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21 Feb 2005 : Column 102W—continued

EU Committees

Angus Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many times during the (a) Italian, (b) Irish and (c) Dutch presidency of the EU the Technical Adaptation Committee on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to chemical, physical and biological agents at work met; when and where these meetings took place; what UK Government expert was present; and if he will make a statement. [216341]

Mr. Pond: The Committee did not meet during these Presidencies. Council Directive 80/1107/EEC of 27 November 1980 on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to chemical, physical and biological agents at work that made provision for the Committee was revoked in 1998 by the Chemical Agents Directive. The European Commission elected to tackle these risks by individual directives. Separate directives now exist on Chemical and Biological Agents. In relation to Physical Agents, there are now individual directives on Noise, Vibration and Electromagnetic Fields and a fourth on Optical Radiation is under negotiation. Each of the adopted directives makes provision for creation of a Technical Adaptation Committee.

There have been three Command Papers produced on prospects for the European Union which include highlights from the Presidencies in question—Cm6174 laid in April 2004, Cm6310 laid in September 2004 and Cm6450 laid in February 2005. They are available in the Library and on the FCO website at:


Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what estimate he has made of the number of private landlords in the pilot areas who (a) will and (b) will not participate in the new flat-rate local housing allowance scheme. [215560]

Mr. Pond: All private sector tenants in the nine pathfinder areas who require help towards their housing costs will claim local housing allowance (LHA) instead of housing benefit. A comprehensive, independent programme of evaluation will examine the impact of LHA across a range of areas, including the decisions and strategies of landlords and impact on the housing market in the areas concerned. This research will be completed in March 2006.
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A further nine local authorities, known as the second wave group, will implement LHA between April and July 2005. Although not part of the formal evaluation programme, their experiences will be used to help inform best practice for extending the scheme nationally.

Housing Benefit

Mr. Flight: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how the processing of housing benefit by local authorities is measured in terms of (a) efficiency, (b) accuracy and (c) fraud. [215132]

Mr. Pond: The Department for Work and Pensions sets performance standards, which includes performance indicators, to help DWP, and local authorities themselves, assess performance in the administration of housing benefit (HB) and council tax benefit (CTB). Additionally, the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate reports to the Secretary of State on the administration of HB and CTB and, in particular, on the prevention and detection of fraud relating to these benefits.

Mr. Flight: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how much housing benefit expenditure was overpaid by local authorities due to fraud and error in each year for which figures are available. [215133]

Mr. Pond: We undertake a continuous measurement of fraud and error in housing benefit. The Department published Fraud and Error in Housing Benefit, April 2002 to September 2003" on 12 August 2004. This report represents progress against the first national headline estimates, for the level of fraud and error in HB. The report is available in the Library.

Mr. Flight: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the average time taken to process a claim for housing benefit was in each year since 1975. [215243]

Mr. Pond: The available information is in the following table.
Average number of days to process new housing benefit claims, Great Britain: April 2000 to September 2004

April to June 200445
July to September 200443

1.The average time taken to process a housing benefit (HB) claim is available for new claims only and the data is not available prior to April 2000.
2.The figures are rounded to the nearest whole day.
3.The figures are taken from April to March each year and are four quarter averages.
4.2004–05 data is available for the first two quarters only, i.e. April to September 2004.
Housing Benefit Management Information System Quarterly Administration Returns April 2000 to September 2004.

Incapacity Benefit

Paul Holmes: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment his Department has made
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of the effectiveness of the 52 week linking rule; and what qualitative research his Department has commissioned to evaluate it. [214628]

Mr. Pond: The 52 week linking rule was introduced in 1998 to allow people moving off an incapacity benefit into work to re-access any higher rates of benefit that had been in payment if their job did not work out and they needed to re-claim. It was introduced as a result of research evidence which found that people feared moving off benefit in case their job did not last, leading to difficulties in requalifying for their old benefit. The importance of linking rules was confirmed in subsequent research. For example, an evaluation in 2003 of clients eligible for the new deal for disabled people identified the most important 'bridge to work' was the knowledge that they could return to their original benefit if needed.

The Department of Social Security Research Report 141 incapacity benefits and work incentives included qualitative research into the operation of the 52 week linking rule. The conclusions of the researchers were that knowing about the linking rule could influence decisions to move into work; that it reduced some of the risks and anxieties about loss of income and security attached to moving into work and that it was generally appreciated by clients. There were also indications that lack of awareness of the rule reduced its incentive effect as did anxiety that the rule would be hard to access and there was evidence that this was the case. This has been borne out by recent research. The Department for Work and Pensions Research Report A Stepping Stone to Employment" published last December noted the very low levels of awareness of the linking rules amongst clients on permitted work.

The Department's five year strategy published earlier this month includes our commitment to review the operation of the linking rules to ensure that existing claimants' position is protected if they take a job and they then need to return to incapacity benefits.

Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to change the conditions for receiving income support on the grounds of incapacity. [215559]

Mr. Pond: The changes to incapacity benefits as set out in the Five-Year Strategy apply equally to contributory incapacity benefit and income support on the grounds of incapacity. We will be looking to simplifycurrent arrangements by incorporating both contributory and income-related elements into the new benefits.

Jobcentre Plus

Mr. Flight: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what measures are in place to assess the speed, efficiency and accuracy of the provision of benefits at Jobcentre Plus. [215245]

Mr. Pond: The administration of Jobcentre Plus is a matter for the Chief Executive of the Jobcentre Plus, David Anderson. He will write to the hon. Member.
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Letter from David Anderson to Mr. Howard Flight, dated 17 February 2005:

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