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14 Mar 2005 : Column 96W—continued


Mr. Chope: To ask the Secretary of State for Workand Pensions what financial help is available to applicants for (a) income support, (b) incapacity benefit and (c) jobseeker's allowance between the date of application and the conclusion of a work-focused benefit interview. [212302]

Mr. Pond: A customer for any of these benefits may express a need for immediate financial help any time during the new-claim process. The action to take will depend upon what stage the request is made.

Where a benefit claim has been assessed and payment of benefit is due, the payment is issued immediately.

If the request is made at First Contact Stage, wherever possible, an urgent appointment (preferably the same day) is made with the Financial Assessor and Personal Adviser to complete the claim process and allow any payment due to be released.

If an immediate appointment cannot be booked or the benefit claim cannot be assessed, because for example information is outstanding, an interim
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payment is considered. An interim payment is a payment on account of benefit and is considered when, from the information provided already, it appears the customer may be entitled to benefit but it is not possible to fully assess the claim immediately.

Where a benefit claim has been assessed, but it is established the first payment is not due immediately, then consideration can be given to a Social Fund Crisis Loan.

Dunley Jobcentre

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) when the decision was made to bring forward the announcement of the planned closure of Dunley Jobcentre; what interim arrangements are being put in place; and what contracts are being negotiated with Gloucestershire city council on access to IT facilities in the new library; [220652]

(2) what redeployment of staff is being undertaken regarding the planned closure of the Dunley Jobcentre; and whether the provision of a continuing staff presence in Dunley was considered. [220653]

Jane Kennedy: The administration of Jobcentre Plus is a matter for the Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus, David Anderson. He will write to the hon. Member.

Letter from David Anderson to Mr. David Drew, dated 14 March 2005:

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EU Councils

Mr. Hood: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the outcome was of the Employment and Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council on 3 March; what the Government's stance was on the issues discussed, including its voting record; and if he will make a statement. [220826]

Mr. Pond: I represented the UK at the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council in Brussels on 3 March 2005.

The main focus of business was preparation towards the Spring European Council. This took the form of a policy debate, based on a Presidency questionnaire and a Key Issues paper from the Employment and Social Protection Committees (EMCO and SPC), to finalise the ESPHCA Council's contribution to the Spring Council.

Commissioner Spidla summarised the Commission's position, to set growth and employment at the heart of the revision of the Lisbon strategy.

For the UK, I stressed that there was no conflict between the economic and social agendas. On the contrary, a focus on employment should be seen as an affirmation of Europe's commitment to its social goals, as without growth social policies might not be sustainable.

The Key Messages paper was adopted for transmission to the Spring European Council.

The Presidency presented an information note on Working Time outlining the current positions of the member states. There was no debate on this point.

The Council agreed a partial general approach on a decision establishing the PROGRESS social spending programme, which would replace five existing social programmes from 2007. For the UK I maintained a parliamentary scrutiny reserve. A Council declaration explained that the partial agreement covered all articles except Article 17, on the budget and internal allocations between different strands of activity. The agreement could be re-opened in the light of the EP's opinion or agreement of the Financial Perspectives.

The Presidency informed the Council that it intends to hold a Tripartite Social Summit on the eve of the European Council to discuss the mid term review of the Lisbon agenda.

The Council also agreed a general approach on a regulation making routine miscellaneous amendments to social security co-ordination regulation 1408/71.

The Council also heard presentations on the work programmes of the Employment Committee and the Social Protection Committee (SPC) and a study by the SPC on private pensions.

The Council adopted without debate conclusions on the Social Aspects of Globalisation.
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Fuel Direct

Mr. Stunell: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what estimate he has made of the number of customers included in the Fuel Direct payment scheme in the last 10 years; and what the cost of operating the Fuel Direct payment system has been in each of the last 10 years. [221331]

Mr. Pond: Information regarding the cost of running the Fuel Direct scheme is not available. Information regarding the number of customers included in the scheme is in the following table.
DWP customers on Fuel Direct scheme


The figures are based on a 5 per cent. sample and as such subject to a degree of sampling error.
Income Support and Jobseeker's Allowance Quarterly Statistical Enquiries.

Incapacity Benefit

Mr. Spring: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many people in West Suffolk constituency were in receipt of incapacity benefit in each year since 1997. [221321]

Maria Eagle: The information is in the following table.
All incapacity benefit and severe disability allowance claimants in the West Suffolk parliamentary constituency, at the quarter shown

As at 31 August:Number

1.Figures are rounded to the nearest 100.
2.Figures include all incapacity benefit, severe disability allowance and credits-only cases.
Information Directorate, 5 per cent. sample.

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