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16 Feb 2006 : Column 2425W—continued


Danny Alexander: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions pursuant to the answer of 19 January 2006, Official Report, column 1550W, on benefit, what information his Department does not hold which would be required to estimate the annual cost of raising all housing benefit and council tax benefit earned income disregards to levels commensurate with the real terms value of the disregards in 1988. [51488]

Mr. Plaskitt: We do not have available the information on the characteristics of individual claims or claimants that would allow us to calculate this figure on that historical basis.

If the earnings disregards were raised in 2006 to a level that is commensurate with the real term value of the disregards in 1988, we estimate that the annual cost for 2006 would be £60 million.

Benefit Advice

Chris Ruane: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will assess the merits of seconding his Department's staff to benefit advice voluntary organisations. [36875]

Mrs. McGuire: The Department for Work and Pensions undertakes outward secondments to the private, voluntary and public sectors. The decision to
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consider this type of secondment falls directly to each of the Department's business areas and consideration of such secondment opportunities will be for the HR and Work Force Planning Directors of the Department and its agencies.

Benefit Claims

Gwyn Prosser: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the unit cost to the Department is per benefit claim processed. [48237]

Mr. Plaskitt: This information is currently not available, however, we anticipate the work to provide unit costs per benefit claim processed to be concluded by March 2006.

Benefit Fraud

Keith Vaz: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what estimate he has made of the cost of benefit fraud in (a) Leicester and (b) the UK in each year between 1997 and 2005. [50440]

Mr. Plaskitt: The Department produces estimates for the amount overpaid through fraud across the benefits system. Previously published results are in the table.
Estimate of benefit

Pre-1998No overall estimate available.A few isolated reviews of fraud and error in individual benefits were carried out, but there was no systematic attempt to estimate the level of fraud across the whole benefit system.
1998£2 billion to £7 billionPublished in the Green Paper, Beating Fraud is Everyone's Business". Around £2 billion was considered confirmed fraud, with the remaining £5billion coming from cases where there was a suspicion of fraud.
1998–99 to 2002–03£2 billion per annumA change in methodology in the ongoing measurement system meant that cases were investigated in more detail, and it was no longer appropriate to include cases where fraud was suspected in the headline estimates. Figure rounded to nearest £1.0billion.
2003–04 initial estimate£1.5 billionFigure rounded to nearest £0.5 billion.
2003–04 revised estimate£1.0 billionFigure rounded to nearest £0.1 billion. Development work to improve the quality of the estimate suggested that the original figure was an overstatement.
2004–05£0.9 billionFigure rounded to nearest £0.1 billion.

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It is not possible to provide a breakdown for Leicester due to the sampling methodologies used to produce fraud and error estimates. The sample sizes for individual areas are too small to produce meaningful results.

In recent years, benefit fraud has been reducing and now stands at £0.9 billion per year—less than one per cent of total benefit expenditure.

On 13 October 2005, the Department published our achievements in reducing levels of fraud in the benefit system and plans to reduce it further in 'Reducing fraud in the benefit system: Achievements and ambitions'. Copies are available in the Library.

Civil Rights (Disabled People)

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps the Government have taken in the last five years to improve civil rights for people with disabilities. [47105]

Mrs. McGuire: Over the last five years, the Government have significantly extended and improved the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995 which provides the basic legislative framework for civil rights for disabled people.

In 2000 we established the Disability Rights Commission, an independent body charged with promoting equality of opportunity for disabled people.

From September 2002, we introduced new duties under the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (SENDA) 2001, which amended Part 4 of the DDA to cover all aspects of education.

In October 2004, we significantly extended the employment provisions of the Act. These changes mean that the employment provisions now apply to small employers and all previously excluded forms of employment, except service in the armed forces.

They brought an additional 1 million employers and 7 million more jobs within the coverage of the Act. They also extended protection in a number of additional areas, such as outlawing discriminatory job advertisements and disability-related harassment.

From the same date, we introduced additional protection against disability discrimination in the provisions of goods, services and facilities. Service providers are now under a duty to take reasonable steps to remove, alter, or provide a reasonable means of avoiding, any physical features that make access to their services impossible or unreasonably difficult.

The passage of the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 fulfilled our commitment to provide comprehensive and enforceable civil rights for disabled people. The 2005 Act extended the protection of the 1995 Act to more people with HIV infection, cancer and multiple sclerosis and conferred important new rights in areas such as the use of transport, education, public authority functions, rented and leased premises and community participation. The 2005 Act also introduced a new duty on public authorities to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people. This Disability Equality Duty will apply to the public sector from December this year, and requires authorities ranging from local councils, police forces and health trusts to Government Departments to take the needs of disabled
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people into account when making decisions. Larger, more significant authorities must publish a Disability Equality Scheme by 4 December 2006 that sets out the steps the authority will take to implement the Disability Equality Duty.

Civil Servants (Overseas Visits)

Mr. Jenkins: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what costs were incurred by his Department as a result of sending civil servants on overseas visits in each of the last 10 years. [46277]

Mrs. McGuire: The Department for Work and Pensions was formed in June 2001 from the Department of Social Security and parts of the former Department for Education and Employment including the Employment Service. The available information is in the table. All travel complied with the requirements of the Civil Service Management Code.
Cost of foreign travel (£)

Council Tax Benefit

Sarah Teather: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many applicants have had the level of their council tax benefit payments affected by having savings over £3,000 in each year since 1999. [51565]

Mr. Plaskitt: For council tax benefit, tariff income applies to all capital held above a prescribed limit. The prescribed limit was increased from £3,000 to £6,000 in April 2001. With the introduction of pension credit in October 2003, local authorities no longer record capital or tariff income amounts for council tax benefit claimants in receipt of pension credit, but rely on assessed income figures provided by the Pension Service.

The available information is in the table.
Council tax benefit recipients with a tariff income: Great Britain

Number of recipients
May 1999430,000
May 2000440,000
May 2002237,000
May 2003257,000
May 2004(62)164,000

(61) In April 2001 the lower capital limit for council tax benefit recipients increased from £3,000 to £6,000.
(62) Information on the amount of capital for council tax benefit claimants also in receipt of pension credit is not available from this data source, so it is not possible to calculate how many of these claimants will be affected by tariff income; this figure is an undercount of the actual number subject to tariff income.
1. The data refers to benefit units, which may be a single person or a couple.
2. Figures have been rounded to the nearest thousand.
3. Council tax benefit totals exclude any second adult rebate cases.
Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit Management Information System, Annual 1 per cent. sample, taken in May 1999 to May 2004.

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Sarah Teather: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many applicants have been refused council tax benefit because they had savings over £16,000 in each year since 1999. [51566]

Mr. Plaskitt: The information is not available.

Andrew Gwynne: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many children in (a) Denton and Reddish constituency, (b) Tameside metropolitan borough and (c) Stockport metropolitan borough are (i) entitled to and (ii) receiving council tax benefit. [51747]

Mr. Plaskitt: None; nobody under the age of 18 can be a liable person in relation to council tax and council tax benefit can only be paid to a liable person.

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