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9 Jan 2006 : Column 99W—continued

Pensions Reform

Adam Afriyie: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) what assessment he has made of the Pensions Commission second report; [38524]

(2) if he will make a statement on progress on plans to reform the UK pensions system; [38526]

(3) what recent representations he has received on the findings and recommendations of the Pensions Commission report. [38527]

Mr. Timms: The Government welcomes the broad framework of the Pensions Commission's proposals and options which were published on 30 November 2005, and believe they are the right basis for the debate to come.

The Government will now need to reflect on the report and are committed to consulting with the public and stakeholders on these key issues as part of the National Pensions Debate. There is much to be discussed and decided on the detail of that framework and our response must meet the five tests we have set out—that our overall package of reforms must promote personal responsibility; must be fair, affordable, simple and sustainable.

As far as the specific recommendations are concerned, the Government are ruling nothing in and nothing out.
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We will launch the next stage of the National Pensions Debate in the new year and will continue to talk with people of all ages, in all parts of the country and across all political parties. We want to continue to listen to everyone's views so that we create ownership of the challenges and the possible solutions.

We will also continue to listen and engage with stakeholders and we are already meeting with key stakeholders as we work towards building a consensus on the way forward.

The Government will work towards the publication of a White Paper in the spring.

Adam Afriyie: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the Pensions Commission final report. [38525]

Mr. Timms: The Chancellor of the Exchequer and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State speak regularly about a wide range of policy issues.

Adam Afriyie: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what role his Department has played in negotiations on the reform of public sector pensions. [38536]

Mr. Timms: I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer to the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) on 31 October 2005, Official Report, column 741W.

Performance Development System

John McDonnell: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the total cost incurred by the Department in defending and settling Performance and Development System related cases was in (a) 2003 and (b) 2004 appraisal years. [38743]

Mrs. McGuire [holding answer 19 December 2005]: The Department successfully defended a High Court action brought by the Public and Commercial Services union and recouped its costs.

Approximately £59,000 was spent in defending and settling six individual Employment Tribunal cases. This figure includes counsel fees.

This is the total figure, spanning the 2003 and 2004 appraisal years. The information for each separate year is not available as the cases run across the reporting year and the Department's solicitors branch is unable to break the data down.

Post Office Bank Account

Lorely Burt: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions why the basic Post Office bank account is not able to receive payments through housing benefit and income support benefit cheques. [36209]

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.

The Post Office card account does not have a facility for the account holder to make payments to a third party (i.e. their landlord) by standing order, so is not a suitable account to receive payments of housing benefit
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or the local housing allowance which is currently being piloted. Most housing benefit customers already have a suitable bank account that can be used to receive their payments from which they can make payments directly to their landlord.

The Post Office card account was introduced as a stepping stone for those who did not feel that they were yet ready to make use of even a basic bank account. Should someone feel that they now need an account with more facilities then they should consider moving to an account which better suits their needs. Customers who have opened and operated a card account have demonstrated that they are now capable of using a basic bank account. There are a large number of current and basic bank accounts which can be accessed at Post Offices, if this is important to housing benefit recipients.

DWP cheques are designed for those people who we cannot pay into an account. There is no need for a facility to pay DWP cheques into Post Office card accounts. If customers, including those receiving income support, want to put their money into a card account then we can do this directly for them without needing to issue a cheque.

Public Relations

Mr. Weir: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the value was of (a) public opinion research and (b) public relations contracts awarded by his Department in 2004–05 in (i) each (A) nation and (B)region of the UK and (ii) London. [35948]

Margaret Hodge: The information requested is as follows.

(a) The DWP conducts regular research to monitor customers and the public views of our services.

During the last 12 months the cost for these pieces of work has been £86,000.00.

(b) The DWP has awarded two public relations contracts during the last 12 months.

For the Age Positive campaign the cost has been £420,000.00. (England £252,00.00, Scotland £84,000.00 and Wales £84,000.00). The cost for the Disability Discrimination Act campaign was £140,000.00.
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Race Equality Impact Assessments

Keith Vaz: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many Race Equality Impact Assessments his Department completed between (a) April 2004 and March 2005 and (b) April 2005 and November 2005; and how many assessments in each period resulted in a change of policy. [32824]

Mrs. McGuire: During the period from April 2004 to March 2005, 19 race equality impact assessments were completed. From April this year up to the end of September we have completed 24. The figures for October and November will be included in the return we undertake for the quarter ending December 2005.

There have been no major changes in policy as a result of conducting impact assessments; however, as a result we have made more explicit references to diversity principles, particularly in our Human Resource Policies and we have strengthened our monitoring and evaluation processes.

One area where we are undertaking more work is in relation to the Government's efficiency challenge where we have identified the need, particularly in the London area, to ensure that our proposals meet the needs of ethnic minority customers, particularly those with English as a second language.

Rent Service

Mr. Sanders: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the national targets are for The Rent Service; and what the performance of offices in South Devon is in relation to those targets. [36574]

Mr. Plaskitt: The administration of The Rent Service is a matter for the chief executive, Charlotte Copeland. She will write to the hon. Member with the information requested.

Letter from Charlotte Copeland, dated 12 December 2005:

Type of determinationNational targetExeter office1, 2
Housing benefit
With an inspection93% within 15 working days98.9% within 15 working days
Without an inspection93% within 3 working days99.7% within 3 working days
Pre-tenancy93% within 4 working days99.7% within 4 working days
Redeterminations93% within 15 working days98.2% within 15 working days
Fair rents93% within 40 working days99.3% within 40 working days

(25)Exeter is the only TRS office in South Devon.
(26)1 April to 30 November 2005.

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