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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. 
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.
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.
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; 
The Secretary of State has asked me to reply to your questions about the planned closure of Dursley Jobcentre. This is something which falls within the responsibilities delegated to me as Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus.
It may be helpful if I explain that on 22 October 2004 we wrote to our stakeholders to inform them that Dursley Jobcentre had been earmarked for closure, providing the reasons why and inviting views from stakeholders. As a result of the consultation exercise, the final decision concerning the closure of Dursley Jobcentre was made in February 2005 and the office will close on 31 March. The communication of this decision began on 4 March via a press release, then in writing to Jobcentre Plus customers and other stakeholders. At no time between October 2004 and February 2005 did we confirm the closure of Dursley Jobcentre and therefore our announcement was not brought forward.
Jobcentre Plus is currently in local negotiations with Gloucestershire County Council for provision of a Flexible Service Delivery (FSD) option in Dursley Library. This negotiation has not yet been concluded as the Local Authority are considering the terms of the formal written agreement proposed by Jobcentre Plus. The FSD option includes the provision of a free telephone link and the use of the Library Internet services. Interim arrangements have been made to provide a limited service to customers from the existing Jobcentre site on one day per week until the FSD option is in place and fully operational.
Jobcentre Plus has taken every appropriate step in redeploying staff affected by the closure of Dursley Jobcentre. There are currently two staff members who have yet to agree a permanent alternative. The provision of a continuing staff presence in Dursley was fully considered in light of stakeholder feedback.
It is important to remember that the shape of the network in future is in response to the changing business need. Increasingly we will be delivering our services through the premises of our partners and siting facilities such as touch-screen Jobpoints or free telephone access in local public buildings. The need for face-to-
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. 
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.
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 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.
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. 
|As at 31 August:||Number|
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