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7 Feb 2006 : Column 1161W—continued

Council Tax (Pensioners)

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions whether eligible pensioners will receive a £200 payment towards council tax in 2006–07. [47865]

Mr. Timms: The £200 age-related payment to help with council tax bills was for 2005–06 only. We have no current plans to make a payment in 2006–07. The Government keeps all tax and welfare policies under review and any changes are considered as part of the normal budget and spending review processes.

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what estimate he has made of the number of pensioners in (a) England and (b) the UK who (i) are eligible and (ii) will claim the £200 one-off payment towards council tax in 2005–06. [47892]

Mr. Timms: We estimate around 6.2 million pensioners in England and 7.2 million in Great Britain will be eligible for the £200 age-related payment to help with council tax bills.

We expect almost all of the £200 age-related payments to be made automatically without the need for a claim because the Department can identify those entitled from existing administrative data.

Payments made in Northern Ireland are a matter for my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Customer Management System Centres

Danny Alexander: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the average number of days taken was
 
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(a) to call back and (b) from call back to interview date for each customer management system centre in the last period for which figures are available. [46882]

Margaret Hodge [holding answer 31 January 2006]: The administration of Jobcentre Plus is a matter for the chief executive of Jobcentre Plus, Lesley Strathie. She will write to the hon. Member.

Letter from Lesley Strathie:


Contact CentreWeek ending 20 January 2006,
time taken to call customer
Blackburn2 working days ahead
BootleFollowing working day
BridgendFollowing working day
CoventryFollowing working day
DerbyFollowing working day
DundeeFollowing working day
GarstonFollowing working day
GrimsbyFollowing working day
HalifaxFollowing working day
HastingsFollowing working day
LincolnFollowing working day
LowestoftSame working day
Marton MereFollowing working day
MiddlesbroughFollowing working day
NewcastleFollowing working day
PaisleyFollowing working day
Pembroke DockFollowing working day
PooleFollowing working day
SheffieldFollowing working day
TauntonFollowing working day
TelfordFollowing working day
TorquaySame working day

Disabled People (Independent Living)

Mr. Hunt: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what progress his Department has made in setting up the Taskforce for Independent Living referred to in Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People"; when he expects it will issue its first report; and if he will make a statement. [49829]

Mrs. McGuire: The Prime Minister's Strategy Unit report Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People" recommended that a Taskforce for Independent Living was established to develop imaginative new solutions and ways forward to actively promote independent living in a variety of ways.
 
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An official from the Department of Health has already been appointed to the Office for Disability Issues to set up the taskforce and a scoping exercise is now under way. Proposals will be put to the ministerial group in spring 2006 and the taskforce will be established shortly afterwards. The timing of the first report will be confirmed once the taskforce has been set up.

Household Income

Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment he has made of the minimum income which a UK household needs to live on; and if he will make a statement. [41394]

Margaret Hodge: Our concerns about research on minimum income standards have been well documented. What people need to live on varies greatly depending on their needs and a range of factors. Different research methods tend to make different assumptions and generate a range of estimates.

There are a range of research methods such as budget standards, deprivation studies, expenditure studies and consensual studies that can be used to look at questions of absolute and relative adequacy of benefits. We look at all these research methods when assessing benefit levels although it is often difficult to draw strong conclusions as the results are sometimes contradictory.

In practice, when setting benefit rates other objectives such as the need to maintain incentives to work and the need to control public expenditure are also considered.

Poverty is wider than income alone. We have a comprehensive strategy for tackling poverty and social exclusion. Our annual report 'Opportunity for All' sets out how we are tackling the problems faced by individuals throughout their lives. Monitoring low incomes is one part of a wider strategy for tackling the causes of poverty and social exclusion, not just the symptoms.

Housing Benefit

Danny Alexander: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the change in average processing time for housing benefit claims was in (a) Pathfinder and (b) non-Pathfinder areas in each of the last two years. [40886]

Mr. Plaskitt: The information is in the following table.
Average processing times in days for all housing benefit claims

2003–042004–05Change
Pathfinder areas5154+3
Pathfinder areas excluding Leeds(39)5346-7
Non-Pathfinder areas5044-6


(39) Leeds had problems with its software system in 2005 which had a negative impact on the processing times for 2004–05. The average housing benefit processing for all Pathfinders excluding Leeds is 46 days in 2004–05 compared to 53 days in 2003–04.
Notes:
1. The reported figures are for housing benefit claims and do not include council tax benefit claims. The processing times cover claims from tenants renting from a social landlord as well as those renting from a private landlord, so the large majority of these claims in Pathfinder areas will not be for the local housing allowance.
2. The reported averages are weighted averages (by new claim workload).
Source:
DWP administrative data, HBMIS.



 
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Danny Alexander: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions pursuant to his answer of 19 January 2006, Official Report, column 1549W, on housing benefit, whether the evidence collected on work incentives as part of the local housing allowance evaluation will include evidence on (a) the level of income tapers and (b) the level of earnings disregards. [47190]

Mr. Plaskitt: The local housing allowance evaluation is collecting evidence on the level of income tapers and this will be included as part of the final evaluation.

The local housing allowance does not alter the level of earnings disregards and this is not part of the evaluation.

Incapacity Benefit

Mr. Hollobone: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment he has made of the merits of making participation in a rehabilitation scheme compulsory for incapacity benefit claimants who are drug addicts. [32049]

Margaret Hodge: We want to make sure that everyone in society has the opportunity to enter into employment including those who misuse drugs. We have been working towards this goal for some time. The progress2work initiative, which supports those who are recovering from drugs misuse into work, has now been rolled out across Jobcentre Plus. It delivers specialist support to help people find and sustain employment. So far, over 4,000 claimants on incapacity benefits have participated in the initiative.

Our assessment is that making participation in a rehabilitation scheme compulsory for incapacity benefit claimants who misuse drugs would be inappropriate. For drug and alcohol misuse, the most effective medical intervention is likely to be counselling/cognitive behavioural therapy, but neither route is going to be effective unless the patient willingly engages. Compulsory therapy with an unwilling participant is most likely to be ineffective.

Medical treatment can be agreed as part of a claimant's action plan. This is because an individual can volunteer to undertake treatment (whether of their own volition or by persuasion from a personal adviser) as happens in Pathways. However, for a health care professional to carry out a medical intervention, there must be patient consent. That consent must be informed consent, given freely. In law, consent given under duress is not given fully and freely and the fear of losing benefit could amount to duress. This means that we cannot sanction a claimant for not undertaking medical treatment if they decided they did not want to do it at any point in the process.

Danny Alexander: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what discussions he has had with the Department for Health on the potential effects of the expert patient programme on incapacity benefit reform; and if he will make a statement. [40916]


 
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Margaret Hodge: Ministers from the Department for Work and Pensions have regular discussions with Health Ministers.

Relationships between the expert patient programme and incapacity benefit reform were considered in the development of our recently published Green Paper; A new deal for welfare: Empowering people to work" and the, also recently published, Department of Health White Paper.

Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) what estimate he has made of the cost of cutting the rates of short-term incapacity benefit for people under state pension age to the rates of jobseeker's allowance; and if he will make a statement; [41391]

(2) what estimate he has made of the cost savings from phasing out the higher rate of short-term incapacity benefit for people under state pension age for new claimants; and if he will make a statement. [41565]

Margaret Hodge: Proposal for reform have been set out in the Welfare Reform Green Paper and are subject to consultation.

Lynne Featherstone: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps the Government are taking to provide people on incapacity benefit with (a) training, (b) rehabilitation and (c) counselling in order to get them back into work; and if he will make a statement. [46296]

Margaret Hodge: The Government has been piloting Pathways to Work for new Incapacity Benefit Claimants successfully for over two years now. In the Welfare Reform Green paper 'A new deal for welfare: Empowering people to work', the Government committed to rolling out Pathways to Work nationally by 2008.

Pathways to Work gives a single point of access to the New Deal for Disabled People, Work Based Learning for Adults and other training courses. Pathways to Work also offers access to rehabilitation and counselling services in the form of Condition Management Programmes run by health professionals. These programmes typically include pain management and cognitive behavioural therapy.

Mr. Holloway: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on his Department's plans to reduce the number of people claiming incapacity benefit. [47667]

Margaret Hodge: We recently published our Green Paper, A new deal for welfare: Empowering people to work". It lays out why we are proposing to help those people on incapacity benefit back to work and how we mean to achieve that goal. It is available in the Library.


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