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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. 
You asked 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.
Commitment to prison or disqualification from holding a driving licence is the ultimate sanction available to the Agency for recovery of arrears of Child Support maintenance. The power to withdraw driving licences was brought into effect on 2 April 2001 (under the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Act 2000). If the non-resident parent is found guilty of willful refusal or culpable neglect the court will decide which of the available sanctions is the most appropriate.
Prior to the Secretary of State making an application to the court, a warning letter is issued to the non-resident parent advising of the intention to apply to the courts for committal to prison or disqualification from holding or obtaining a driving licence.
During the year ending 31 March 2006 the Agency issued 1,155 warning letters to non-resident parents. Of these it was necessary to make 920 applications to court for committal or disqualification proceedings.
The information provided below relates to the number of cases for which applications were made to court for committal or disqualification from holding or obtaining a driving licence proceedings. These numbers may include multiple actions against individual non-resident parents who continually fail to pay.
Therefore, although several applications can be made in respect of individual debts the Court will incorporate these into the same hearing with one outcome.
The following table details the number of cases referred to court and the outcomes for committal and disqualification proceedings over the same period.
|Committal and disqualification proceedings year ending 31 March 2006||Cases|
| 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. 
|Disability living allowance (DLA) average actual clearance times (AACT)|
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.
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. 
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. 
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.
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. 
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. 
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 things25 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 Bakerthe General Secretary of their National Federationon a number of occasions, and I will be meeting Mr. Baker in the summer.
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. 
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.
(1) Estimates based on the Family Resources Survey 1997-98 and 2004-05.
(2) Estimates based on Family Resources Survey data and are before housing costs.
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.
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. 
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.
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. 
Mr. Plaskitt: As with all aspects of the benefit system, the provisions for non-dependants in housing
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.
legislated against age discrimination in employmentthe law will come into force in October 2006. Age Positive week, launched 8 May 2006, will raise awareness of the changes that need to be made;
rolled out Link Age services: joining up local services and increasing benefit take up;
prepared for the launch of the Link Age Plus pilots, part of the wider Link Age programme. These pilots aim to build a robust evidence base for the case for joined up services, delivering better outcomes for older people. From July, up to eight locations will be selected as pilots to test ways of delivering fully integrated local services for older people: from health and leisure to work and learning. The pilots will draw on the approach in the Social Exclusion Unit's report, A Sure Start to Later Life: Ending Inequalities for Older People published on 26 January 2006. The report proposes a new model for delivering services to older people based on the Sure Start model for children and families. The Department for Work and Pensions project team will work with key partners and older people themselves to develop and deliver these holistic services. The programme will run over two years with funding of up to £10 million for the project;
extended from April 2006, the existing statutory minimum requirement to guarantee people aged 60 and over in England free off-peak travel on their local area bus services, with no charge for the pass. This will benefit an estimated nine million people. The Government are providing an extra £420 million to implement this measure;
published on 19 April 2006 A new ambition for old age, setting out plans to promote the dignity of older people in care and hospital settings as well as a programme of work to promote 'Active Ageing' to keep people healthy for longer;
piloted individual budgets for disabled people and older people in 13 local authorities. The central idea behind individual budgets is to place users of care and support services, at the centre of the process and to give them the power to decide the nature of their own services; and
supported people who want to work longerfor example, by improving pension deferral options from April 2005, and from October 2006 making it unlawful for employers to require someone to retire before 65 unless it can be shown to be appropriate and necessary. The legislation will create a default retirement age of 65, but will also create a right for employees to request working beyond a compulsory retirement age which employers will have a duty to consider.
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