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Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what discussions he has had with Equity Trade Union about the deficit in the opera singers' pension scheme; and what plans he has to assist in rescuing the scheme. 
The Government are committed to protecting the pension funds of individual workers. We have put in place a framework to protect members of final salary pension schemes, and a major part in this has been to establish the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) to protect the members of eligible final salary pension scheme where, after April 2005, a sponsoring employer becomes insolvent and the scheme is under funded to the extent that it cannot afford to pay at PPF compensation levels.
Mr. Timms: As Government funding is fixed for the current spending review period up to and including 200708, current plans only cover those who were within three years of their scheme's normal retirement age, or above, on 14 May 2004. As with all our spending plans, funding for FAS will need to be reviewed in the next spending review, alongside other spending priorities.
Adam Price: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment he has made of the effects of changes in annuity returns on the ability of the financial assistance scheme to achieve the best outcomes for members of eligible schemes. 
Mr. Timms: These will have no effect on assistance levels as qualifying members of eligible schemes will receive assistance that will top up their scheme pension to a level broadly equivalent to 80 percent. of their core pensions benefits, subject to a cap and a de minimis rule.
Mr. Timms: Qualifying members of qualifying schemes will receive assistance that will top up their scheme pension to a level broadly equivalent to 80 per cent. of their core pension benefits, subject to a cap and a de minimis rule. Qualifying members' core pension benefits include any GMP rights accrued during pensionable service in relation to the qualifying scheme.
Adam Price: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what his most recent estimate is of the numbers of people that will be eligible for the Financial Assistance Scheme under the existing rules. 
We estimate that up to 15,000 members within three years of their scheme pension age, or above their scheme pension age at 14 May 2004, may benefit from the Financial Assistance Scheme topping up their pensions to around 80 per cent. of their core pension benefits.
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Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what estimate he has made of the change in the levels of fraudulent transactions involving benefits and pensions in each year since the removal of order books. 
Lynne Featherstone: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps he is taking to encourage the London borough of Haringey to make use of its discretionary housing payment funding to help those facing significant housing benefit shortfalls, rent arrears, eviction and homelessness in the borough. 
Mr. Plaskitt: The purpose of the discretionary housing payment scheme is to assist those entitled to housing benefit who have a shortfall in meeting their rent and who the local authority consider are in need of further financial assistance. Any award is entirely at the discretion of individual local authorities and must be considered on a case by case basis. Guidance was issued at the introduction of the scheme to all local authorities.
Lynne Featherstone: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how much discretionary housing payment funding the London borough of Haringey was granted in each year since 200102; and how much of each year's grant was returned unused. 
Emily Thornberry: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what discussions he had with the London borough of Islington on making use of discretionary housing payment funding available in 200405. 
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) what the (a) average and (b) maximum wait was for customers to be called back by Jobcentre Plus contact centres when trying to make a benefit application in each (i) week and (ii) month since 1 May; and if he will make a statement; 
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(2) what the average waiting time for processing a jobseeker's allowance application was in each (a) week and (b) month since 1 May; how many applications have taken more than 20 days to process; and if he will make a statement. 
The Secretary of State has asked me to reply to your two questions. Firstly, what the (a) average and (b) maximum wait was for customers to be called back by Jobcentre Plus contact centres when trying to make a benefit application in each (i) week and (ii) month since 1 May 2005; and if he will make a statement. Secondly, what the average waiting time for processing a Jobseeker's Allowance application was in each (a) week and (b) month since 1 May 2005; how many applications have taken more than 20 days to process; and if he will make a statement. This is something which falls within the responsibilities delegated to me as Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus.
In answer to your first question please see the table below. The average number of days referred to is the average number across the whole Contact Centre network, and the maximum is the longest time from any Contact Centre within the network. This data is only available from August, and is recorded as actual days.
|Average number of days booking ahead (call-back wait time)||Maximum number of days booking ahead (call-back wait time)|
|Actual average clearance time|
|Year to Date||14.1|
The roll out of Jobcentre Plus and, in particular the new claims process supported by the Customer Management System (CMS), is a major undertaking. Inevitably this has impacted on JSA clearance times. Whilst the precise nature and degree of the issue varies according to geographical location and stage of roll out, the major issues are as follows:
Staff recruitment and training: contact centres in particular have faced the difficult task of recruiting and training a new workforce, often with little or no prior experience in the business and, therefore, of benefit issues. This is taking time to develop although underpinning learning and development products are in place;
IT system performance: CMS has been implemented in tandem with Jobcentre Plus rollout and initially some problems were encountered in terms of speed, capacity and reliability of the system. A series of technical releases earlier this year addressed these issues and CMS now performs well and to agreed service levels;
Efficiency challenge: at the same time as we are introducing significant change to the way we deliver our services we are we are implementing a major efficiency programme to deliver the required headcount savings in the Spending Review 2004 settlement.
With any change of this size there are always difficulties as the systems and processes bed in. This has led to some backlogs building up and a lengthening in the average time it takes to process claims.
Because clearance times have been rising in some areas, a task force has been set up to develop a national action plan that coordinates and builds on action that has been taking place locally. The plan will cover a number of issues.
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