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3 Jun 2003 : Column 48W—continued

Jobcentre Plus

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many (a) Benefits Agency staff and (b) Jobcentre Plus staff have been (i) disciplined, (ii) suspended, (iii) dismissed, (iv) prosecuted and (v) convicted for matters relating to benefit fraud in 2002–03; and how much benefit was defrauded in each case. [112331]

Malcolm Wicks: Information is not available in the exact format requested. Such information as is available is shown in the table. The table shows the value of fraud where known, and the outcome of the investigation where the member of staff was disciplined, dismissed, prosecuted or convicted. Where an amount is not shown in the table, either it has been not been possible to determine a value, or the overpayment is still being calculated.

The functions of the former Benefits Agency were subsumed into Jobcentre Plus, The Pension Service and the Disability and Carers Service from March 2002. All the staffwho were disciplined or prosecuted for these matters were Jobcentre Plus staff.

The Department treats most seriously any allegations that a member of staff is involved in benefit fraud, and refers appropriate cases for prosecution and disciplinary action.

In addition to these cases, a further four members of staff resigned before action was completed.

Staff disciplined/prosecuted for involvement in benefit fraud 2002–2003

OutcomeValue (£s)
Officer dismissed5,300
Officer dismissed-
Written reprimand and banned from progression for two years1,807
Officer dismissed-
Officer prosecuted and sentenced to 27 months in prison135,000
Officer dismissed and prosecuted with custodial sentence2,666
Officer dismissed, prosecution pending2,600

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Benefit Claims

Paul Holmes: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on the present level of take-up of disability benefits; what the Government are doing to encourage the level of take-up by those eligible for disability benefits; and if he will make a statement. [114496]

Maria Eagle: There is no reliable current estimate of the level of take-up disability living allowance (DLA) and attendance allowance (AA), and an accurate estimate cannot be made because entitlement to the benefits is not based on diagnosis, but on the care and mobility needs arising from disability, which can vary widely between individuals.

In the last five years the number of people receiving DLA and AA has increased by 24 per cent. and 9.6 per cent. respectively and the Department is taking steps to improve the take-up of the benefits in a targeted and well directed way.

For example, new processes for claiming AA and DLA, resulting in claim forms that are much shorter, personalised and more responsive to customer needs, are currently being developed and tested.

Forms for obtaining medical evidence from general practitioners have been redesigned so that they ask for objective clinical information only, which will improve the quality and consistency of decisions on entitlement.

New information technology has been introduced throughout the organisation to speed up the decision making process and enable a better and more professional service.

We are also working closer with partners such as local authorities and welfare rights organisations who are able to advise people about disability benefits in a far more targeted way than would be possible through any mass disability awareness campaigns, which could clog up the assessment process with nugatory claims.

Benefit Fraud

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) how many multiple identity fraud investigations have been conducted in each of the last six years; and what the maximum number of identities assumed for a given case was in each of those years; [112330]

Malcolm Wicks: In line with part 2, paragraph 4, of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information, we do not disclose information about on-going investigations. The information requested on previous investigations is not recorded centrally and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

Benefit Order Books

Mr. Heald: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions pursuant to his answer of 6 May 2003, Official Report, column 545W, on benefits, how many contacts will be made with invited customers who fail or

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refuse to respond, before phasing out their order books; whether any order books have been phased out in respect of an invited customer who has failed to respond; and what steps he intends to take to ensure that such customers are not elderly and disabled people who qualify for the exceptions service. [113597]

Malcolm Wicks: We will be contacting all customers who fail or refuse to respond before orderbooks are no longer available, as we will need to make payment by another option.

In the meantime there is no question of people not being able to get their money. Those customers who feel that the account options available do not meet their particular needs should contact the Customer Conversion Centre on the freephone number provided to discuss their needs and circumstances.

Where customers genuinely are unable to manage an account they will be advised that, in the short term, they can retain their order book. However, order books are being phased out and will no longer be available after 2005.

We are currently developing an alternative payment method to pay this small number of customers who are unable to open or manage an account.

Benefit Payments

Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions whether the exceptions service will be post office based. [114359]

Malcolm Wicks: We are currently developing an alternative payment method to pay customers who are unable to open or manage an account. Payment outlets for this service will include post office branches.

Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will break down the cost of the new direct payment advertising campaign (a) by year and (b) by types of media used. [114360]

Maria Eagle: A budget of up to £25 million is available for the Direct Payment campaign, spread over a three-year period (2002–03 to 2004–05).

Advertising media and production costs for the last financial year (2002–03) total £1,462,000. This figure breaks down as follows:

Radio media383,000
National press media225,000
Regional press media250,000
Production across all media604, 000

The committed spend on advertising media and production to date for the current financial year is £3,629, 000. This figure breaks down as follows:

TV media1,319,000
Radio media560,000
National press media509, 000
Regional press media599, 000
Magazine media259, 000
Ambient media189,000
Production across all media194,000

Advertising costs for the remainder of this financial year and for next year are not yet available as the detail of the campaign is still in the process of development.

All figures quoted in this answer are exclusive of VAT.

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Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what discussions have taken place with the Financial Ombudsman on the direct payment of benefits; and if he will make a statement. [114373]

Malcolm Wicks: The Department's officials regularly meet with a range of interested groups, including the Financial Ombudsman Service, to discuss the move to Direct Payment.

Bovine Tuberculosis

Diana Organ: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many people have claimed industrial injuries disablement benefit having contracted bovine TB in the last (a) two years, (b) five and (c) 10 years; and how many claims were successful in each of those periods. [114752]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: The information is not available.


Dr. Kumar: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on the (a) support and (b) benefits available to carers in each year since 1997. [114316]

Maria Eagle: "Caring about Carers—A National Strategy for Carers" published in 1999 underlined the Government's commitment to support carers. Carers are entitled to an assessment by their local council to determine their needs as carers and their eligibility for support. Depending on their individual circumstances, carers have access to the full range of social security benefits including Carer's Allowance (CA) (previously Invalid Care Allowance) and the Carer Premium in income-related benefits.

The improvements we have made to the support and benefits for carers on top of the annual upratings of benefits include:

The introduction of the Carers' Grant in 1999 to support councils in providing short breaks for carers to enable them to continue to care whilst maintaining their own health and wellbeing;

Strengthening, in 2000, of the right of carers to an assessment of their own needs—local councils were given a mandatory duty to support carers by providing services to carers directly, and in the provision of breaks from caring-and making Direct Payments from local councils available to carers to enable them to purchase carers services themselves 1 ;

Increasing the CA earnings limit increased from £50 to £75 a week in 2001, linking future annual increases to the rise in the National Insurance lower earnings limit, and increasing the carer premium by £10 a week above normal uprating;

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Abolishing the upper age limit on claims to CA in 2002, so that carers aged 65 and over can claim the allowance 2 ;

Extending, in 2002, the entitlement to CA by up to eight weeks after death of disabled person being cared for, and from this year, requiring local councils to make direct payments to carers who have an assessed need and are able to manage them (alone or with assistance), and giving them discretionary powers to support flexibility in provision of short breaks for carers through the short term breaks voucher scheme.

Carers can find out about the support and benefits available to them through various routes: on-line services such as UK Online, or the Government DWP and carers websites; by telephone via benefits helplines, NHS Direct, carers centres, Carers UK helpline; and booklets/leaflets published by the Government or voluntary sector.

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