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Pension Credit

Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what estimates he has made of the (a) number and (b) percentage of pensioner households in receipt of housing benefit but not minimum income guarantee who will be entitled to the pension credit; and what efforts he is making to ensure they claim the pension credit. [86885]

Mr. McCartney: The information is not available in the format requested. However it is estimated that around a third (half a million pensioner benefit units) of those who become newly entitled to pension credit when it is introduced in October 2003 will already be eligible for housing benefit.

To ensure maximum take up of pension credit all existing minimum income guarantee (MIG) recipients will be automatically transferred to pension credit. We

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will contact all pensioners not receiving MIG, giving them information about pension credit and encouraging them to apply. pension credit will also be advertised through the press and television.

Pensions

Mrs. Brooke : To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will estimate the cumulative percentage increase in the state pension for (a) a married couple and (b) a single person since 1996. [85495]

Mr. McCartney: Since April 1996 the maximum rate payable of the Basic State Pension has increased by around 7 per cent. in real terms.

Pensions Law

Mr. Heald: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the average length of time is which his Department allows for consultation with pensioners' practitioners about proposed changes to pensions law. [87004]

Mr. McCartney: Legislation provides that, except in certain specified circumstances, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State should usually consult on draft private pensions regulations. The Department normally allows at least 12 weeks when undertaking a written consultation with pensioner practitioners on changes to pensions law.

Poverty

Mr. Evans : To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many people over retirement age lived below the poverty line in (a) Lancashire, (b) the North West of England, (c) Wales and (d) the UK, in each of the last five years. [85331]

Mr. McCartney: Poverty is a complex, multi-dimensional issue, affecting many aspects of pensioners' lives—including income, health, housing and the quality of their environment. Consequently, there is no single measure of pensioner poverty; providing a decent income is key. At present, no pensioner has to get by on less than #98.15 a week under the minimum income guarantee (#149.80 for couples). These rates will increase in April 2003 to #102.10 for single pensioners and #155.80 for couples.

From April 2002, the Government is spending an extra #6 billion a year in real terms on pensioners as a result of policies introduced since 1997. This includes #2½ billion more on the poorest third of pensioners.

Stakeholder Pensions

Mr. Webb : To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will estimate the number of companies under the regulations introduced on 8 October 2001 that (a) are obliged to provide and (b) have so far failed to offer, access to a stakeholder scheme; and what plans he has to ensure that employers who have not complied with the requirement to offer a stakeholder scheme, do so. [84620]

Mr. McCartney: It is broadly estimated that around 350,000 firms are required to provide their employees with access to a stakeholder pension scheme. Latest data

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from the Association of British Insurers reveals that 335,719 employers had designated a stakeholder pension scheme by the end of September 2002. This suggests a compliance rate of over 90 per cent.

The Occupational Pensions Regulatory Authority (Opra) is the body responsible for regulating compliance with the workplace access requirements in respect of stakeholder pension schemes. Opra will continue to follow up all reports of non-compliance and will take action where compliance has not been achieved. It is also looking into ways to identify employers who have not yet complied with the requirements. It has begun writing to employers to ascertain whether or not they have any pension provision, and whether this pension provision would exempt them from offering access to a stakeholder pension scheme. Where Opra identifies non-compliant employers it will actively pursue such cases.

Surplus Properties

Mr. Heald: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many surplus properties his Department (a) has and (b) will have over the next 10 years; what their value is; and if he will make a statement. [87000]

Mr. McCartney: There are currently 44 properties that are surplus to the Department's accommodation requirements, six of these are freehold and 38 leasehold. The freeholds are valued at #1,605,000. It is difficult to place a value on the leaseholds, given the prevailing market conditions.

The Department is currently developing an estate strategy to meet our future business requirements and in particular support the implementation and rollout of Jobcentre Plus and the Pension Service. Until the strategy work is completed we cannot forecast how many properties in total will be required and consequently how many properties in total will be surplus to requirements.

Winter Fuel Payments

Mr. Heath: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) what distinction is made when sending winter fuel payments between houses with numbered addresses and those with house names but no numbers; [85140]

Mr. McCartney: To ensure all eligible people in a household receive the correct level of winter fuel payment, personal information from the benefit computer systems is matched to ascertain how many eligible people live at each address. No distinction is made between houses with numbered addresses and those with house names but no number when determining entitlement to winter fuel payments.

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Addresses are converted to a standard format and then matched against the Royal Mail Postal Address file, including the unique alpha/numeric value for each address known as the Delivery Point Suffix.

During the data matching, various computer scans are run. Where more than one person's details are linked by the Delivery Point Suffix, each will be allocated #100; where the details are not linked to another, the person is awarded #200. A number of further scans are run to correct errors and mismatching.

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The Delivery Point Suffix is identified in 98 per cent. of cases, but in cross-referencing over 12 million records, there will unfortunately be some errors. Anyone who receives #100 when they believe that they are entitled to #200 is asked to contact the address on the notification letter.

This is then investigated and where further enquiries reveal that a #200 payment was due, a top up payment is issued. For Winter 2000–01 45,332 top up payments were made, and for winter 2001–02, there were 38,853 top up payments issued.