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22 Oct 2008 : Column 354W—continued

By means of a weighting mechanism to take account of the mortgage market share of the building societies, the standard national rate is calculated using their standard variable rates.

The standard national rate for local authority mortgages was last reviewed on 1 September 2008 and remained at 6.89 per cent.

Local Government: Pensions

Paul Rowen: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what assessment she has made of the implications of the deficit in the Local Government Contributory Pension Fund. [229201]

John Healey: As required by the regulations which govern the Local Government Pension Scheme in England and Wales, the scheme was actuarially valued as at 31 March 2007 and the employer contribution rates established for the financial period 2008-09 to 2010-11 ensure that the scheme remains solvent. Under the terms of the scheme, members' pension payments are guaranteed.

Members: Correspondence

Mr. Burns: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government when she plans to reply to the hon. Member for West Chelmsford's letter of 4 September 2008 on Mr. Paul Carlier of Little Waltham, Chelmsford. [229064]

Mr. Iain Wright: A reply was sent to the hon. Member on 20 October 2008.

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Mortgages: Government Assistance

Mr. Dai Davies: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government if she will discuss with the Chancellor of the Exchequer options for providing support for homebuyers in negative equity as a result of the mis-selling of mortgages by banks. [227927]

Mr. Iain Wright: On 2 September, as part of a wider package of new measures designed to meet current challenges in the housing market, the Government announced a mortgage rescue scheme which will help up to 6,000 households who would otherwise be repossessed stay in their home. The Government will fund registered social landlords to buy all or part of the house, which the homeowner will then be able to rent back at a subsidised rate. This will be fully operational from January 2009.

The Government are committed to providing a wide range of support, advice and assistance to homeowners facing difficulties in the current economic circumstances. The situation will continue to be kept under active review.

Rates and Rating: Credit Unions

Dr. Ladyman: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what discussions she has had on a review of the liability of credit unions for business rates; and what consideration she has given to extending the dispensation currently applied to charities to credit unions and other social enterprises. [227728]

John Healey: No such discussions have taken place as credit unions and other social enterprises can already qualify for mandatory charity relief if they are specifically established for charitable purposes and use the property in question in the exercise of these purposes. To qualify for discretionary relief the social enterprise must be non-profit making and the property it occupies used for social, philanthropic, educational or religious purposes.


Banks: Compensation

Mr. Dai Davies: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will take steps to ensure that the banking rescue package will not affect levels of expenditure on public services in the short, medium and long term. [226266]

Ian Pearson: The Chancellor of the Exchequer will provide an update on the Government’s fiscal position in the autumn pre-Budget report.

Child Benefit

Mr. Oaten: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer pursuant to the answer of 6 October 2008, on child benefit, what percentage of callers to the child benefit helpline were automatically informed to call later by answer message because the lines were too busy in 2007-08. [226660]

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Mr. Timms [holding answer 13 October 2008]: During 2007-08, the busy message was played to 29 per cent. of call attempts to the child benefit helpline.

Service levels on the child benefit helpline have been affected over the last 12 months by a variety of different factors. These include increased customer demand and longer call handling times following the introduction of enhanced security arrangements after HMRC’s data loss in 2007. When the number of callers is high, as it has been on the child benefit helpline, calls are more likely to go unanswered with a higher number of busy messages played. Customers who cannot get through on their first attempt often use the rapid redial facility on their telephone to make numerous successive calls and this rapidly increases the number of unanswered calls and busy messages.

HMRC’s latest contact centre customer survey, covering March to August 2008, shows that over 91 per cent. of callers were satisfied with the service they received from the child benefit helpline. The Department has, however, developed plans to further improve the service provided on the helpline.

These plans include allocation of an extra 50 advisers to the helpline by the end of the year; improving links between contact centres and the child benefit processing office to provide a better customer service; providing a set of automated messages on the helpline to enable callers to get basic relevant information about child benefit without needing to wait for or talk to an adviser and directing customers to the newly improved child benefit content on the HMRC website, which includes an improved payment date tracker. These measures will reduce the number of busy messages played to customers and enable more customers to speak to an adviser more quickly, should they need to.

Mr. Drew: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the average length of time taken to process a new application for child benefit was in the latest period for which figures are available; and what steps he is taking to expedite the process. [228032]

Mr. Timms [holding answer 20 October 2008]: In 2007-08, 64.5 per cent. of claims were processed in five working days, and 94 per cent. in 36 working days. There is on average four days between processing and paying.

For 2008-09, HM Revenue and Customs aim to pay 69 per cent. of new child benefit claims in nine working days and all new claims in 20 calendar days. This is the first year that this target has been in place. Performance outturn for 2008-09 will be published in due course.

HMRC continually reviews its processes to improve timeliness of payment to customers.

Departmental Information and Communications Technology

Mr. Ancram: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how much his Department spent on upgrading its IT in each of the last three financial years. [228426]

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Angela Eagle: Details of the Department's spending on upgrading IT equipment is shown in notes 11.1 and 12 of the annual Resource Accounts. Copies of the Treasury's Resource Accounts are available on the Treasury's website

HC 1344 covers 2005-06, HC 518 2006-07 and HC 539 2007-08.

Departmental NDPBs

Mr. Jeremy Browne: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what funding has been agreed with each of his Department's non-departmental public bodies for the period 2008 to 2011. [229134]

Angela Eagle: The Department does not include any non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs).

Equitable Life

Lynne Jones: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer when in autumn 2008 the Government plan to respond to the report of the Parliamentary Ombudsman on Equitable Life. [228659]

Ian Pearson: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer given on 13 October 2008, Official Report, column 1000W.

Financial Services: EU Action

Ann Winterton: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether the UK may withdraw unilaterally from the Mark to Market rules under European Union legislation. [226867]

Ian Pearson: UK groups are required to use International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), including those relating to valuation, when preparing their accounts. IFRS are set by the International Accounting Standards Board and adopted for use inside the EU under the relevant legislation by the member states of the EU and the European Parliament.

HBOS: Lloyds TSB

Mrs. Riordan: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make it his policy to ensure that as many HBOS employees in Halifax as possible retain their jobs as part of the conditions of the pending merger of HBOS with Lloyds TSB. [225206]

Ian Pearson: It is in everyone’s interest—customers, shareholders and employees—that the future of the firm is secure. As this is a commercial transaction, it will be for Lloyds TSB to determine the future of the company but the Government will remain in contact with the firms about this issue. Recognising the challenges that the region faces as a result of recent changes to local banking services, the Chancellor has asked Yorkshire Forward to convene a group to conduct rapid assessment on what is needed to support local jobs.

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Revenue and Customs

Mr. Laws: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what his estimate is of the revenue recovered by HM Revenue and Customs Compliance and Enforcement Unit in each year since 2003-04. [224947]

Mr. Timms: The results of tackling non-compliance are primarily measured by additional liabilities assessed, and these are shown in the following table for both direct tax and VAT.

£ million

Direct tax VAT Total

















2007-08 figures are currently being finalised.

Taxation: Self-assessment

Mr. Love: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) what the average cost to HM Revenue and Customs is of processing a tax return; and how many tax returns would be obviated by increasing the thresholds in line with rental inflation; [227601]

(2) what the annual cost was of providing the rent-a-room tax scheme at the current threshold of £4,250 in each of the last five years; and what the annual cost would be of indexing the rent-a-room threshold in line with rental inflation from the £4,250 base set in 1997-98. [227602]

Mr. Timms: The average paybill cost of processing an income tax self assessment return in 2007-08 was £15.72. If the rent-a-room threshold had been increased in line with inflation since 1997-98 up to 5,000 taxpayers would have been taken out of self assessment.

The estimated tax cost of exempting income under the rent-a-room scheme is published in table A3.1 of Budget 2008.

The annual cost of increasing the rent-a-room threshold in line with rental inflation from the level of £4,250 set for 1997-98 is around £5 million.

Working Tax Credit

Susan Kramer: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what proportion of families eligible for the childcare element of the working tax credit claimed it in each year for which figures are available. [228367]

Mr. Timms: The information requested is not available.

However, estimates of the average number of families benefiting from the child care element of working tax credit are provided in Table 2.4 of the HMRC publications ‘Child and Working Tax Credits Statistics. Finalised annual awards’, for each relevant year. These are available on the HMRC website at:

22 Oct 2008 : Column 359W

Leader of the House

Departmental Official Visits

David Simpson: To ask the Leader of the House how much was spent on overnight accommodation by civil servants from her Office in the last 12 months. [228776]

Chris Bryant: Nothing.

Departmental Security

Chris Huhne: To ask the Leader of the House how many security passes have been reported (a) lost and (b) stolen by staff in her Office in each year since 2001. [228894]

Chris Bryant: Due to the machinery of government changes, the Leader of the House of Commons office now forms part of the Cabinet Office. Information on the loss of security passes can be provided only from June 2006 to present. In this time only one security pass has been reported lost.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Bovine Tuberculosis

Mr. Paice: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the incidence was of bovine tuberculosis in each county of England and Wales in each non-bovine species in each year since 1997. [227302]

Jane Kennedy: It is not possible to give accurate figures for the incidence of TB caused by Mycobacterium bovis in non-bovine domestic animals in England and Wales. This is because there is no active surveillance programme in place and no systematic, random surveys of TB have ever been conducted in these species. Furthermore, the identification of M. bovis in tissues and clinical samples from all mammals (excepting man) and the detection of suspect TB lesions in farmed and companion mammals (other than cattle and farmed deer), became notifiable only in February 2006.

Data can be provided only on the number of M. bovis isolations from notified suspect clinical and post-mortem cases of TB arising in domestic animals other than cattle. For these reasons, and because these cases came from a small non-random sample of all the susceptible animals in England and Wales, these data are not an exact reflection of the true incidence of bovine TB in domestic animals.

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