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14 Jun 2007 : Column 1288W—continued

VAT: Electric Motors

Bob Russell: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) whether he has received notification that the European Commission is to re-classify electric mobility scooters as the same category as golf caddies with a requirement that value-added tax should be levied; [142009]

(2) whether he has any plans to re-classify electric mobility scooters thereby attracting value-added tax to their sale. [142010]

John Healey: Electric mobility scooters and golf caddies are classified in the same tariff heading for customs purposes and have been since at least 2002 when the World Customs Organisation published its ‘Classification Opinion’ on the subject. We are not aware that the European Union has any plans to change that classification.

However, VAT and Customs are separate regimes. Classification for duty purposes under the Customs regime has no direct bearing on VAT liability, which is determined by VAT law.

For VAT purposes, mobility scooters may qualify for the zero-rating that applies when disabled people purchase certain “carriages” or other equipment specifically designed to meet their needs. The Government have no plans to change the scope of this VAT relief.

VAT: Repayments

Mr. Gauke: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many claims for VAT repayment have been subject to the extended verification process. [142797]

John Healey: HMRC has a duty to protect the VAT system from fraudulent attacks. It has a risk-based approach. Verification of VAT repayment claims is an important part of the Missing Trader Intra-Community Fraud (MTIC) strategy.

Unfortunately it is not possible to disclose the numbers of claims that are subject to verifications, so the requested information cannot be disclosed. To do so would undermine the measure introduced by HM Revenue and Customs to counter MTIC fraud and as such prejudice the assessment and collection of tax.

Welfare Tax Credits

Mr. Denham: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he expects to resolve the outstanding issues regarding the payment of tax credits to Mrs Shelagh House of Robert Cecil Avenue, Southampton. [140704]

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Mr. Timms: The HM Revenue and Customs chairman wrote to my right hon. Friend about his constituent on 24 May 2007 and apologised for the delay in resolving the issues affecting his constituent’s claim for tax credits.


Departments: Manpower

Mr. Heald: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how many officials work in his Department. [143174]

Mr. Hain: The Wales Office publishes staff numbers in its annual departmental report. This document is available in the House Libraries and on the Wales Office website:

Departments: Official Cars

Mr. Heald: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what visits he has made involving a mix of political and official engagements where Government car service vehicles were used in 2007; and whether the Government was reimbursed a proportion of the cost in each case. [142659]

Mr. Hain: All travel is undertaken in accordance with Travel by Ministers and the Ministerial Code, copies of which are available in the House Library.

Departments: Sick Leave

Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what average number of days per year was taken by staff in his Department as sick leave in each of the last five years for which records are available. [143084]

Mr. Hain: Figures relating to sickness absence are available for the last three years.

For each year, the average number of days sick absence recorded for each member of staff is as follows:








Work and Pensions

Bereavement Benefits

Mr. Iain Wright: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will take steps to ensure that the bereavement grant is made available to co-habiting partners of people in a situation where a spouse is still alive; and if he will make a statement. [142077]

Mr. Plaskitt: Bereavement benefits cannot be paid to cohabiting partners. There are no plans to change this.

It is a principle of the social insurance system that all rights to benefit derived from another person’s contributions are based on the concept of legal marriage or, more recently, legal civil partnership.

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Departments: Property

Grant Shapps: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) how much was raised from the sale of his Department’s property in each of the last five years; [139305]

(2) what properties the Department (a) owned and (b) rented in each of the last five years; [139343]

(3) what recent estimate has been made of the value of his Department's property portfolio. [139368]

Mrs. McGuire: The DWP estate (not including properties held by sponsored bodies) has been sold (freehold, freehold and long leasehold interests) or transferred (short leasehold interests) through its PFI Contract known as PRIME to Land Securities Trillium (LST). The proceeds were released to HM Treasury in April 1998 (for the original DSS estate) and further in December 2003 when PRIME was expanded to include the former Employment Service (ES) estate.

In 2003, the Department and LST agreed a vacant possession value of £140 million for the freehold and valuable leaseholds covered within the expanded PRIME Contract. The Department decided to receive this amount split into an up-front payment of £100 million after seeking variant bids and a reduction in the annual Unitary Charge over the life of the contract, equivalent in present value terms to the £40 million balance.

Following the expansion of the PRIME Contract, DWP retained two properties which for commercial reasons could not be transferred within the expansion. These two properties were subsequently sold in 2005-06 for £5.075 million.

Despite having already sold its property assets, DWP retains some ‘claw back’ rights in the form of what is called ‘development gain’. Under this mechanism, if LST sells a property vacated after April 1998 for more than the price it paid at the start of the contract, then after the sale costs are deducted, DWP receives 50 per cent. of the uplift in value with LST. This applies to market driven value increase as well as LST’s activities to enhance value such as obtaining change of planning use. For 2006-07, DWP will receive £2.8 million.

Departments: Recruitment

Mr. Francois: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how much his Department and its agencies paid to recruitment consultants in each year since 1997. [140044]

Mrs. McGuire: DWP has this information available only from 6 April 2004. The amounts given as follows represent the total value of the contracts awarded to recruitment agencies, rather than actual spend, for exercises to recruit staff into the Department within the periods shown.

The Department for Work and Pensions makes use of executive search consultants to provide expertise in executive search and selection, particularly for senior and specialist staff in circumstances where the relevant skills, qualifications and experience are not available or in very limited supply across the Department and Whitehall.

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Contracted spend (£)







2007-08 (to date)


Financial Assistance Scheme

Mr. Frank Field: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions pursuant to the oral answer of 23 April 2007, Official Report, column 640, to the hon. Member for Ludlow, on the Financial Assistance scheme, if he will list those solvent schemes which will not be covered by the extension of the Financial Assistance scheme. [135137]

James Purnell: We announced an extension to FAS on 18 April 2007 to cover members of schemes that began winding up between 1 January 2007 and 5 April 2005, where a compromise agreement is in place, and where enforcing the debt against the employer would have forced the employer into insolvency. On 23 April 2007 we subsequently issued an indicative list of schemes potentially eligible for support from the FAS where a compromise agreement is understood to be in place.

We do not currently have any detailed information on schemes sponsored by other solvent employers.

On 28 March the Secretary of State announced a review to examine whether an alternative treatment of the residual funds in affected pension schemes and other non-public expenditure funding that have not already been allocated could be used to increase levels of assistance above the 80 per cent. provided by the financial assistance scheme. One objective for this review of scheme assets is to determine whether there are other pension schemes (in addition to those with compromise agreements) where although the sponsoring employer did not undergo an insolvency event, it would not be reasonable to expect the employer to have a continuing responsibility for supporting an under funded scheme. The review will provide an initial view in the summer, consult formally in the autumn and then report by the end of the year.

Incapacity Benefit

Mr. Frank Field: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many previous participants of the new deal for disabled people not currently participating on the scheme are claiming incapacity benefit; and how many left the scheme for employment before returning to benefit. [141112]

Mr. Jim Murphy [holding answer 7 June 2007]: Up to the end of November 2006, new deal for disabled people had been successful in helping 134,160 people into work.

A total of 15,640 people who had previously left new deal for disabled people and were not participating at the end of November 2006, were claiming incapacity benefit at the end of November 2006.

A total of 14,460 people who had left new deal for disabled people to employment had a subsequent out-of-work benefit claim at some point up to the end of November 2006.

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Because some people are included in both totals there is overlap between the two sets of figures.

Jobcentre Plus: Christchurch

Mr. Chope: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) how many people obtained advice on benefits from the Christchurch office of Jobcentre Plus in each of the last six months; [138911]

(2) where he proposes former clients using the Christchurch Jobcentre Plus office will be able to use jobpoints and free telephone services after the proposed closure of the Christchurch office; [138912]

(3) on what date Jobcentre Plus in Dorset and Somerset finalised its service delivery plan for the district; and if he will place in the Library a copy of the plan; [138913]

(4) whether he is now in a position to place in the Library a copy of the business case for the closure of the Christchurch Jobcentre Plus office; [138914]

(5) pursuant to the letter of 15 May 2007 from the Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform to the hon. Member for Christchurch, what assessment he has made of the ways in which closure of the Christchurch Jobcentre Plus office will enable his Department to provide a better service to the residents of Christchurch than it has been able to provide up to now. [138915]

Mr. Jim Murphy [holding answer s 23 May 2007]: The administration of Jobcentre Plus is a matter for the Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus, Lesley Strathie. I have asked her to provide the hon. Member with the information requested.

Letter from Mel Groves, dated 14 June 2007:

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Learning Disability: Basic Skills

Helen Southworth: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will review the availability of literacy and numeracy basic skills training for people with a learning disability who are seeking or are in employment to ensure there are no special needs groups which are excluded from access to basic employment-focussed learning; and if he will make a statement. [138765]

Mr. Jim Murphy [holding answer 22 May 2007]: All Jobcentre Plus customers, including those with learning needs, have access to a range of literacy and numeracy basic skills training. Jobcentre Plus fund training for customers eligible for the new deal programme or voluntary training funded by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC).

The new Employability Skills programme, for Jobcentre Plus customers, will be introduced in August 2007 and will target help for customers for whom basic skills are the primary barrier to employment. It will also be possible for customers with learning needs to be referred to have their needs assessed and, if it is suitable, will be able to take up this training. If the Employability Skills programme is not suitable the LSC provider will refer them to other LSC courses.

Customers with a learning difficulty or disability who are registered on a LSC funded literacy and numeracy course are entitled, through the Skills for Life strategy, to free training. People with learning needs and in employment can also access a range of LSC provision either direct or via their employer.

Education and training is a devolved issue and these arrangements for training refer to Jobcentre Plus customers in England only.

We have no plans to review the availability of provision at this time.

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