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31 Jan 2006 : Column 421W—continued

Consolidated Fund

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister for what reasons there was a failure to pay national non-domestic rates collected from local authorities into the Consolidated Fund in 2004–05; how much was involved; and if he will make a statement. [47511]

Mr. Woolas: The usual procedure is that receipts received in one month are paid into the Consolidated Fund on the eighth banking day of the following month. However, to avoid problems with year end accruals, the usual practice is to pay over the March receipts before our accounting system closes in March. Although the
 
31 Jan 2006 : Column 422W
 
intention was to do this in March 2005, it was inadvertently overlooked and the payment was made on 12 April.

This transaction concerns the transfer of money between two central Government accounts at the Bank of England and therefore did not involve any loss of interest, or any risk to taxpayers' money. As at 31 March 2005 the national non-domestic rates (NNDR) requiring payment to the Consolidated Fund was £824 million. As it was year end, the amount received was lower than the usual monthly amount, which is typically about £1.6 billion.
 
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Procedures have been put in place to ensure that this oversight will not happen again and that future relevant payment will be made in March.

Correspondence

Bob Spink: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister when he will reply to the letter of 13 December 2005 from the hon. Member for Castle Point on the Thames Gateway Port and compensation for Thames estuary fishermen. [45718]

Jim Fitzpatrick: The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has no record of receiving the hon. Member's letter of 13 December 2005 although officials in the ODPM have now obtained a copy of it from the hon. Member. However, the subject matter of the correspondence is the responsibility of the Department for Transport who will therefore reply directly to the hon. Member.

Council Tax

Anne Milton: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what the district precept of Band D council tax (a) excluding and (b) including average parish precepts was in (i) Guildford borough and (ii) Waverley borough, in each year since 1997–98. [46030]

Mr. Woolas: The information requested is tabled as follows.
£

Average Band D council tax for the authority
Guildford
Waverley
Excluding parish preceptsIncluding parish preceptsExcluding parish preceptsIncluding parish precepts
1997–988910391107
1998–999510997117
1999–200091106100122
2000–0196112104129
2001–02103119108135
2002–03112129114144
2003–04121139125157
2004–05125144132165
2005–06128148139173



Source:
BR1 returns


Stephen Hammond: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what the annual change was in the average council tax for a band D property in each year since 1997–98. [46911]

Mr. Woolas: Details of the annual change in the average council tax for a band D property in each year since 1997–98 are published in Table 2.2e of Local Government Financial Statistics England 2005, a copy of which is available in the Library of the House and on the web at: http://www.local.odpm.gov.uk/finance/stats/lgfs/2005/lgfsl6/h/lgfsl6/xlsfiles/lgsf16–2-2k.xls

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what guidance his Department has provided to local authorities on tackling council tax (a) fraud, (b) evasion and (c) underpayments. [46979]

Mr. Woolas: Billing authorities are under statutory duty to take reasonable steps to ascertain whether dwellings should qualify for a council tax exemption or whether a discount should apply. Billing authorities have the power to fine individuals who fail to notify
 
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them that an exemption or discount should no longer apply. Where a person claims a discount or exemption, to which they know that they are not entitled, then they may be subject to prosecution under the Theft Act 1968 for obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception.

None of these duties could be undertaken without a property valuation.

Dr. Francis: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will take steps to entitle (a) husbands and wives and (b) other partners who care for one another due to (i) illness and (ii) disability, whether they work or not, to council tax rebate. [46327]

Mr. Woolas: Carers are already disregarded for the purposes of calculating entitlement to a council tax discount in some circumstances. The rules are designed to ensure that the person being cared for does not face a higher council tax bill as a result of their care needs, not to provide a general reduction in council tax for those receiving or providing care. Council tax benefit is available to husbands, wives and other partners who care for one another, whether they are in work or not, if they are on a low income.

The Government has no plans to introduce new council tax exemptions and discounts. Sir Michael Lyons' Inquiry into local government funding, including the reform of council tax, is due to report at the end of this year.

Departmental Accounts (Irregularities)

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what financial irregularity occurred in 2004–05, as referred to in the Department's Resource Accounts for 2004–05; how much was involved; which departmental division was involved; which Minister had oversight of the areas; whether the police authorities have been informed; and if he will make a statement. [47510]

Jim Fitzpatrick: As criminal charges have been brought and the matter is now before the courts, it would be inappropriate for me to comment at this time.

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what assessment his Department's Accounting Officer has made of the financial irregularities referred to in the Department's Resource Accounts for 2004–05; and if he will make a statement. [47513]

Jim Fitzpatrick: As criminal charges have been brought and the matter is now before the courts, it would be inappropriate for me to comment at this time.

Departmental Losses

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how much has been lost by his Department due to (a) fraud, (b) theft and (c) loss of property in each year since its creation; and what estimate he has made of such losses in 2005–06 to date. [47515]

Jim Fitzpatrick: The information is as follows.

(a) Losses due to fraud in each year since the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) was created are as follows:
 
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Financial yearODPM (C) (£)
2002–038,592
2003–043,622
2004–05867,200
2005–060

(b) Losses due to theft in each financial year since the ODPM was created are as follows:
Financial yearODPM (C) (£)
2002–031,901
2003–046,350
2004–051,000
2005–062,000

(c) Loss of property in each year since the ODPM was created is as follows:
Financial yearODPM (C) (£)
2002–0375
2003–043,678
2004–050
2005–060

No estimate of losses has been made for 2005–06. The figures shown for that year are for losses made to date.

Departmental Website

Mr. Jenkins: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what the cost of maintaining his main departmental website was for the last year for which figures are available; and how many visitors there were to the site in each of the last 12 months. [46302]

Jim Fitzpatrick: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer given to the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) on 3 November 2005, Official Report, columns 1264–65W, for the cost of the main Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's website: odpm.gov.uk.

I refer my hon. Friend to the answer given to the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) on 17 October 2005, Official Report, columns 805–06W, for monthly visitors to the site from September 2003 to August 2005. Figures for September and October 2005 are table as follows:
MonthUnique visitors
September 2005177,413
October 2005187,381


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