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7 Nov 2002 : Column 646Wcontinued
Dr. Francis: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what discussions he has had with (a) the pensions industry (b) employers and (c) trades unions to ensure that the public is better informed about their future pension provisions. 
Mr. McCartney [holding reply 21 October 2002]: The Government are committed to ensuring that individuals have access to better information to improve awareness of the importance of retirement planning. We have discussed these issues with a range of pensions representative organisations, such as the members of the Joint Working Group on Occupational Pensions and the Financial Services Authority, as part of our regular dialogue on pensions issues. We have a pension education strategy which includes:
Following the Prime Minister's statement at the TUC conference, Ministers have met with both the TUC and the CBI to discuss a range of pensions issues and officials are continuing the constructive dialogue. In addition, the Department of Work and Pensions liasies with a range of organisations on an ongoing basis, to consider ways to improve the provision of pensions information to consumers. For example, in relation to the work on the combined pension forecast we have worked closely with a range of employers such as Sainsburys and Prudential.
Adam Price: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, how many final salary pension scheme closures there were over the last five years. 
Mr. McCartney: I will write to the hon. Member as soon as possible with the information requested and place a copy of my letter in the Library.
Mr. Caton: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what assessment he has made of the impact of the recent change in the annual number of Health and Safety Executive inspections. 
Mr. Nicholas Brown: There was a fall in the number of preventive inspections between 199697 to 200102 from 116,652 to 75,237. Over the same period, there was a 35 per cent increase in the number of investigations.
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Investigations take much longer than inspections and so it is inevitable that more investigations mean fewer inspections. HSE has also taken action to increase their other preventive work including seminars, conferences and awareness days.
Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what assessment he has made of the level of investigations by the Health and Safety Executive into deaths and major injuries of (a) the public and (b) workers. 
Mr. Nicholas Brown: The data are not available in the format requested. However, incidents that meet HSE's incident selection criteria are investigated; the criteria are in the public domain and were agreed only after thorough consultation with all interested parties.
Mr. Caton: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what assessment he has made of the levels of prosecution following investigation by the Health and Safety Executive into deaths and major injuries of (a) the public and (b) workers. 
Mr. Nicholas Brown: The data are not available in the format requested.
However, all the Health and Safety Executive's decisions about taking enforcement action are made in accordance with the principles contained in the Health and Safety Commission's Enforcement Policy Statement (EPS).
In addition, the HSE has to ensure that proposed enforcement action meets the requirements of the Code for Crown Prosecutors in England and Wales, and the Prosecutors Code in Scotland. These require that there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of obtaining a conviction, and that any proposed prosecution would be in the public interest.
Dr. Cable (Twickenham): To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many accidents were (a) reported to and (b) investigated by the Field Operations division of the HSE in (i) 1998 99, (ii) 19992000, (iii) 200001 and (iv) 200102; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Nicholas Brown: The following table shows the number of injuries to employees, self-employed people and members of the public as reported to HSE's Field Operations Directorate and the total number of incidents investigated, 199899/200102.
|Year||Injuries Reported||Incidents Investigated|
1. ''Injuries'' includes all fatal, major and over-3-day injuries.
2. Injuries reported as required by the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) 1995.
3. ''Incidents'' includes injuries, diseases, dangerous occurrences and gas safety incidents.
The data for investigations are not available in the form requested. The data for 200102 are not available as the information is subject to exemption 10 under the National Statistics Code of Practice pending the publication of HSE Statistics in December 2002
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Mr. Caton: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) what plans he has to increase the proportion of (a) dangerous occurrences and (b) major injuries investigated by the Health and Safety Executive; 
Mr. Nicholas Brown: I will write to the hon. Member and place a copy of my letter in the Library.
Mr. Kirkwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, whether housing benefit will continue to be paid four weeks in arrears in the housing benefit reform pilot areas. 
Mr. Wyatt: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, if he will place in the Library a copy of the report made to him on housing benefit at Swale Borough Council. 
Malcolm Wicks: I refer the hon. Member to the reply given to the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn) on 22 October 2002, Official Report, cols 136-38W.
Mr. Kirkwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, how he will indentify those vulnerable people he intends to safeguard in the housing benefit reform pilot areas; and what form these safeguards will take. 
Malcolm Wicks: Tenants in the pilot areas will have their rent paid to them rather than to their landlord. However, we appreciate that not all tenants will be able to cope with this responsibility. For this reason safeguards will be in place to ensure that landlords and vulnerable tenants are protected.
For example, as now, where it is considered appropriate, the pathfinder authority will be able to make the first payment of benefit direct to the landlord. And in cases where 8 weeks' rent arrears have built up, payments of Housing Benefit will be made to the landlord. In addition, certain groups of vulnerable tenantssuch as those living in hostelswill not be included in the standard local housing allowance scheme.
The details of the new scheme will be set out in regulations and we shall be consulting on these in due course.
Mr. Kirkwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) how mobility within and between neighbourhoods of differing housing quality and cost will be monitored in the housing benefit reform pilot areas; whether the pre-1996 housing benefit restrictions
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are being repealed in the housing benefit reform pilot areas; and how much he estimates the gainers in the housing benefit reform pilot areas will benefit; 
(3) how he plans to monitor if rent is being negotiated in the housing benefit pilot areas; and if he will monitor the effectiveness of (a) the elderly, (b) lone parents, (c) ethnic minority groups and (d) people with disabilities in such negotiations; 
(4) if he will review the effect of the operation of non-dependent deductions in the housing benefit reform pilot areas; 
(5) whether the number and size of localities used to determine local reference rents and standard local housing allowances in the housing benefit reform pilot areas will be monitored following the Rent Offices (Housing Benefit Functions) (Amendment) Order 2001. 
Malcolm Wicks: The standard local housing allowance will repeal the pre-1996 Housing Benefit restrictions in pathfinder local authority areas. The benefits to the gainers in the pathfinder areas will depend on the local conditions in those authorities that volunteer to become pathfinders.
In consultation with independent researchers we are drawing up a rigorous evaluation strategy to monitor the standard local housing allowance pathfinders.
The evaluation strategy will use a range of research techniques, including both fieldwork with key stakeholders in the pathfinder areas and analysis of administrative and operational data collected by the Department. This will enable us to understand both the impact of the pathfinders and the way in which these impacts have been achieved.
Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) how many people are receiving housing benefit in respect of private sector tenancies, (a) in Great Britain and (b) each of the smallest geographical units for which figures are available; 
(3) how many private sector tenants in receipt of housing benefit whose eligible rent is capped by the reference rent are (a) pensioners, (b) couples with children, (c) childless couples, (d) lone parents and (e) other single people; 
(4) what proportion of private tenants in receipt of housing benefit have their eligible rent capped by the reference rent system in (a) Great Britain and (b) in each of the smallest geographical units for which figures are available. 
Mr. Andrew Smith: There are limits and complexities to the available data. I will write to the hon. Member shortly with more detail and place a copy of my letter in the Library
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Mr. Gerrard: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many people have had their housing benefit restricted to below the level of rent payable as a result of the local reference rent; and how many of those people have only one room for their exclusive use in each of the last five years. 
Mr. Andrew Smith: There are limits and complexities to the available data. I will write to the hon. Member shortly with more detail and place a copy of my letter in the Library.
Mr. Wyatt: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment he has made of the impact of Swale borough council's housing benefit procedures on homelessness in Sittingbourne and Sheppey. 
Malcolm Wicks: The Benefit Fraud Inspectorate (BFI) has an ongoing programme of inspections to help councils identify and act on weaknesses in their benefit services, and drive up standards of administration. On 25 September the BFI published a report of an inspection of Swale Borough Council conducted in spring 2002. The report commended Swale for clearing its backlog of benefit claims since the previous BFI inspection in 2000, and for improvements in the council's speed in processing benefit claims.
Although it made further recommendations to help the council address ongoing weaknesses, we recognise the detrimental effect that delays in processing Housing Benefit claims can have on the ability of tenants to meet their rent responsibilities. That is why a key aim of our strategy for reforming Housing Benefit is to improve its administration.
However there is no evidence to show a direct link between poor benefit administration and homelessness.
Martin Linton: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, how many people in receipt of housing benefit in the private sector in Wandsworth have to make up the difference between the amount received and the rent stated in their claim. 
Malcolm Wicks: The information is not available in the format requested.
The table shows the number, the average weekly Housing Benefit payment and the average eligible rent of Housing Benefit recipients living in the deregulated private sector, in the London Borough of Wandsworth, at May 2002. There is no directly comparable information about the actual rents paid by Housing Benefit recipients.
|Local Authority||Housing Benefit Recipients||Average Weekly Eligible Rent||Average Weekly Amount Of Housing Benefit Paid|
1. The data refer to households claiming Housing Benefit, which may be a single person, a couple or a family. More than one benefit household can live in one property, for example two or more adults in a flat or house share arrangement.
2. The eligible rent is the amount of rent, which may be met by Housing Benefit after any restrictions applied by the rent officer, taking account of the cost of suitable accommodation in the area.
3. Figures include cases where Housing Benefit is paid at a reduced rate due to the tenant's income.
4. The caseload figure is rounded to the nearest ten cases.
5. The average amounts are rounded to the nearest ten pence.
6. Figures exclude any extended payment cases
Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit Management Information Quarterly 100 per cent. statistical enquiry taken in May 2002.
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Mr. Kirkwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what percentage of gainers in the housing benefit reform pilot areas are likely to benefit from the removal of housing benefit restrictions other than the local and single reference rents. 
Malcolm Wicks: The proportions for individual pathfinder areas will depend on which local authorities agree to take part in the pilot.
Mr. Kirkwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what reasons underlay his decision on the length of the period before landlords can begin receiving housing benefit directly if a tenant gets into arrears; and what assessment he has made of the impact of his decision on possession cases in shorthold tenancies. 
Malcolm Wicks: The requirement that housing benefit payments must be made to the landlord if a tenant builds up rent arrears of 8 weeks is an established part of the benefit scheme and is linked to housing law, under which the establishment of at least 8 weeks' worth of rent arrears is a ground for eviction. We intend to maintain this requirement for the standard local housing allowance pathfinder areas, together with other safeguards to protect landlords and vulnerable tenants.
We have made no assessment of the practical impact of the 8 week limit on possession cases.
Mr. Kirkwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on how the rapid re-claim facility for housing benefit will operate; and what targets have been set for the time taken to process these claims. 
Malcolm Wicks: We introduced Rapid Reclaim for Housing Benefit recipients on 28 October 2002.
Rapid Reclaim removes barriers to taking and declaring work by reducing Housing Benefit recipients' concerns about the delays in reclaiming benefit if a job does not last. People of working age can re-claim Housing Benefit within 12 weeks of the end of their last claim, using a shortened, simplified claim form which includes a declaration that their circumstances are the same as when they previously claimed. Providing there have been no significant changes in circumstances, the local authority can process the claim based only on that declaration.
No clearance time targets have been set for Rapid Reclaim cases over and above the targets and performance indicators that already exist. However, the nature of Rapid Reclaim means that claims will be processed much more quickly than new Housing Benefit claims and that customers will therefore receive their benefit sooner.
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Mr. Kirkwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions by what means information will be made publicly available about (a) the size and boundaries of localities determined by the Rent Service to calculate the standard local housing allowance in the housing benefit reform pilot areas and (b) what the average rent is by size of dwelling in those localities. 
Malcolm Wicks: Under the new scheme, pathfinder authorities will be required to make information about the localities and the standard allowances publicly available. Details of the boundaries of localities and the standard allowances for different property sizes will therefore be accessible to both tenants and landlords
The details of the scheme will be set out in regulations and we will be consulting on these in due course.
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