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Mr. Plaskitt: We need to consider the findings of the Lyons Inquiry into Local Government Funding, which is due to report later this year, but we certainly want to ensure that help with council tax is made easier for individuals to access.
Mr. Plaskitt: The actual average clearance time for crisis loans in 200405 was 1.3 working days. This is within the current internal target of clearing crisis loans within an average of two working days. The minimum clearance time that can be recorded is one day.
Michael Connarty: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will increase staffing and resources to administer the new centralised system of telephone applications for crisis loans. 
The Secretary of State has asked me to reply to your question concerning whether staffing and resources will be increased to administer the new centralised system of telephone applications for Social Fund Crisis Loans. This is something that falls within the responsibilities delegated to me as acting Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus.
There are no plans to increase resources, as dealing with Crisis Loans by telephone is no more expensive than the previous method of interview in person. Managers are expected to ensure that sufficient staff are deployed on telephone lines to meet required demand and to provide the facility for face to face interviews for people who do not wish to use the telephone.
For the future, we are designing a standard operating model, which will specify common procedures, technology and resources for all aspects of Social Fund delivery, and this will take account of fluctuating demand.
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions pursuant to his answer of 14 June 2005, Official Report, column 260W on earnings-related pensions, (1) what assumptions he made about
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(a) income brought to account for pension credit and (b) pension credit take up in projecting the future cost of pension credit; 
(2) what the estimated costs (a) in real terms and (b) as a percentage of gross domestic product are of (i)the basic state pension, (ii) Serps/S2P, (iii) pension credit and (iv) other pension benefits in (A) 2010, (B)2020, (C) 2030, (D) 2040 and (E) 2050, consistent with the projections of extra cost. 
For the purposes of pension credit estimates pensioner incomes are assumed to rise in line with earnings in the long-term. Take-up rates of pension credit are held constant from 2009 onwards within demographic group (defined by age, gender and marital status).
|Basic state pension (extra costs)||18||38||69||109||151|
|Pension credit (savings)||8||12||19||27||37|
|Winter fuel payments (savings)||1||1||2||2||2|
|Total additional expenditure||10||25||50||80||113|
Jim Sheridan: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) what assessment has been undertaken of Operation Gangmaster since the introduction of the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004; and if he will make a statement; 
Mr. Plaskitt: A full evaluation of Operation Gangmaster was completed in April 2004, and operational evaluations are regularly carried out. We have no plans to transfer the responsibility for Operation Gangmaster to the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.
There are no offences directly related to Operation Gangmaster. Any enforcement action is taken under legislation available to participating departments. In the last year three labour providers have been arrested. Two have been charged with facilitation offences but have not yet appeared before the courts. One has been convicted for benefit fraud offences. Operation Gangmaster does not make any distinction between first and second stage processing.
Danny Alexander: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many claimants have received local housing allowance through pathfinder pilots; and how many of these received the allowance at a protected rate to prevent them receiving a lower amount than under their previous entitlement to housing benefit. 
Mr. Paul Goodman: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) what assessment he has made of whether private sector landlords in the housing benefit pathfinders have reduced the rents which they charge in order (a) to secure more tenants and (b) to keep existing tenants; and if he will make a statement; 
(2) how many and what percentage of those living in the private rented sector and receiving housing benefit directly have built up arrears in rental payments in the pathfinder areas; 
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(3) what assessment he has made of the effects of the introduction of (a) local housing allowance and (b) direct payments in the housing benefit pathfinder areas on private sector landlords' participation in the market; and if he will make a statement; 
Mr. Plaskitt: The Department has commissioned a comprehensive, independent evaluation of the local housing allowance (LHA) pathfinders. This will provide information on the impact of the LHA, and the reactions of claimants and landlords to the LHA and direct payments.
In April we published Delivering the Local Housing Allowance: A summary of the early experiences of implementing the Local Housing Allowance in the nine Pathfinder areas" reporting on the operational experience after six months of live running of the LHA. A copy is available in the Library.
Mr. Paul Goodman: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many and what percentage of housing benefit payments have been made direct to landlords in each of the nine pathfinder areas. 
Mr. Plaskitt: Information for housing benefits payments made direct to landlords in each of the nine pathfinder areas is not available. The information is available for local housing allowance claimants only, and is shown in the table.
|Brighton and Hove||995||12|
Mr. Paul Goodman: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what impact the introduction of the local housing allowances in the housing benefit pathfinders has had on the average length of time taken to process new claims. 
Isolating the impact of the local housing allowances on the average length of time taken to process new claims is not possible as processing times are influenced by a number of factors many of which are independent of the local housing allowance.
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|Private new claim|
|Brighton and Hove||35||35|
|North East Lincolnshire||53||36|
|All LAs ( including non-pathfinder)||58||52|
Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how the Department intends to increase the quality of communication between claimants, landlords and housing benefit offices in the pathfinders areas. 
Mr. Plaskitt: The Department has developed a communications strategy for all Pathfinders which sets out best practices for communication with key stakeholders such as landlords. The strategy includes DWP branded products such as landlord fact sheets and landlord newsletters, which pathfinder local authorities can distribute where appropriate.
Mr. Plaskitt: The Post Office card account is a simple account with very limited functions. It was specifically designed to receive payments of benefits and pensions administered by central Government.
Local housing allowance is paid by local authorities. The customer is responsible for paying rent to their landlord and this may be more or less than the allowance. The Post Office card account does not have
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a facility for the account holder to make payments to a third party by standing order, so is not a suitable account to receive payments of local housing allowance.
Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps the Department is taking to ensure accountability and impartiality on the part of those who make the final decisions concerning vulnerability requests for local housing allowance. 
Mr. Plaskitt: Local authorities develop and use local policies to help determine whether a tenant is capable of taking the responsibility to receive their local housing allowance and to then make the necessary arrangements to pay their rent to the landlord. If following representation from a tenant or someone on their behalf, the local authority decides that direct payments to a tenant are not appropriate the local authority will then pay the eligible rent directly to the landlord. The policies used are based on guidelines produced by the Department and in many cases are developed and operated in conjunction with local advice agencies.
Local authorities make these decisions based on information and evidence produced by the tenant or those working on their behalf. The local authority is accountable for the decisions it makes, which are also subject to appeal.
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