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20 Feb 2007 : Column 588W—continued

Water Charges

Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment (a) his Department and (b) Ofwat are made of the merits of reviewing the rateable values used to assess water rates for domestic properties. [120774]

Ian Pearson: Although rateable values provide a reasonable basis for charging in many cases, it is not an infallible system and anomalies can arise.

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The Government commissioned and published research into alternative methods of unmeasured charging, including the use of council tax bands, as part of a review of water charging in 1998-99. This showed that switching to alternative water charging systems would be beneficial for some, but not the majority of customers. Many of those least able to afford it—notably those with the lowest rateable value properties—would be adversely affected if they were charged on this basis. DEFRA officials are currently working with water companies and Ofwat to update this research.

It is essential that any proposals for new charging arrangements provide adequate transitional arrangements to protect such customers. Despite wide consultation and investigation, no wholly satisfactory new schemes have been proposed to date. Water charges relating to council tax bands have not been proposed or implemented for these reasons.

Water companies are free to bring forward proposals for alternative unmeasured charging arrangements for Ofwat, the water industry's economic regulator, to consider. Ofwat would have to consult the Secretary of State before approving the widespread introduction of new unmetered charging arrangements.

Ofwat allows companies to apply a notional rateable value or an assessed charge where properties have been merged or substantially altered, and this has invalidated the original rateable value of the property. Further details on assessed charges are set out in Ofwat’s report ‘Water and sewerage charges 2006-07’.


Bank Services

Mr. Don Foster: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what reports his Department has commissioned into dormant bank accounts; and if he will make a statement. [121127]

Ed Balls: As announced initially in PBR 2005, the Government and banking industry have committed to an unclaimed assets scheme that allows genuinely unclaimed assets to be reinvested in the community, with funds to be invested with a specific focus on programmes for young people, financial education and financial exclusion. In addition, the Government are examining the proposals of the independent Commission on Unclaimed Assets. The Treasury has not commissioned any reports into dormant bank accounts.

As set out in the PBR, the Government believe that legislation is required to allow the banking industry to set up a scheme. The Government will consult widely on proposals.

Banks: Closures

Mr. Bone: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will bring forward proposals requiring shared bank branchings in local communities. [121379]

Ed Balls: Decisions regarding their bank networks are commercial decisions for the banks. The Government will continue to monitor the situation as regards to access to banking services.

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Census: Freedom of Information

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what arrangements the Office for National Statistics plans to bring into operation to deal with the disapplication of exemptions 41 and 44 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 in respect of census records for (a) 1921, (b) 1951 and (c) 1961; and if he will make a statement. [121068]

John Healey: Exemptions 41 and 44 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 are not disapplied in relation to census records from the 1921, 1951 and 1961 censuses.

The information commissioner's recent decision to overrule the use by the National Archives of the exemption in section 41 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 for certain information on a 1911 census form was limited to the circumstances of the particular case before the information commissioner. The decision notice itself makes it clear that this ruling is not applicable to other personal census information. Exemptions 41 and 44 are relevant to census information collected since 1920.

The Statistics and Registration Services Bill, currently before Parliament, contains proposals relating to the confidentiality and the use of FOI exemptions with regard to personal information, including any personal census information, held by the relevant authority for the census in England and Wales.

Census records will be transferred to the National Archives in time for release after 100 years, in accordance with the obligations of the Public Records Act 1958 and the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Child Benefit: Fraud

Jeremy Wright: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many child benefit claims were found to be fraudulent in the last year for which records are available. [120247]

Dawn Primarolo: Information on how many child benefit claims were made fraudulently is not available. However, I refer the hon. Member to the answer on 25 July 2006 to the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws), Official Report, column 1344W.

Council Tax

Mr. Pickles: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer pursuant to the answer of 28 November 2006, Official Report, column 529W, on council tax, what steps (a) his Department, (b) HM Revenue and Customs and (c) the Valuation Office Agency are taking to facilitate data-sharing with local authorities on issues relating to taxation and valuation for taxation purposes. [120849]

Dawn Primarolo: The Chief Executive of the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) wrote to his counterparts in each billing authority on 18 July 2006, seeking their support for the implementation of a number of partnership working initiatives, including data sharing, aimed at improving the service provided by the VOA to each local authority and in turn by them to their ratepayers and council taxpayers. A copy of the letter is held in the Library of the House of Commons.

The Government’s Information Sharing Vision Statement published on 13 September 2006 sets out the Government’s vision for better, more customer-focused services supported by greater information sharing
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which will protect and support individuals and society as a whole. In the recent Local Government White Paper, ‘Strong and Prosperous Communities’, it was identified that effective cross-agency working needs to be supported by effective data sharing between local partners.

Departments: Electronic Government

Mr. Francois: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what his estimate is of cost savings resulting from services supplied by SCC Technology to his Department and its agencies since 2005. [120683]

Dawn Primarolo: Savings on the SCC contract to date are £1.978 million. This does not include savings which are calculated at the end of the financial year, which are not available.

Departments: Meetings

Mr. Gauke: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will list the dates of meetings involving the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Home Office Ministers since 21 July 2006. [119995]

Mr. Timms: Treasury Ministers and officials have meetings with a wide range of organisations and individuals in the public and private sectors as part of the process of policy development and delivery. As was the case with previous Administrations, it is not the Government’s practice to provide details of all such meetings.

HMRC: Flights

Mr. Crabb: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how much was spent by HM Revenue and Customs on flights to (a) Wales, (b) Scotland and (c) Northern Ireland in (i) 2005 and (ii) 2006. [111548]

Dawn Primarolo [holding answer 26 January 2007]: HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) was created on 18 April 2005, and incorporates the former departments of Inland Revenue and HM Customs and Excise.

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April 2005 to December 2005

Northern Ireland






January 2006 to December 2006

Total spend on flights to:

Northern Ireland






n/a = Not available.

Income Tax

Mr. David Jones: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what receipts were paid to HM Revenue and Customs in respect of (a) interest and (b) penalties imposed on income tax payers in each of the last three financial years. [120412]

Dawn Primarolo: The information is as follows.

(a) Interest

Interest figures are not available on a financial year basis. Internal HM Revenue and Customs validation exercises collect figures to an annual October date. The figures for 2003-04 and 2004-05 are set out as follows. Figures for 2005-06 have not yet been finalised.


To October 2004


To October 2005


(b) Penalties

Figures for the last three years are:








Income Tax: Tax Thresholds

Mr. Frank Field: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the income tax threshold for (a) single and (b) married couples would be if it had been increased in line with (a) the Consumer Price Index and (b) the Retail Price Index since 1997. [119019]

Dawn Primarolo: The answer is provided in the following table. Tax thresholds are the point at which income exceeds personal allowances. The additional tax relief that is available for older pensioner married or civil partner couples reduces the tax liability of the spouse or civil partner who claims it. The amount depends on the age of the older partner and income of the claimant.

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Current 2006-07 thresholds 2006-07 thresholds if increased in line with CPI 2006-07 thresholds if increased in line with RPI

Personal allowance under 65(1)




Personal allowance aged 65-74(1)




Personal allowance aged 75 and over(1)




Married or civil partnership couple where one of the couple born before 6 April 1935 but under 75(2)




Married or civil partnership couple where one of the couple born before 6 April 1935 and aged 75 and over(2)


(3)5,565 (c)


Minimum level of Married Couple’s Allowance(2, 4)




Income limit(4)




(1) Every individual receives a personal allowance to set against their own taxable income. In a married couple or civil partner household, both individuals receive a personal allowance but any unused amount cannot be transferred between the couple.
(2) Allowance given at a flat rate of 10 per cent. from the claimant’s liability.
(3) Compensation is assumed in 1999-2000 for the drop in the flat rate from 15 per cent. to 10 per cent.
(4) The allowances for those 65 and over are reduced where the claimant’s income exceeds the income limit. The personal allowance is not reduced below the level of the basic personal allowance and the married couple’s allowance is not reduced below the minimum amount.

Life Expectancy

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the average life expectancy was in (a) the UK, (b) the West Midlands and (c) Coventry in (i) 1997 and (ii) 2006. [121489]

John Healey: The information requested falls within the responsibility of the National Statistician, who has been asked to reply.

Letter from Karen Dunnell, dated 20 February 2007:

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