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9 Feb 2006 : Column 1396W—continued

Ministerial Visits

Mr. Francois: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will list the (a) dates and (b) locations of his nationwide tour undertaken to date; and when he expects the tour to be completed. [50110]

Daniel Kawczynski: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will visit Shrewsbury to discuss his main economic priorities with the Shropshire Chamber of Commerce and Shrewsbury Business Chamber. [41562]

Mr. Gordon Brown: As part of my official duties I have made a number of visits to the regions and nations of the United Kingdom and will be continuing to do so over the coming months.

Ports (Security)

Jim Cousins: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) how many whole-time equivalent staff of HM Revenue and Customs and its predecessors were employed in the investigation and surveillance of (a) ports and (b) airports in each year since 1999–2000; [49760]

(2) if he will list (a) ports and (b) airports which had a permanent HM Revenue and Customs presence in each year since 1999–2000. [49761]

Dawn Primarolo: I refer to the answer given on 8 June 2004, Official Report, column 370 by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice).

Prescriptions (VAT)

Mr. Stephen O'Brien: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what criteria were used in deciding that (a) NHS hospital pharmacies would pay VAT on prescriptions and (b) other pharmaceutical outlets would not. [49675]

Dawn Primarolo: VAT is chargeable on all drugs, medicines and other pharmaceutical items that pharmacists purchase to dispense to patients. Neither a hospital nor a community pharmacy charges VAT on drugs and medicines dispensed by a pharmacist on the basis of a prescription issued by a medical practitioner.

While different VAT reclaim rules apply for the different types of pharmacies, these reflect how successive Governments have funded NHS VAT costs, and the fundamental difference for VAT purposes between NHS hospital pharmacies, which dispense prescribed drugs as a non-business activity, and community pharmacies, which make a 'business' supply when they dispense drugs.

Real Estate Investment Trusts

Mrs. Villiers: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what assessment he has made of the merits of establishing a regulatory framework for unlisted real estate investment trusts. [50436]

Mr. Ivan Lewis: I refer the hon. Lady to the answer she received from my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury on 26 January 2006, Official Report, columns 2265–2266W.
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Revenue Help Lines

Harry Cohen: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what assessment he has made of the adequacy of Inland Revenue help lines (a) 01274 532007 and (b) 01274 539628 at busy times of the year for people with queries about paying their tax; whether he plans to improve the service; and if he will make a statement. [49594]

Dawn Primarolo: Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs is continually looking to improve services to customers especially around peak periods. Last year the department put considerable time and effort into trying to encourage people to file, and where necessary seek help, before the peak time at end of January and not leave things until the very last moment.

In anticipation of the Self Assessment filing peak in the last few days of January a substantial number of additional staff were made available on the telephone numbers quoted. In addition a telephone service was provided over the weekend prior to the filing date and up until 8.00 pm on 30 and 31 January. This was supported further by improvements to facilities for processing payment over the telephone.

Tax Credits

Anne Main: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many families were sent (a) one, (b) two, (c) three, (d) four to seven and (e) eight or more different entitlement notices for a single application for tax credits in each year since the tax credit system was introduced. [47206]

Dawn Primarolo: This information could only be provided at disproportionate cost.

Anne Main: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the (a) longest and (b) average time taken was for information relating to an application for tax credit to be updated on his Department's computer system in (i) 2003–04 and (ii) 2004–05; and how many open cases on the system have waited more than four months to be updated. [47207]

Dawn Primarolo: This information is not available.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has service delivery agreement targets for deciding tax credit claims within five working days and 30 working days. The Department's annual report reported its progress against those targets. It reported that, for 2004–05, 95.9 percent of all new claims, renewals and changes of circumstances were decided within 30 working days of receipt.

Mr. Frank Field: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer when his Department expects to publish full results for the level of compliance in tax credits for 2003–04; and what research has been undertaken on compliance risk monitoring. [48442]

Dawn Primarolo [holding answer 6 February 2006]: HMRC is carrying out a random inquiry programme of a representative sample of finalised claims across the tax credit population to measure the level of fraud and claimant error in tax credits. Final results for the 2003–04 exercise will be published in spring 2006.
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HMRC constantly monitors claim activity and acts to intercept potentially fraudulent claims before payments are made and adapts its methods in the light of evidence on attempted fraud. HMRC continuously reviews and updates their processes to ensure they provide a robust defence against the risk of organised fraud.

Mr. Crabb: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) what the total value has been of compensation payments made as a result of (a) delays and (b) mistakes in calculating tax credit awards; [48764]

(2) how many people have received compensation payments as a result of (a) delays and (b) mistakes in the calculation of tax credit awards. [48766]

Dawn Primarolo: The circumstances in which the former Inland Revenue and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) will make compensation payments to its customers are explained in the Department's code of practice 1 Putting things right" which is available at

The Department will pay compensation for reasonable costs incurred as a direct result of their mistakes or delays and to recognise worry and distress caused by those mistakes and delays.

The Department will make a compensation payment if they believe it is justified even if the customer has not asked for compensation.

For the value and number of compensation payments made in relation to tax credits, by HMRC's Tax Credit Office and contact centres, to 30 September 2005, I refer the hon. Member to the answers I gave the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) on 22 November 2005, Official Report, column 1913W and the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) on 15 November 2005, Official Report, column 1212W.

Mr. Quentin Davies: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what estimate he has made of the annual cost to public funds of withdrawing tax credit as beneficiaries' income rises to the marginal income tax rate applicable. [49190]

Dawn Primarolo: No such assessment has been made.

Valuation Office Agency

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how much the Valuation Office Agency has paid in (a) recruitment costs and (b) redundancy payments as a consequence of the postponement of the council tax revaluation in England. [47879]

Dawn Primarolo: Nothing.

Mr. Pickles: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether the Valuation Office Agency (a) has and (b) will have access to the local authority lettings continuous recording (LACORE) database. [49811]

Dawn Primarolo: The Valuation Office Agency has no current plans to seek access to LACORE data.
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