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8 May 2006 : Column 78W—continued

Bob Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many absent parents in the past year the Child Support Agency has threatened with legal action involving a possible custodial sentence for non-payment of maintenance; and how many were convicted and given a custodial sentence. [65908]

Mr. Plaskitt: The administration of the Child Support Agency is the matter for the chief executive. He will write to the hon. Member with the information requested.

Letter from Stephen Geraghty:

8 May 2006 : Column 80W
Committal and disqualification proceedings year ending 31 March 2006 Cases

Total of cases prepared for court with initial hearing date set


Number of suspended committal sentences


Number of actual committal sentences


Number of suspended driving licence disqualification sentences


Number of actual driving licence disqualification sentences


Notes: 1. Of the 920 cases prepared for court with an initial hearing date set, in a small number of hearings, the actual hearing date will occur after 31 March 2006. 2. The fact that the number of suspensions and actual penalties is less than half the number of referrals is explained by the number of debtors who enter into agreements to pay rather than attend court. Similarly, only a very small number of debtors actually go to prison or lose their driving licences because the courts normally suspend a sentence on condition that the defendant commits to pay.

Mr. Evennett: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the average application processing time was for (a) disability living allowance, (b) income support and (c) the Child Support Agency in the last period for which figures are available. [66849]

Mrs. McGuire: Details of the average actual processing times for disability living allowance claims are in the table.

Disability living allowance (DLA) average actual clearance times (AACT)
March 2006 2005-06

DLA (normal rules) claims



DLA (special rules) claims



DLA renewals



DLA reconsiderations



DLA supervisions



DLA appeals



In March 2006, income support claims were processed in an average of 12.2 days. For the full operational year from April 2005 to March 2006 the figure was 11.3 days.

Information on processing times for child support applications can be found in the Agency's Quarterly Statistical Summary (QSS), published on 27 April 2006; a copy of which is available in the House of Commons Library.


18. Mr. Amess: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on his plans to reform the pension system. [68285]

Mrs. McGuire: The Government have welcomed the Pension Commissions’ report and believes it has provided the right framework for delivering a long-term settlement for tomorrow's pensioners.

The key to delivering sustainable reform must be that any change promotes personal responsibility, introduces greater simplicity, and is fair, affordable and sustainable.

That is why we have taken steps to build consensus through the National Pensions Debate, engaging with all interested parties and individuals in communities across the country.

We will publish our proposals for pension reform by the end of the month.

19. Mr. Mackay: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what his response is to the Parliamentary Ombudsman's report on occupational pension funds; and if he will make a statement. [68286]

Mr. Plaskitt: I refer to my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne) on 3 May 2006, Official Report, column 1603W.

Derek Wyatt: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the basis was of his calculations of the cost of fulfilling the requirements of the recommendations of the parliamentary ombudsman's report on pension schemes. [69373]

Mr. Timms: We will publish a full, formal response to the parliamentary ombudsman's report shortly. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State explained during the debate in this House on 16 March, the response will set out the details of our costings for implementing the measures suggested in the report.

Post Office Card Account

21. Mr. Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many pensioners use a Post Office Card Account to receive their pension. [68288]

Mr. Plaskitt: Around 2.3 million.

Chris Ruane: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps were taken by his Department to inform the public that the Post Office card account was time-limited; and if he will make a statement. [68032]

Mr. Plaskitt: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones) on 19 April 2006, Official Report, column 721W.

Mr. David Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what consultation he has conducted with customers and sub-postmasters on the ending of the use of the Post Office card account for payment of pensions and benefits. [68276]

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Mr. Plaskitt: We will be holding discussions about our payment strategy with customer representative groups.

We know that many of our customers want the option of still being able to collect their benefit or pension at the Post Office and others like being able to use easy to operate accounts. And they will be able to do both these things—25 or so bank accounts can already be used at the Post Office, and we hope there could be more in future. Post Office Ltd. has already introduced one new savings account, and is developing other savings and banking products which are likely to be more attractive to many of its customers than the current Post Office card account.

Sub-postmasters are agents of Post Office Limited. Officials have met with Colin Baker—the General Secretary of their National Federation—on a number of occasions, and I will be meeting Mr. Baker in the summer.

All of these discussions will be informed by evidence gathered in the recent pilots.

Carers Benefits

Vera Baird: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the levels of carers' benefits were as a proportion of average income in 1997; what they were in the last period for which figures are available; and what changes in the level of carers' benefits have occurred since 1997. [68734]

Mrs. McGuire: Depending on their personal circumstances, carers have access to the full range of social security benefits. In 1997-98, the average weekly amount of income maintenance benefits paid to working age carers entitled to carer's allowance was £59.74(1) or 22.6 per cent. of median income(2) in that year. In 2004-05, the latest year for which information is available, the corresponding figure was £82.08(1), or 23.5 per cent. of median income(2).

We have increased the benefits available to carers in line with the movement in prices in every year since 1997-98. In 2001, we increased the carer premium in income support, and other income-related benefits, by an extra £10 a week. We have also increased the availability of carer's allowance by abolishing, in 2002, the age limit which precluded carers aged 65 and over from claiming carer's allowance. This change also gives older carers access to the additional amount for carers in pension credit. By linking the carer's allowance earnings limit to the level of the national insurance lower earnings limit , we have significantly increased the amount carers entitled to the benefit can earn from paid employment.

Corporate Hospitality

David Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on how many occasions he has accepted corporate hospitality in the last 12 months. [67516]

Mr. Hutton: Paragraph 5.28 of the ministerial code sets out the rules on the registration of hospitality.

8 May 2006 : Column 82W

Financial Inclusion

Mr. Wright: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what measures he is taking to promote financial inclusion. [68279]

Mrs. McGuire: We continue to promote financial inclusion through improved access to banking and the supply of affordable credit as well as money advice.

The £36 million allocated to the Growth Fund, which DWP is administering, will result in more affordable credit becoming available via, for example, local credit unions to people who might otherwise turn to "doorstep lenders" and loan sharks charging exorbitant rates of interest.

Health and Safety at Work

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will take steps to make individual (a) directors and (b) senior managers legally responsible (i) for health and safety and (ii) in cases when an employee is killed due to negligence by such an individual; and if he will make a statement. [66422]

Mrs. McGuire: Individual directors and senior managers are already liable under the existing law of manslaughter, where their gross negligence has led to the death of an employee, and under existing health and safety law. The Government have asked the Health and Safety Commission to undertake further evaluation to assess the effectiveness and progress of the current measures in place, legislative and voluntary, on directors' responsibilities for occupational health and safety. The Health and Safety Commission is due to discuss the issue at their May 2006 meeting, following which the Commission will provide advice to Ministers.

Health and Safety Executive

Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions whether the Health and Safety Executive has issued guidelines on carrying cans of paint on buses. [66378]

Mrs. McGuire: No. HSE sees no safety reason why an odd can of emulsion should not be carried on a public bus.


Danny Alexander: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions pursuant to the Answer of 27 March 2006, Official Report, column 717W, whether current problems sorting out administration remains the reason for not taking forward the options for simplifying non-dependant deductions set out in paragraph 10.54 of The Way Forward for Housing; and if he will make a statement. [67216]

Mr. Plaskitt: As with all aspects of the benefit system, the provisions for non-dependants in housing
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benefit will continue to remain under review. Indeed, changes to the non-dependant deduction rules were made both in October 2003 and April 2005.

Our Green Paper “A New Deal for Welfare: Empowering People to Work” (Cm 6730) was published on 24 January 2006. The consultation period ended on 21 April 2006 and we are considering carefully the responses we have received on how best to reform housing benefit to meet with our wider welfare reform objectives.

Older People (Cross-Government Strategy)

Mr. David: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what progress he is making on the cross-Government strategy for older people. [68269]

Mrs. McGuire: Opportunity Age, the Government's strategy for older people and an ageing society, was published last March. Since then we have:

We will publish our White Paper on pensions reform by the end of the month.

This is a major programme of action which will make a real difference to the wellbeing of older people and address the challenges of the ageing society.

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