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13 Jan 2003 : Column 364W—continued

Bereavement Allowance

Mr. Heald: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) how many (a) claimants there were and (b) what amount was claimed in respect of Bereavement Allowance in each month since its introduction; and how many persons were eligible to claim the allowance but did not receive it; [88467]

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Malcolm Wicks: The available information is published in the Work and Pensions Statistics 2002, a copy of which is in the Library.

DLA Call Centre

Mr. Evans: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on the operation of the disability living allowance call centre. [87913]

Maria Eagle: The disability living allowance and attendance allowance helpline provides advice and information on claims to these benefits and takes details of changes of circumstances, as well as explaining decisions, to customers or their authorised representatives. It answers approximately 80,000 calls per week.

The helpline aims to meet the National DWP Call Centre target of answering 90 per cent. of calls within 30 seconds. It is currently only answering 25 per cent. in 30 seconds. An extensive programme of call analysis, recruitment and training is being undertaken in order to improve performance.

Housing Benefit

Mr. Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what impact on prospective tenants his Department expects to see from the pilot schemes for reforming housing benefit. [89702]

Malcolm Wicks: The standard local housing allowance means that, for the first time, tenants will know in advance what support they will receive, allowing them to make their own choices about the quality and price of their accommodation.

I am pleased that Blackpool borough council, which includes my hon. Friend's constituency, has accepted our invitation to become one of the pathfinders for the new allowance, which marks a radical step forward in the simplification of housing benefit.

Minimum Income Guarantee

Mr. Randall: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what estimate he has made of how many people will qualify for the minimum income guarantee; and if he will make a statement. [89717]

Mr. McCartney: As at August 2002 there were 1.76 million pensioners receiving the minimum income guarantee (MIG) which means that they need not live on less than #98.15 a week, #102.10 from April. This is on top of our #200 a year winter fuel payments, free TV licences for the over-75s, worth #104 a year, and above inflation increases to the basic state pension.

From October all existing minimum income guarantee recipients will be automatically transferred to pension credit, which will for the first time reward—not penalise—savings, ensuring those who have worked hard to save modest amounts will gain from having done so.

Mr. Clelland: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many pensioners have benefited from the minimum income guarantee in (a) Newcastle upon Tyne and (b) Gateshead; and what was the average uplift. [89528]

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Mr. McCartney: As at August 2002, 12,800 pensioners in Newcastle upon Tyne received on average #43.63 Minimum Income Guarantee (MIG) per week and 8,400 pensioners in Gateshead received an average weekly MIG of #41.92.


Capita Group

Mr. Burstow: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office if he will list the contracts that have been awarded to the Capita Group by the Department. [89963]

Mr. Alexander: Current Cabinet Office contracts with parts of the Capita Group are as follows:

Capita GroupContract
Capita Business ServicesFast Stream Recruitment Support
Capita Business ServicesProvision of Civil Service and Judicial Pensioner Payroll and Associated Services
Capita RASRecruitment of four Assistant Parliamentary Counsel

Civil Servants

Mr. David Atkinson: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office how many civil servants there were in each year since 1997. [90464]

Mr. Alexander: The number of permanent, full-time equivalent staff in April of each year is given in the following table:


These figures, together with further information on Civil Service staffing levels, are published twice yearly by Press Notice. Copies are available from the Library of the House.

Congestion Charge

Mr. Viggers: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office who will pay the London congestion charge for ministerial cars. [90167]

Mr. Alexander: The responsibility for the provision of ministerial cars and drivers has been delegated under the terms of the framework document to the Government Car Despatch Agency. I have asked its chief executive Mr. Nick Matheson to write to the hon. Member. Copies of his letter will be placed in the Libraries of the House.

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Energy White Paper

Sue Doughty: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office what meetings his officials have had with representatives of the energy efficiency industry during the preparation of the Energy White Paper. [88538]

Mr. Wilson: I have been asked to reply.

As part of the preparation of the Energy White Paper my officials have held a number of meetings and expert workshops with representatives of the energy efficiency industry. Industry representatives attended opening workshops in London, Glasgow and Newport, and a final integrative conference in London covering a range of energy issues. They also attended workshops devoted exclusively to energy efficiency issues. Details are posted on the DTI website at:

The White Paper has also been an important theme in recent meetings between officials and industry bodies, for example the British Energy Efficiency Federation.



Mr. Steen: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment she has made of the effect of delays in her Department in payments to beef farmers in the South West who have prime organic cattle condemned as a result of the unavailability of abattoirs to slaughter under the Beef Assurance Scheme; and if she will make a statement. [89683]

Alun Michael: I assume that the hon. Member is referring to payments for cattle that are slaughtered voluntarily under the Over Thirty Month Scheme (OTMS). The Scheme is open to cattle that are prevented from entering the food chain because of the Over Thirty Month rule, but which are otherwise fit for human consumption.

During the life of the scheme up to the 2002–03 year the published timeliness target in respect of OTMS has been to make 98 per cent. of compensation payments to collection centres within 21 days of receipt of all correctly completed documentation establishing the claim.

The target has been changed to making 85 per cent. of compensation payments within 28 days and is consistent with the new targets for all non Integrated Administration and Control Schemes (IACS) payments. The RPA's 2002–03 Business Plan includes its new performance targets. There is no change to the requirement for collection centres to pass on compensation payments to producers within 14 days of receipt.

The new timeliness target reflects the RPA's budget allocation for 2002–03. RPA has been given more headroom in its targets to allow it to respond flexibly to the situation and to deploy its resources by means of a risk based approach which seeks to maintain vital scheme controls.

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To help offset the impact of the tighter budget allocation RPA has introduced an initiative to import data electronically from collection centres. Most abattoirs are already submitting kill data electronically and work has started on introducing mechanisms by which data can be submitted electronically from both liveweight markets and casualty centres. This initiative will greatly reduce the manual inputting of data currently undertaken when claim paperwork reaches Reading and will, depending upon take-up, realise staff savings which will to some extent reduce the full impact of the budget cuts.

RPA will continue to make payments as quickly as possible within its resource allocation. In the 2002–03 year to date 98 per cent. of payments have been made within 28 days.

Regarding the unavailability of abattoirs to slaughter under the Beef Assurance Scheme, all licensed abattoirs are permitted to slaughter Beef Assurance Scheme over thirty month cattle, provided they are willing to facilitate their testing for BSE. On receipt of a negative test result, the carcase must be sent to a licensed cutting plant that is separately licensed to remove the vertebral column and dorsal root ganglia before the meat is released for human consumption. All licensed cutting plants are free to apply to the Food Standards Agency for an additional licence to remove vertebral column. It is a simple process, no fee is charged, and all have been encouraged to apply. None have done so in the south west peninsular.

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