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The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. John Hutton): I am pleased to announce that the Department for Work and Pensions has today laid the 2005-06 annual reports and accounts for three of its executive agencies: Child Support Agency (HC1402), the Disability and Carers Service (HC1336) and the Appeals Service (HC1542). Copies are available in the Printed Paper Office and the Vote Office.
The Minister for Pensions Reform (James Purnell): On 6 June I wrote to Members to advise them that I had commissioned a review of the administration of the financial assistance scheme and would report the outcome before the summer recess. In particular I was concerned about ensuring that all eligible people receive payments as quickly as possible; that we ensure the most cost efficient operation; and that we examine a full range of options for the appropriate organisational location of the operations.
Today I have placed copies of the findings of the review in the Library. These show that obtaining data from trustees is the key to making payments and highlight the need to significantly strengthen the skills within the financial assistance scheme operations needed to obtain this data, concluding that this can best be achieved through an injection of skills from the private sector or the pension protection fund. These skills can best be managed from within DWP.
The review has also identified the scope for some operational efficiencies and more detailed work will be undertaken to establish optimum staffing levels. In addition, it has concluded that the long term governance of the Operational Unit is best placed in the Pension Service. Overall we expect these changes to increase the speed at which people receive help from the scheme.
I am also pleased to announce that today we have published the draft Financial Assistance Scheme (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2006. These regulations will bring into effect the extension to the financial assistance scheme announced in the White Paper on pension reform on 25 May. We will be consulting on the draft regulations over the next eight weeks and will publish a response to the consultation along with the final version of the draft regulations. Copies of the draft regulations and consultation document have been placed in the Library and can also be found on the FAS website at www.dwp.gov.uk/fas.