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20 Oct 2008 : Column 143W—continued

Benefits Contract

22. Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions when he plans to award the contract for the delivery of work and pensions benefits. [227695]

Ms Rosie Winterton: I assume the hon. Member is referring to the contract to replace the post office card account. We will act in good time before the present contract ends.

Departmental Telephone Services

Colin Challen: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what agencies or units for which his Department is responsible require the public to make telephone calls to them on numbers which charge more than the national call rate; and how much income each such agency derived from such charges in each of the last three years. [225710]

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Jonathan Shaw: The main telephone numbers used by the Department for Work and Pensions are 0800 and 0845. The use of these 08 numbers allows the Department opportunities to reduce customer confusion by minimising the volume of contact numbers advertised to the extent the Department can control this to offer free calls or low cost calls to the majority of our customers.

For 0800 numbers, which are typically provided for our claim lines, the call is free for customers who use BT landline or public call box facilities. BT remains the service provider with the largest market share. Many other landline service providers do not charge for these calls, but this cannot be guaranteed by the Department as the contract is between the customer and his service provider and can be subject to change. Customers contacting us by their personal mobiles will be alerted that charges will apply if they proceed with the call and if the customer advises us that they are concerned about these charges we will call them back. Again the Department cannot control the charges made by mobile service providers.

For 0845 numbers BT customers pay a charge which is broadly the same as national call rates. Other service provider charges will vary and may be higher. Calls from mobiles are likely to be higher and again the Department will call customers back if they are concerned about the charges.

The Department is currently conducting a review of the issues associated with its numbers and the charges that apply to customers. However it recognises that the telecom market is constantly changing and any change the Department makes need to be sustainable.

The Department no longer receives any income from its use of telephone numbers used to access its services. Prior to December 2007 the Department did receive a rebate of £500,000 per annum on 0845 calls and this was used to help provide free call services for customers.

Departmental Written Questions

Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions by what date his Department expects to release to the hon. Member for Yeovil the information in respect of the traffic light system for written parliamentary questions, as required by the Information Commissioner's Decision Notice of 8 September 2008; and if he will make a statement. [224795]

Jonathan Shaw: The hon. Member for Yeovil received this information on 10 October.

Disability Living Allowance

Chris Grayling: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how frequently claimants of disability living allowance are assessed. [226165]

Jonathan Shaw: Once entitlement to disability living allowance is established, the frequency of reassessment varies according to the individual circumstances of the case. For example, a claim may be reassessed if a customer reports a change in their circumstances, or information is received suggesting that there has been a change of circumstances since the original award of benefit was made. In addition, where a fixed period award is nearing its end point, the customer is invited to
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submit a new claim which is then assessed on the current evidence before a new decision is made on entitlement. Other claims may continue throughout the period of the award without being reassessed.

Income Support: Lone Parents

Jenny Willott: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions pursuant to the answer of 16 July, Official Report, columns 474-5W, on income support: lone parents, how many and what proportion of the 8,950 customer-facing staff have received specific training on the changes to the eligibility rules for income support affecting lone parents coming into effect in November 2008; and if he will make a statement. [226326]

Kitty Ussher: A holding replay was sent on Monday 13 October 2008.

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 Lesley Strathie 20 October 2008:

Jenny Willott: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions pursuant to the answer of 9 July 2008, Official Report, columns 1685W, on lone parents: income support, what progress has been made in developing a communication strategy to support the changes to the eligibility rules for income support affecting lone parents coming into effect in (a) 2008, (b) 2009 and (c) 2010; and if he will make a statement. [226327]

Kitty Ussher: A holding reply was sent on 13 October 2008.

A communication strategy to support the changes to the eligibility rules for income support affecting lone parents has been agreed by DWP Communications and policy officials and is currently being implemented.

The strategy has a very clear focus on the need for timely and accurate communications to (1) customers affected by the changes, (2) Jobcentre Plus staff in roles impacted by the changes, and (3) external stakeholders involved in giving accurate advice to customers. We have ensured that all communications activities are properly co-ordinated, and fit with messages about the Government's wider agenda for increasing the number of people in paid work and reducing child poverty.

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Key objectives of the communications strategy are to ensure that the following audiences receive co-ordinated, timely and tailored messages, as follows:

To meet these objectives the strategy includes the following:

The same approach is proposed for introduction of Phase 2 of the changes in 2009 and Phase 3 in 2010. However, in spring 2009 we will evaluate the Phase 1 communications and feed these findings into communication plans for the next phases.

Jobcentre Plus: Occupational Health

Chris Grayling: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how much Jobcentre Plus spent on staff counselling in each of the last 10 years. [226169]

Mr. McNulty: Jobcentre Plus, as an executive agency of DWP, has access to the DWP Employee Assistance Programme. This is a wide ranging service designed to provide advice, guidance and support on a range of issues. This includes counselling, for both employees and their dependants.

The costs for counselling have never been invoiced separately and therefore cannot be provided.

Pension Disability and Carers Service: Publicity

Chris Grayling: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how much the Pensions Service has spent on its Full of Life campaign; and how the performance of the programme will be measured against his Department's public service agreement. [226195]

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Ms Rosie Winterton: The ‘Full of Life’ activity on and around Older People's Day was a broad-based effort coordinated by the Department for Work and Pensions and involving the Pension, Disability and Carers Service, Jobcentre Plus and a wide range of local and national stakeholders and local groups.

There was no budget allocated within the Pension, Disability and Carers Service, however, the Department for Work and Pensions has spent £238,396.43 to date on the ‘Full of Life’ campaign.

Supporting Public Service Agreement 17: Tackle poverty and promote greater independence and well-being in later life, the ‘Full of Life’ activity highlights and celebrates the huge contribution older people make to our society and communities, improving the awareness and take up of the range of services and support available to older people, as well as tackling stereotypes of older age.

‘Full of Life’ is part of a wider-strategy to deliver this PSA. Making progress against the indicators is an incremental and long term process and we would not expect to make a measurable impact on attitudes and behaviour as a direct result of Older Peoples Day 2008. In these early years we are aiming to establish the day and are evaluating awareness of the day, media coverage and the scale of participation on the day.

Pensioners: Carer's Allowance

Harry Cohen: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will consider paying carers allowance to pensioners; and if he will make a statement. [225887]

Jonathan Shaw: Since October 2002 carers aged 65 or over have been able to qualify for carer's allowance on the same basis as younger carers. The general principle is that if a claimant qualifies for more than one non-means-tested income replacement benefit the higher benefit is paid. Therefore, if a carer is receiving a state pension they would not be paid a carer's allowance unless their state pension was less than the rate of carer's allowance.

Over 400,000 carers receive income-related benefits including income support, jobseeker's allowance, housing benefit, council tax benefit and pension credit which are paid at a higher rate because they are entitled to carer's allowance. The higher rate is paid even if the carer satisfies the qualifying rules for carer's allowance but receives a state pension at a higher rate and as a result cannot be paid carer's allowance.

Pensioners: Economic Situation

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) what steps the Government have taken to assist pensioners in the current economic climate; [226330]

(2) what recent steps the Government have taken to assist pensioners in reducing their household bills. [226331]

Ms Rosie Winterton [holding answer 15 October 2008]: There is a statutory requirement to review all social security benefits each year and to increase certain benefits from April each year.

The increases are calculated for most benefits using the annual inflation figure for the preceding September.
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This ensures that benefits keep their real value in broad terms, and any fluctuations throughout the year feed into this rate.

In addition the Government continue to monitor the economic situation very closely.

The Chancellor announced in his Budget 2008 speech that for winter 2008-09 an additional payment will be made alongside the winter fuel payment. Households with a member aged 60 to 79 will receive an additional £50 and households with a member aged 80 or over will receive an additional £100. This makes the winter fuel payment £250 and £400 respectively for winter 2008-09 which provides a significant contribution towards an older person's winter fuel bill.

On 11 September 2008 the Government announced a new £1 billion package of measures to help people cut their energy bills. Measures on offer deliver significant energy savings including increased help with cavity wall and loft insulation. 11 million lower income and pensioner households are eligible for these free of charge. And for winter 2008-09 cold weather payments will increase in value from £8.50 to £25.00. Cold weather payments are made to vulnerable people in receipt of qualifying benefits, including pension credit, if there is a period of very cold weather in their area.

Addressing pensioner poverty has been one of the Government's key priorities since 1997. The number of pensioners in relative poverty in the UK has fallen from 2.9 million in 1998-99 to 2.1 million in 2006-07. Once housing costs are accounted for, pensioners are less likely to be in poverty than the population as a whole.

Pension credit, a key element of the strategy to tackle pensioner poverty, ensures no pensioner need live on less than £124.05 for single people and £189.35 for couples. It makes a difference to the income of millions of older people. Since pension credit was introduced in 2003 the number of pensioners in relative poverty has fallen by around 500,000.

Non-cash benefits in kind make a real difference to the lives of millions of UK pensioners. These include free NHS prescriptions and eye tests for those over 60 and free TV licences for those over 75. People aged over 60 and disabled people living in England are entitled to free England-wide off-peak bus travel, and similar schemes are available in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. British Citizens born before 2 September 1929 can apply for a free 10-year UK passport and from April 2009 local authorities will be able to offer free swimming to the over 60s, in a scheme jointly funded by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, Department of Health and Department of Work and Pensions.

Pensions Regulator: Correspondence

John Penrose: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions for what reasons the Pension Regulator has not replied to the hon. Member for Weston-Super-Mare's letters of 13 May, 23 June and 28 July 2008 on behalf of his constituent Mr. Leyshon; and when he will reply to those letters. [223326]

Ms Rosie Winterton: DWP officials have contacted the Regulator and they have confirmed receipt of your letter dated 13 May. They replied to this letter on 29 May. I have asked that this reply be sent on again to ensure you receive it.

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Discussions with your constituency office have confirmed that there is now no need to reply to the letters dated 23 June or 28 July.

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