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Lone Parents

Ms Buck: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions of the lone parents subject to sanctions for non-attendance at compulsory personal adviser meetings, what was the average value of the sanction in terms of lost benefit; how long, on average, the sanctions were applied for; what was the longest period of sanction; how many lone parents subject to suspension had their sanctions reversed and under what circumstances; what analysis has been undertaken of the reasons for non-attendance at interview; and what evaluation has been undertaken on the effectiveness and impact of sanctions. [67550]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: We are giving lone parents more choices and more help than ever before to move off welfare and into work, in return for greater responsibility to consider the help that is on offer. On 30 April 2001 we introduced compulsory Personal Adviser (PA) meetings for lone parents across the country to ensure that they are aware of the help available. In cases where a lone parent is unable to attend a PA meeting, or the lone parent's circumstances mean that the meeting would not be appropriate, then the requirement to take part in the PA meeting can be deferred to a later date or waived completely.

When PA meetings were introduced they were compulsory for all lone parents making a new or repeat claim for Income Support whose youngest child was of school age. From April 2002 these meetings have been extended to all lone parents making new or repeat claims with a youngest child aged three years or over. In addition, since October 2001, any lone parent making a new or repeat claim for benefit at one of our integrated Jobcentre Plus offices is required to take part in a Work Focused Interview, regardless of the age of their youngest child.

Attendance at a PA meeting at the new/repeat claim stage is a condition of entitlement to benefit. If a lone parent chooses not to attend the meeting they will not receive any benefit. For the majority of lone parents who do attend, review meetings are held six months into their claim and then annually while they are still in receipt of Income Support.

At the same time as PA meetings were being introduced for new/repeat claims they also began to be rolled out to lone parents already in receipt of Income Support. During 2001–02 annual PA meetings became compulsory for lone parents in receipt of Income Support with a youngest child aged between 13 and 15 years old. From April 2002, the annual PA meetings were extended to include lone parents with a youngest child over the age of 9.

These lone parents are given up to three pre-notified appointments and if they fail, without good cause, to take part in the PA meeting they are subject to a benefit sanction. This sanction is equivalent to 20 per cent. of the Income Support personal allowance for a single person aged 25 or over (currently £10.74 per week). This sanction remains in force until the lone parent takes part in a PA meeting.

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The number of lone parents having their benefit not awarded or sanctioned following non attendance at a PA meeting is in the table:

Lone Parent Personal Adviser Meetings (To June 2002)

No. entering PA meeting ProcessNo. of Adverse decisions madeNo. of decisions overturned
New/repeat claim131,74687511
Existing claim83,6531,66581
At reviewN/A1914

Adverse decisions can be overturned if the lone parent demonstrates that they had good cause for not attending the meeting. Information on the individual circumstances of the lone parents is not collected centrally.

As the sanctions can be indefinite we are not currently able to give estimates for the average length of these sanctions or the total value of the sanction in terms of lost benefit. Qualitative and case study research into the reasons for non-attendance at PA meetings is planned to start later this year. We plan to publish the findings of the research in spring 2003.

Automated Credit Transfer

Mr. Clappison: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions when he last met (a) the National Federation of Sub-postmasters and (b) Postwatch to discuss plans for the move to automated credit transfer from April 2003. [70016]

Malcolm Wicks: Department of Trade and Industry ministers and officials meet the NFSP. Department for Work and Pensions officials also meet the NFSP and Postwatch.

Mr. Crausby: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to ensure that recipients of benefits who do not choose to have benefits paid by automated credit transfer will retain the option of payment by order book. [73299]

Mr. McCartney: Paying benefits and pensions directly into accounts provides a safe, convenient, more modern and efficient way of making payments. The number of customers paid by this way increased by 800,000 in 2001.

We will start to move customers to payments into their accounts in 2003. In doing so, we will gradually phase out order books and girocheques.

The introduction of universal banking services means that there should only be a very small number of people who cannot genuinely obtain a suitable account, including accounts which can be used at post offices.

Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions which advertising agency has won the contract to publicise automated credit transfer; and how much the contract is worth. [72425]

Malcolm Wicks: We have appointed Miles Calcraft Brigginshaw Duffy to work on development of the information campaign which will aim to give customers

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the factual information they need about the choices they have as we reform the way we pay benefits and pensions.

The advertising agency has been procured via the COI Communications framework contract. The advertising agency will receive commission based on the amount of work undertaken. As the campaign is currently being planned it is not possible to say how much the contract will be worth to the advertising agency.

Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions which banks can receive benefit payments on behalf of their customers through automated credit transfer. [72424]

Malcolm Wicks: All the UK banks and building societies offer accounts which can receive payments through automated credit transfer.

Benefit Payment Methods

Mr. Kirkwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what contingency plans are in place for April 2003 should the Universal Bank not be established on time. [70423]

Malcolm Wicks: I refer the hon. Member to the written answer I gave the hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb) on 5 July 2002, Official Report, column 630W.

Mr. Kirkwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what proportion of people receive their (a) state pension, (b) incapacity benefit, (c) disability living allowance and (d) invalid care allowance via automated credit transfer and encashment of girocheques broken down by constituency. [70415]

Malcolm Wicks: Statistical information relating to the proportion of people that receive their benefit direct into their bank/building society, by girocheque and other methods of payment, broken down by constituency, has been placed in the library.

Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will list the generic features of each type of account into which benefits will be paid from 2003 onwards. [72426]

Malcolm Wicks: Benefits may be paid into a wide range of accounts, including standard current accounts, building society accounts, basic bank accounts and, from 2003, the card account at the Post Office. The Financial Services Authority publish a leaflet ("No bank account? Why it could pay you to have one") setting out the generic features of the different types of bank account. The most important differences between the different types of account are:
—Current accounts normally offer a cheque book and overdraft facilities;
—Basic bank accounts and, from 2003, the card account at the Post Office are operated using a plastic card and a PIN number and do not provide overdraft facilities;
—Basic and current accounts offer facilities to pay for goods and services in shops, to pay bills by Direct Debit and Standing Order, to accept payment in of wages and other credits, and to obtain cash in a variety of ways, including from cash machines and "Cashback" in some shops;
—Some current accounts already provide for payments in and cash withdrawals at post offices; from 2003 all the major banks will make their basic accounts accessible at post offices;

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—The card account at the Post Office, available from 2003, will only accept payment in of benefits and tax credits, and will only permit cash withdrawals at post offices.

The Department is currently planning an information campaign to give customers the factual information they need to make an informed choice about which type of account to use when we start to pay benefits and pensions into accounts from 2003.

Mr. Kirkwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many recipients of benefits in (a) Roxburgh and Berwickshire and (b) Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale there are, broken down by the method of payment. [70416]

Mr. Malcolm Wicks: The information has been placed in the Library.

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