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24 Jan 2006 : Column 2048W—continued

Tax Credits

Mr. Laws: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) when staff at the tax credit office first raised the issue of internet fraud with (a) managers, (b) the head of the Inland Revenue and (c) Ministers; and if he will make a statement; [36796]

(2) on what date he was first made aware of the use of the tax credit internet portal for organised fraud. [44995]

Mr. Francois: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer when his Department first became aware that an organised fraud of the tax credit system was being perpetuated via one HM Revenue and Customs website; and if he will make a statement. [44800]

Dawn Primarolo [holding answer 23 January 2006]: I refer to the reply I gave to the hon. Member for Yeovil on 10 January 2006, Official Report, columns 550–51W.

Mr. Laws: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer pursuant to the answer of 10 January 2006, Official Report, columns 550–51W, on tax credit, whether the Paymaster General was presented with the option of closing down the online tax credit portal in June 2005; and what the average award of tax credits was to families with (a) one child, (b) two children and (c) three children in the last year for which figures are available. [44244]

Dawn Primarolo: In June 2005 HMRC were satisfied they could continue to manage the balance between providing the internet service for genuine claimants against the risk posed from fraud. HMRC continued to closely monitor this and the decision to close the e-portal was taken in December 2005 after the threat had deemed to have changed.
24 Jan 2006 : Column 2049W

The average award of tax credits to families for the year 2003–04 is shown in the following table.
One child2,122
Two children2,460
Three children3,833

Mr. Laws: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer on what dates (a) he and (b) senior HM Revenue and Customs officials have met the (i) police, (ii) National Criminal Intelligence Service and (iii) National Infrastructure Security Co-ordination Centre to discuss tax credit fraud. [44996]

Dawn Primarolo: I refer the hon. Gentleman to the written statements I and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department issued on 23 January 2006.

Mr. Laws: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what his latest estimate is of the value of tax credit fraud in the financial year to date. [44997]

Dawn Primarolo: HMRC are currently undertaking a programme of work on finalised 2003–04 awards—the first year of working tax credit and child tax credit—to provide more information on the level of claimant error and fraud. This is due to be completed in spring 2006.

Trade Deficit

Mark Simmonds: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the UK's trade deficit. [44185]

24 Jan 2006 : Column 2050W

John Healey: The most relevant measure of the UK trade in goods and services balance for comparative purposes is not the absolute figure, but the trade balance as a percentage of GDP. As quarterly figures can be volatile, it is more informative to look at annual figures. In 2004, the UK trade balance was in deficit at 3.3 per cent. of GDP, compared to 4.1 per cent. of GDP in 1989. The current account deficit was 2.0 per cent. of GDP over the same period, less than half the peak of 5.1 per cent. of GDP in 1989, and is readily financeable.

Winter Deaths

Rosie Cooper: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many excess winter deaths of people aged over 65 years there have been in (a) West Lancashire, (b) Lancashire and (c) England in each year since 1997; and if he will make a statement. [45151]

John Healey: The information requested falls within the responsibility of the National Statistician who has been asked to reply.

Letter from Karen Dunnell, dated 24 January 2006:

Excess winter deaths1 for persons aged 65 years and over for West Lancashire local authority, Lancashire2, and England, 1997–98 to 2004–05

West Lancashire

(30) Excess winter deaths are defined by the Office for National Statistics as the difference between the number of deaths during the four winter months (December to March) and the average number of deaths during the preceding four months (August to November) and the following four months (April to July). Figures for 1997–98 to 2003–04 are rounded to the nearest 10.
(31) The figures provided relate to the current county of Lancashire. This excludes the unitary authorities of Blackburn and Darwen, and Blackpool, created in 1998, which were part of the former county.
(32) The excess winter deaths index is calculated as the excess number of winter deaths divided by the average number of non-winter deaths, expressed as a percentage.
(33) Figures for 2004–05 are provisional and are rounded to the nearest 100.


Benefit Agency

Chris Ruane: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) what estimate he has made of the additional transport costs which may be incurred by jobseekers as a result of the benefit agency office closure programme; [41819]

(2) what steps he is taking to help jobseekers in rural areas with additional transport costs incurred as a result of the benefit agency office closure programme. [41820]

Margaret Hodge: The administration of Jobcentre Plus is a matter for the chief executive of Jobcentre Plus, Lesley Strathie. She will write to the hon. Member.
24 Jan 2006 : Column 2051W

Letter from Lesley Strathie, dated 24 January 2006:

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