure, excluding winter fuel payments, in 2001–02 was £761.8 million. Together with expenditure on winter fuel payments of around £1.7 billion, this resulted in total gross expenditure of almost £2.5 billion. The discretionary social fund helped more people than ever before with around 2.5 million awards made. This included more than 233,000 non-repayable grants and more than 2,231,000 interest-free loans together worth £646.9 million. 42,000 funeral and 1.8 million cold weather payments totalling £53.7 million were made. More than 11 million people aged 60 or over in eight million households benefited from a winter fuel payment. In addition, 201,000 sure start maternity grants worth £61.2 million were made.

The Social Fund Commissioner's report has also been published today and copies placed in the Library.

Pensions Policy

Mr. Wiggin: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to change pensions policy. [72458]

Mr. McCartney: I refer the hon. Member to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on 11 July 2002, Official Report, column 1054.

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