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14 Feb 2006 : Column 1952W—continued

Freedom of Information Act

Bob Spink: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what total sum has been received by his Department for the provision of information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 in its first year of operation. [48485]

Mrs. McGuire: Nil.

The Freedom of Information Act allows for public authorities to determine when the cost of processing a request will exceed the appropriate limit, which for central Government is set at £600 and for the wider public sector £450. In this instance the public authority may decide to approach the applicant to help them refine their request and where possible to bring it under the appropriate limit. Alternatively, public authorities may charge the applicant the cost of processing the request. There is, however, no obligation for departments to provide information if the cost of processing the request exceeds the appropriate limit.

Public authorities may also charge for disbursements when handling requests where it is deemed appropriate. Further information on the FOI fees regime can be found on the DCA website at http://www.foi.gov.uk/feesguide.htm.

Fuel Costs (Pensioners)

Keith Vaz: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans his Department has to increase the £200 winter heating allowance for pensioners. [50438]

Mr. Timms: We have no plans to do so. The winter fuel payment has risen from £20 in winter 1997–98 to £200 from winter 2000–01 and to £300 for those aged 80 or over from winter 2003–04. It is a significant contribution towards fuel costs.

Gas Prices

Mr. Leech: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if the Government will increase (a) state pensions and (b) the winter fuel allowance to take account of increases in gas prices. [50372]

Mr. Timms: The state pension is increased annually to take account of price inflation, including gas and electricity. The winter fuel payment has risen from £20 in winter 1997–98 to £200 from winter 2000–01 and to
 
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£300 for those aged 80 or over from winter 2003–04. We are therefore already providing a significant contribution towards fuel costs. The Chancellor announced in the pre-Budget report that the winter fuel payment will continue at the current rate for the remainder of this Parliament.

Incapacity Benefit

Mr. Iain Wright: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many people were claiming incapacity benefit in each ward in Hartlepool in the last period for which data was available. [42454]

Mrs. McGuire: The information is in the table.
Incapacity benefit and severe disability allowance claimants in the parliamentary constituency of Hartlepool, broken down by Ward: May 2005

Number
Hartlepool total7,575
Brinkburn465
Brus620
Dyke House695
Elwick60
Fens435
Grange355
Greatham125
Hart295
Jackson605
Owton570
Park385
Rift House305
Rossmere500
St. Hilda765
Seaton320
Stranton650
Throston425



Notes:
1. Wards are based on Census Wards—those current as at April 2003.
2. All benefit counts at ward level are rounded to a multiple of five to protect the confidentiality of individual claimants.
Source:
Information Directorate, Department for Work and Pensions Longitudinal Survey 100 per cent. data; May 2005.


Jeremy Wright: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many employees of the ambulance service on long-term sick leave are claiming incapacity benefit. [49987]

Mrs. McGuire: The information is not available.

Jobseekers

Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what action he is taking in conjunction with Jobcentre Plus to tackle recent increases in the claimant count of jobseekers. [45195]

Margaret Hodge: Despite the recent increases, claimant unemployment remains at historically low levels. Jobcentre Plus will continue to ensure that all jobseekers fulfil their responsibilities to seek and be available for work, are offered the assistance they need to find work and receive the benefits to which they are entitled. The Department will continue to monitor movements in the claimant count and identify whether further action is required.
 
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Means-tested Benefits

Keith Vaz: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps his Department is taking to increase awareness among entitled people of the means-tested benefits for which they are eligible. [49611]

Mr. Timms: We want everybody to claim the benefits to which they are entitled. Information on the range of benefits we administer is widely available.

The Department is currently, with local authorities support, running publicity and marketing take up campaigns this winter, aimed at encouraging people who are entitled to council tax benefit to make a claim.

In addition, the Pension Service has written to every pensioner household informing them about pension credit and there have been a number of campaign initiatives such as the You're Missing Out" direct mailings and adverts in national newspapers. The Pension Service's local service are also visiting around 23,000 pensioners households each week to offer a full benefit entitlement check.

Since September 2005, existing pension credit customers were contacted and invited to claim council tax benefit and/or housing benefit. From December 2005 customers who contact the pension credit application line to make an application for pension credit have been invited to claim these benefits as well.

Media Monitoring

Philip Davies: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how much his Department has spent on media monitoring activities in each of the last eight financial years. [35640]

Mrs. McGuire: The Department for Work and Pensions was formed on 8 June 2001 from parts of the former Department of Social Security, the former Department for Education and Employment and the Employment Service. Information prior to 2001 is not held centrally and can be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

The Department paid for its Media Monitoring Unit service by annual subscription.
Amount (£)
2003–0454,317
2004–0557,575

The Department paid Government News Network for regional cuttings by annual subscription:
Amount (£)
2003–04150,000
2004–05150,000

The Department uses Durrants (formerly Xtreme) to provide national cuttings. The costs for this vary depending on the number and size of the cuttings. The amounts paid for the last two financial years are:
 
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Amount (£)
2003–0495,890
2004–0582,679

The Department's rules only allow for financial records to be kept for three years. (The current year and the last two tax years.) Information for periods before the 2003–04 tax year can be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

Post Office Card Account

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will list the options available to benefit recipients and pensioners who wish to continue to have their money paid over the counter in cash at a post office branch when the contract to provide the Post Office Card Account ends in 2010. [48731]

Mr. Plaskitt: Customers will still be able to use the Post Office to collect their benefit or pension if they wish by using a bank or building society account there are some 25 different accounts can be accessed at post office branches now, and we hope there could be more in the future.

The table sets out those accounts which can currently be used at post office branches.

The very small minority of people unable to operate any account will be paid by cheque, which may be cashed at the Post Office.
Bank/building societyCurrent accountBasic account
AbbeyNoYes
Alliance and LeicesterYesYes
Bank of IrelandYesYes
Bank of ScotlandNoYes
BarclaysYesYes
cahootYesNo
Clydesdale BankYesYes
Co-operative BankYesYes
First Direct (Scotland only)YesNo
First TrustNoYes
HalifaxNoYes
HSBCNoYes
Lloyds TSBYesYes
Nationwide (building society)YesYes
Nat WestNoYes
Northern BankNoYes
Royal Bank of ScotlandNoYes
smileYesNo
UlsterNoYes
Yorkshire BankNoYes

Mr. Gale: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions pursuant to the answers to the hon. Members for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) and for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Danny Alexander) of 31 January 2006, Official Report, columns 443–5W, on the Post Office card account, what provision will be made to accommodate the needs of pensioners and other benefit claimants holding Post Office card accounts when the current contract expires; and if he will make a statement. [50351]


 
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Mr. Plaskitt: Government funding for the Post Office card account will end in March 2010 as always planned. By then we expect most card account customers will have moved to having their benefit or pension paid into a bank account.

Customers will still be able to use the Post Office to collect their benefit or pension if they wish by using a bank account, some 25 different bank accounts can be accessed at post office branches now, and we hope there could be more in the future.

We will aim to develop a joint strategy with the Post Office to move customers from the Post Office card account between now and 2010. Our priority will be to ensure that this is a straightforward process for the customers. I understand the Post Office is developing new banking and savings products which may be suitable for some existing Post Office card account customers.

We would like every DWP customer who currently has a Post Office card account to do their banking at the Post Office if that is what they want. There is no reason why the viability of the post offices should be threatened if customers continue to draw cash at the Post Office after moving on from the Post Office card account.

Mr. Alan Reid: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions pursuant to the answer of 6 February 2006, Official Report, columns 597–8W, if he will list the 25 different bank accounts referred to; and whether each allows customers to make at least 52 withdrawals each year at post offices without incurring bank charges. [51035]

Mr. Plaskitt [holding answer 13 February 2006]: Customers who hold basic bank accounts with one of a wide range of high street banks can use any post office branch to make an unlimited number of cash withdrawals free of charge. Such banks are: Abbey; Alliance and Leicester; Bank of Ireland; Bank of Scotland; Barclays; Clydesdale Bank; Co-operative Bank; First Trust; Halifax; HSBC; Lloyds TSB; Nationwide; NatWest; Northern Bank; Royal Bank of Scotland; Ulster Bank and Yorkshire Bank. These accounts and their features are listed in the FSA leaflet Basic Bank Accounts—your questions answered".

Some banks enable their current account customers to withdraw cash over the counter at post office branches, free of charge and without restriction on the number of withdrawals. Banks which offer this service include: Alliance and Leicester; Bank of Ireland; Barclays; Clydesdale Bank; Co-operative Bank; First Direct (Scotland only), Lloyds TSB, Nationwide Building Society and the internet banks smile and cahoot.


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