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7 Sept 2004 : Column 1116W—continued

Pension Credit

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to alter the rule whereby people who stay abroad for longer than four weeks have their pension credit payments stopped; and if he will make a statement. [187546]

Malcolm Wicks: Pension Credit is for people who live in Great Britain. If someone expects to be absent abroad for less than 52 weeks it can continue to be paid normally for no more than four weeks; or for up to eight weeks for someone accompanying a young person who lives with them and who is receiving medical treatment abroad. It can continue to be paid for people who have gone abroad for medical treatment under the NHS for themselves for as long as they receive treatment.

Officials are currently researching a range of options for potentially extending the period for which Pension Credit can continue to be paid for customers who go abroad for less than 52 weeks.

Employers' Liability Insurance

Mr. Bellingham: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps his Department is taking to reduce the burden on employers' liability compulsory
 
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insurance on small businesses with good health and safety track records; and what legislative changes are proposed. [186352]

Jane Kennedy: The Employers' Liability Compulsory Insurance (ELCI) Review identified a number of steps that would help to reduce the burden of ELCI on small businesses with good health and safety track records.

Firstly, the Department for Work and Pensions is currently reviewing ELCI in respect of those limited companies in the UK where the owner is the only employee. If a decision is made to remove the requirement for ELCI from such companies, then any legislative change can be expected in the UK early in 2005.

The Department is keen to see a more risk based approach to the underwriting of risks. The 'Making the Market Work' initiative run by the Association of British Insurers, and the developing Health and Safety Executive Management Performance Index for small businesses, will both help to ensure that insurers are able to reflect good health and safety practices in the terms they can offer.

Social Fund

Mr. Woodward: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans the Government have to reform the Social Fund; and if he will make a statement. [186865]

Mr. Pond: The Social Fund plays an important role in the Government's agenda for tackling poverty and social exclusion. It provides support to millions of people on low incomes, including some of the most vulnerable people in our society. We have announced a number of improvements to the Social Fund.

£90 million is being added to the Discretionary Social Fund budget over the three years to 2005–06, as announced in the Pre-Budget report 2002.

The Child Poverty Review, published on 12 July 2004, announced the Government's intention to abolish the Budgeting Loan 'double debt' rule and to reduce the current standard repayment rate of 15 per cent. of a customers benefit to 12 per cent. These changes will make Budgeting Loans more consistent and easier to understand and the Social Fund more effective in assisting those families most likely to experience over-indebtedness.

The Government are also looking at ways in which more affordable loans can be made available to people on low incomes, and are seeking to work in partnership with the private and voluntary sectors to find ways of delivering these, while ensuring that the loans enhance the ability of people to manage their finances responsibly.

We will continue to look at ways in which the Social Fund can be made more effective.

Work Injuries

Mr. Dismore: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will introduce a training system for
 
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providers of rehabilitation services to victims of accidents at work; and if he will make a statement. [186482R]

Jane Kennedy: The Department's work to produce a Framework for Vocational Rehabilitation has highlighted that organisations representing different rehabilitation providers already provide training schemes. For example, there are existing training curricula for doctors in the specialties of occupational medicine and rehabilitation medicine published by the Specialist Training Authority. There are analogous schemes for nurses and other health care professionals.

The framework will commit the Department to work with stakeholders, including training organisations, to ensure consistency in the training provided on recognised vocational rehabilitation standards. The Department will also work with stakeholders to identify, and take steps to fill, any standards or training gaps.

Mr. Dismore: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will introduce an accreditation scheme for providers of rehabilitative services to victims of accidents at work; and if he will make a statement. [186483R]

Jane Kennedy: The Departments work to develop a Framework for Vocational Rehabilitation has highlighted that many stakeholders would like steps to be taken to consider the need for accreditation schemes for providers of vocational rehabilitation. The Framework will set up the necessary mechanisms to enable the Department and other stakeholders to fully consider the need for accreditation schemes, and if required, to develop these.

Means-tested Benefits

Mr. Cousins: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what his policy is on the assessment of (a) grants, (b) bursaries, whether from Government or other sources and (c) student loans in the household incomes assessments for means-tested benefits; and whether this policy is under review. [186843]

Mr. Pond: Income support, income-based jobseeker's allowance, housing benefit and council tax benefit are income-related benefits. It is a general principle in the calculation of these benefits that any income available to the customer including grants, bursaries and student loans will be taken into account. A standard disregard is allowed for books, travel and equipment.

For benefit purposes, a student loan is treated in the same way as a grant or bursary. However, a further disregard of £10 per week is applied.

The new Higher Education Grant and Educational Maintenance Allowance paid to those students with low parental or family income will be wholly disregarded in the calculation of benefit as they are paid for the purpose of defraying costs of books, equipment, travel and child care.

DWP are currently working with the Department for Education and Skills and the Devolved Administrations in reviewing our policies on the treatment of grants,
 
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loans and bursaries within the benefit system in time for new grants and bursaries due to be introduced at the beginning of the 2006/07 academic year.

CSA

Mr. Liddell-Grainger: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many people in the Bridgwater constituency who have cases with the Child Support Agency are using (a) the old maintenance payment system and (b) the new maintenance payment system; and if he will make a statement as to when he estimates all people in Bridgwater will be assessed using the new system. [186502]

Mr. Pond: The administration of the Child Support Agency is a matter for the Chief Executive, Mr. Doug Smith. He will write to the hon. Member with the information requested.

Letter from Doug Smith to Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger, dated 7 September 2004:


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