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Mr. Laws: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer on what basis the level of provision for doubtful debt relating to tax credit overpayments as reported in the Department of Inland Revenue 200405 Accounts was determined; whether the provision is calculated on a (a) specific and (b) general basis; and if he will make a statement. 
The provision for doubtful debt relating to tax credits is a general provision, not a specific provision made in respect of itemised debts. The provision represents a prudent estimate of tax credit debt that might be written off in future and has been calculated taking into account the experience of recovery to date.
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Mr. Ivan Lewis: The Government welcome the contribution made by mutual societies, in competition with other providers, in providing for greater choice and diversity in the economy. For example, where credit unions serve members in particularly deprived areas, they can be vital in targeting the poorest communities and connecting people to more mainstream financial opportunities. On a larger scale, the 63 building societies in the UK have total assets approaching £250 billion and service around 18 per cent. of the mortgage market.
Mr. Laws: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what estimate he has made of the cost of reducing the lower earnings limit by (a) £2, (b) £5, (c) £10, (d) £15, (e) £20, (f) £30 and (g) £3; and how many (i) men and (ii) women would start paying national insurance contributions as a result of each such reduction. 
Dawn Primarolo: The main effect of reducing the LEL on contribution income will be on contracted-out rebates. Class 1 contributions are not paid on earnings below the primary threshold. The total effect on contribution income in 200607 is shown in the table.
|Reduce LEL per week by:||200607 (£ million)|
The effect on benefit payments would not start for at least a year after the change in the LEL (because of the form of the contributions conditions) and would build-up very slowly. Table 2 shows the cost for the first five years, assuming that the change in the LEL took place in April 2006.
per week by:
|Reduce LEL per week by:||Males||Females|
Dr. Cable: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he expects the April 2006 deadline for online tax collection for sub-contractors to be met; what arrangements are being made to assist operators who are unable to work the new system; and if he will make a statement. 
John Healey: Reform of the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) was announced in Budget 2003 and legislated in the Finance Act 2004. From the outset, the changes have been developed in close consultation with industry representatives, in particular through the work of the Construction Industry Reform Implementation Panel, which met again today.
The industry has agreed to strengthen cooperation with HM Revenue and Customs including in planning a full joint testing programme for the new verification services and monthly contractors' returns, promoting the use of the new employment status declaration and analysing areas of non-compliance in the industry. And the Government have also agreed with the industry to extend from April 2006 to April 2007 the period for implementation of the final elements of the new CIS.
During this period, HMRC will step up its level of advice and compliance activity with the industry, including new interactive online software and up to 70 telephone advisers to provide help with employment status from next month.
2. Members who are 'contributing' to a private pension scheme include those who are building up rights within a salary related scheme, those who are currently contributing to a scheme or whose employer makes a contribution on their behalf. Private pension refers to either an occupational, personal or stakeholder pension scheme.
4. For those who are in receipt of a private pension, this includes payments received from occupational and personal pension schemes, widow's employee pensions, trade union and friendly society pensions, annuity pensions, trusts and covenants.
Mr. Randall: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what amounts have been recovered by (a) HM Revenue and Customs, (b) the Metropolitan police and (c) other relevant agencies under the provisions of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 at Heathrow airport or as a result of crime committed at Heathrow airport since the Act came into force. 
Mr. Ivan Lewis: As part of the wide range of VAT reliefs for charities, charities providing rescue or first aid services can purchase VAT free the specialised telecommunications, aural, visual, light enhancing or heat detecting equipment which they use. These charities are also able to buy medicines, medical equipment, and ambulances free of VAT. In addition, charities like the RNLI which provide rescue or assistance at sea, do not pay VAT on the purchase of lifeboats and certain related equipment, or on the costs of having these lifeboats repaired or maintained. However, agreements with our European partners mean that it is not now possible to extend the scope of the zero rates available to charities.
No Government have considered the issue of irrecoverable VAT more seriously than this one. We have conducted two major reviews to see if we could find an efficient, affordable and principled solution.
Through these reviews, we came to two conclusions: first, that it would not be an affordable or efficient use of public resources to reimburse all 250,000 charitable bodies in the UK for the VAT they incur, regardless of the activities they are involved in or their financial health, and which, according to estimates from the charitable sector, would cost over £500 million per year; and second, that there was no fair and principled basis on which we could decide that some charities would be reimbursed their VAT and some would not.
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As a result of Gift Aid and other measures, we are currently providing nearly £2.5 billion worth of support to charities through the tax system each year, including over £200 million in VAT reliefs. This forms part of the total Government support for the voluntary and community sector, which stands at over £3.3 billion per year.
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