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5 Nov 2002 : Column 194Wcontinued
Dr. Howells: Since the launch of digital terrestrial television it has been possible to offer only an audio service for BBC Parliament. In its bid to the Independent Television Commission for the former ITV digital multiplex B, and in its subsequent application for a digital programme service licence, the BBC proposed to enhance this service by offering BBC Parliament in video on quarter screen. This arrangement allows the BBC to offer explanatory text simultaneously on screen in addition to the video service and to provide more services on the digital terrestrial platform. With the launch of Freeview this service will now be widely available.
Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many recipients of severe disablement allowance aged under 20 years on 16 April 2001 have been automatically transferred to incapacity benefit; and how many of these are estimated to have previously claimed (a) free prescriptions, (b) free dental treatment, (c) free eye tests, (d) other healthcare benefits and (e) other passported benefits. 
Maria Eagle: We reformed Severe Disablement Allowance (SDA) in order to provide more support to young people disabled early in life who have never had the opportunity to work. 20,800 1 SDA recipients aged under 20 years on 6 April 2001 were automatically transferred to long-term Incapacity Benefit (IB) in April 2002, making them up to #28.10 per week better off.
Depending on their circumstances, young disabled people receiving IB will still be able to qualify for help with NHS charges (for example, prescriptions, dental treatment, sight tests, money-off vouchers for glasses, wigs, fabric supports and help with the cost of travel to hospital for NHS treatment) on the grounds of low income. We recognise that some will no longer have automatic entitlement to this help but many in this group will already be considerably better off as a result of the changes we have introduced and it would be unfair to treat these people differently to other IB recipients.
Dr. Francis: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment the Government has made of the consequences of withholding child benefit if parents do not co-operate in preventing truancy. 
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Malcolm Wicks: The Government are continuing to assess a number of measures related to anti-social behaviour, including actions to deter truancy. Once that assessment has been completed, the Government will come forward with proposals in the usual way.
Vera Baird: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many (a) couple families with children and (b) one-parent families will be passported to the Sure Start Maternity Grant under the new tax credit scheme. 
Maria Eagle: It is estimated that there will be around 250,000 awards of the Sure Start Maternity Grant in 200304 under the new rules. This compares with 201,000 in 200102. Around 25,000 of the additional successful claims will be due to the link to the new tax credits.
Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many benefit fraud investigators were employed (a) directly by his Department, and (b) by agencies responsible to his Department in each year since 1997; and if he will make a statement. 
Malcolm Wicks: The overall aim of the Department's anti-fraud strategy is to have a benefit system which is secure from first claim to final payment. The implementation of this strategy means than an anti-fraud focus is integral to the work of all staff in the Department, as is dealing with the wider agenda of error and incorrectness in benefit payments.
The information currently available suggests that, throughout the period, around 5,000 staff have been employed by the Department and its agencies in work to investigate suspicions of fraud. However, taking account of changes in data collection measures over time and the integration of investigators more fully with front-line staff, it is clear to me we need to improve the validity and reliability of year-on-year comparisons, and I have asked the Department to undertake further work on this. I have concluded that it is not possible to make valid comparisons between figures year-on-year.
Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions pursuant to his answer of 30 October 2002, Official Report, c. 874W, on incentive payments for postmasters who report suspected benefit fraud, how many payments of (a) #10 and (b) #25 were made in each of the last three years. 
Malcolm Wicks: The information requested is in the table. The number of rewards has reduced as a result of the introduction of the Order Book Control System (OBCS). This is an electronic system that uses barcode
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scanning to alert a Post Office clerk that the order book presented to them has been reported lost, stolen or recalled. The order book is then impounded by the Post Office clerk. A reward would not normally be payable for order books impounded through the use of the OBCS. National rollout of the OBCS began in March 2000 and more than 99 per cent. of Post Offices were using the system by December 2001.
|Number of #10 rewards||Number of #25 rewards|
Mr Liddell-Grainger: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) what steps are being taken to help pensioners in rural areas without banks adjust to the move to benefits being paid to banks and building societies; 
The Post Office currently have arrangements with a number of banks to allow customers to access their accounts at Post Office branches. This has already enabled banking to return to those rural areas, which have not had bank branches for some years.
These arrangements will be complemented with the introduction of universal banking services. This will help ensure that benefit and pension customers, who wish to do so, can continue to access their benefits in cash at the Post Office. Universal banking services will consist of two elements: access to basic bank accounts and the Post Office card account. This means that those people who want to open an account should be able to do so, including those in rural areas who might not previously have had access to banking facilities.
Our information campaign will take customers through the changes, including getting their money from their account at the Post Office. Customers will be supplied with information, which clearly sets out their Xaccount options" and enables them to decide which account is right for them. The changes in how benefits are paid will be phased in over a two-year period. Customers do not need to take any action until they receive a letter about the change. Until then they can keep their order book or giro.
Vera Baird: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many families will lose entitlement to (a) income support and (b) income-based jobseeker's allowance as a result of the introduction of child tax credit; and what estimate he has made of the average income of those families affected. 
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Malcolm Wicks: All families who move from Income Support or Jobseeker's Allowance to Child Tax Credit only will be entitled to the maximum amount of Child Tax Credit up to an annual household income of #13,230. These families can therefore gain considerably from the introduction of the Child Tax Credit.
John Thurso: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions pursuant to his answer of 15 October 2002, Official Report, c. 63435W, on benefit payments, how the figures quoted relate to his Department's PSA target on the proportion of parents with care on income support and income-based jobseeker's allowance who receive maintenance for their children; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if benefit and tax credit recipients who opt to receive payment via a Universal Bank basic account will be able to access their money over the counter at any post office branch. 
Malcolm Wicks: Universal banking services will consist of two elements: access to basic bank accounts at Post Office branches and the Post Office card account. Benefit and tax credit recipients who choose to use universal banking services to access their money will be able to do so at all Post Office branches.
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