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18 Dec 2003 : Column 1092W—continued

Child Trust Fund

Mr. George Osborne: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions whether the beneficiary of a Child Trust Fund will have the savings in the fund taken into consideration when an assessment is made for Jobseeker's Allowance. [141705]

Mr. Pond: I refer the hon. Member to the reply given to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cousins) on 15 December 2003, Official Report, columns 686–87W.


Mr. George Osborne: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions when he expects to reply to the letters from the honourable Member for Tatton to the Minister for Pensions of 12 March and 25 April. [145132]

Malcolm Wicks: I regret we have no record of having received the hon. Member's letters. If he would forward copies I will arrange for them to be considered urgently.

Council Tax Benefit

Mr. Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many pensioners in Blackpool received council tax benefit in the last year for which figures are available. [141340]

Mr. Pond: The number of households where the recipient and/or their partner was aged 60 or over, and was in receipt of council tax benefit from Blackpool Borough Council at August 2003, is 7,700.

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Mr. Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what recent discussions his Department has had with (a) other Government Departments, (b) voluntary sector organisations and (c) local authorities on measures to improve take-up of council tax benefit among pensioners. [141363]

Mr. Pond: There have been a number of discussions between officials of this Department, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and representatives of the Local Authority Associations. In addition, Ministers have met with the Local Government Association and with Help the Aged, following their report on "The impact of council tax on older people's income".

On Monday 15 December 2003, we announced a campaign to further support local authorities in their statutory duty to promote take-up of council tax benefit. On the same day, departmental officials wrote about the campaign to the National Assembly for Wales and the Wales Office; the Scottish Executive and the Scotland Office; voluntary sector organisations and other advisory groups with an interest in take-up such as Help the Aged, Age Concern and Shelter; and Local Authority Associations.

Mr. Coleman: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what representations he has received regarding council tax benefit restrictions; and if he will make a statement. [143859]

Mr. Pond: We have received several representations from local government and voluntary agencies, such as Help the Aged, regarding the council tax benefit restriction.

As we announced on 15 December 2003, Official Report, columns 125–26WS, we have decided to abolish the council tax benefit restriction from April 2004.

Departmental Hospitality

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what his Department's hospitality budget was for (a) 2003–04 and (b) each of the last six years; and if he will provide a breakdown of the expenditure by main budget heading. [141524]

Mr. Browne: Information is not available in the format requested. Such information as is available is set out in the following table.

All expenditure on official hospitality is made in accordance with published departmental guidance on financial procedures and propriety, based on the principles set out in Government Accounting. It is typically incurred by the various DWP Businesses to mark the launch of significant initiatives—for example: the introduction of New Deal 50+; the national introduction of New Deal for Partners; launching call centres for jobseekers; implementation of Employment Zones; and launch of ONE pilots in conjunction with local authorities and the private and voluntary sectors.

The Department does not allocate specific budgets for official hospitality and it is not possible to provide expenditure information back to 1997–98 for the Department for Work and Pensions, which has existed only since 1 April 2001. The figures for 2001–02 and 2002–03 therefore are the only expenditure figures relating to the Department for Work and Pensions.

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In order to provide figures which are reasonably comparable, information for the earlier years has been provided by combining expenditure on "official hospitality" by the former Department of Social Security (DSS), and on "official entertainment" by the former Employment Service (ES) which, together with relatively small numbers of staff from the Employment Policy Divisions of the former Department for Education and Employment (DFEE), combined to form the new Department for Work and Pensions. However, the expenditure incurred by the Employment Policy Divisions of DFEE is not separately identifiable.

Estimated expenditure 1 on official hospitality on this basis is as follows:

Disability Living Allowance Fraud

Mr. Donohoe: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what checks the Government have in place continually to assess a person's eligibility for the disability living allowance in order to protect the system against fraudulent claims. [141960]

Mr. Pond: The DLA Periodic Enquiry has introduced checks of Disability Living Allowance awards to ensure that those entitled to the benefit receive, and continue to receive, their correct entitlement, although it is not regarded primarily as an anti fraud measure.

The process involves gathering up-to-date evidence about the customer's care and mobility needs, and making adjustments to the award of the benefit where appropriate. Changes in awards may be appropriate for example where the customer's condition improves or worsens, or where they adapt to their disability and therefore have fewer needs. Since the inception of Periodic Enquiry, 70 per cent. of the cases examined have resulted in no change to entitlement. Of the 30 per cent. of cases where the level of entitlement changed, two thirds resulted in entitlement to a higher level of award and in the remaining one third of cases entitlement either reduced or was extinguished altogether.


Linda Gilroy: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many inquiries his Department have received from pensioners by e-mail in each of the last three years. [143525]

Malcolm Wicks: From December 2002 to November 2003 a total of 21,806 emails were received from pensioners through our website. This figure does not include emails sent directly to The Pension Service Chief Executive's office, Ministers'offices, or other departmental email addresses that pensioners may have

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obtained through sources other than our website. Figures fore-mail correspondence are unavailable before December 2002.

Employment Retention and Advancement Project

Mr. George Osborne: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the (a) status of and (b) timescale for completion of the Employment Retention and Advancement Project is. [145117]

Mr. Browne: The Employment Retention and Advancement Project went live on 27 October 2003 in the following Jobcentre Plus districts:

    South East Wales;

    North East London;

    Renfrewshire, Inverclyde, Argyll and Bute;

    Gateshead and South Tyneside;


Manchester will begin delivering the programme on 5 January 2004.

The Employment Retention and Advancement Scheme will recruit customers for one year and the programme will run for three years. The programme will end in July 2007 except in Manchester where it will end in September 2007.

Exceptions Service

Lembit Öpik: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions whether claimants who have failed to respond to the Government's Direct Payment invitation letter before 2005 will be automatically transferred to the exceptions service; and what criteria will need to be met to qualify for the exceptions service. [144113]

Mr. Pond: We will be further contacting customers who continue to be paid by orderbook.

We have always recognised that there will be a small number of people who we cannot pay directly into an account. Our plan is to design an exceptions method of payment to properly meet the needs of customers in these circumstances. It is anticipated that it will be a cheque-based solution. Payment outlets will include Post Office branches. We are in the process of discussing the design of the exceptions method of payment with the representative bodies most directly affected.

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