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26 Nov 2008 : Column 1913W—continued

Repossession Orders: Disadvantaged

John Bercow: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will issue guidelines to banks and building societies to encourage them to stop the repossession of homes belonging to vulnerable families, including families with members who are autistic. [234677]

Ian Pearson: On 22 October, the Government confirmed that the Master of the Rolls had approved a new protocol for mortgage possession cases, which complements existing regulation, and sets out clear standards that judges may expect of lenders bringing repossessions cases in the courts.

Council of Mortgage Lenders guidance also states that lenders following best practice will have an arrears policy which states how the lender treats customers with serious or terminal illness, mental health problems or disability.

On 2 September, the Government announced a significant package of measures to help borrowers in difficulty, help first time buyers and support the house-building industry. This included a £200 million mortgage rescue scheme, through which the Government will support up to 6,000 of the most vulnerable homeowners facing repossession to remain in their home. The scheme is firmly targeted on those families who can no longer afford their repayments, and who would be considered to have a priority need for accommodation under the homelessness legislation. Under the legislation, the priority need categories include, among others, applicants whose household includes a child or pregnant woman and applicants whose household includes someone who is vulnerable for some reason, for example because of mental illness or is ability. In the pre-Budget Report the Chancellor announced an extension of the mortgage rescue scheme to cover second charge lending.

The Chancellor also announced at Pre-Budget Report 2008 a number of policies which will support households facing financial difficulties.


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The Government are establishing a Lending Panel bringing together government, regulators, lenders, trade bodies and consumer groups to monitor lending to both households and businesses. There is a commitment for the coming year by the major mortgage lenders on the new panel, not to repossess homes within three months of an owner-occupier going into arrears.

The Government provide direct support to individuals through Support for Mortgage Interest, which is available to those out of work, and pensioners, delivered through social security benefits. At pre-Budget Report the Government announced that it will make the scheme more generous by increasing the size of the mortgage for which support is payable for new working age claimants from £175,000 to £200,000. In addition, Government will increase net support for beneficiaries of Support for Mortgage Interest through maintaining payments at the current interest rate for the next six months for existing claimants.

The Government are also determined to ensure that every household struggling with debts can access free and impartial debt advice. The Chancellor announced in the pre-Budget Report £5.85 million additional investment to march 2011 in telephone advice, and £10m to march 2010 invested in Citizens Advice bureaux to expand face-to-face debt advice capacity, to ensure that advice and support is available for borrowers who may need it.

Revenue and Customs: Buildings

Mr. Philip Hammond: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how much has been spent on refurbishment in each HM Revenue and Customs office in the last three years. [221186]

Mr. Timms: This information is not available because the HMRC accounting system does not differentiate refurbishment spending from other types of ad hoc expenditure on its estate, such as health and safety changes, security improvements, accommodation changes relating to changes in team structures such as moving office furniture, porterage, repairs to fittings, erection of whiteboards and signage and clearance costs of properties which have been vacated.

Revenue and Customs: Business Interests

Norman Lamb: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer who in HM Revenue and Customs is responsible for deciding on applications under the business appointments procedures. [237565]

Mr. Timms: Managers within each business area are responsible for deciding whether a member of staff should take up a temporary secondment to an outside organisation. Her Majesty's Revenue and Custom's International Relations and Capacity Building (IRCB) team must first give approval if the proposed secondment is with an overseas organisation.

Managers within the business also decide on applications for approval to take up an offer of employment outside the civil service from people leaving HMRC.

In both cases managers' decisions are based on the criteria set out in departmental guidance.


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Norman Lamb: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will publish the rules on movements of HM Revenue and Customs officials to commercial companies under the business appointments procedures. [237567]

Mr. Timms: The rules on movements of HMRC officials to commercial companies under the business appointments procedures and to other outside organisations are published on HMRC's intranet. A copy of the relevant guidance has been placed in the Library of the House.

Revenue and Customs: Closures

Mr. Sanders: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make it his policy to ensure that all HM Revenue and Customs office sites proposed for closure will retain a full-time enquiry centre, open five days a week, after the rationalisation process has been completed. [238741]

Mr. Timms: Not all HMRC locations provide Enquiry Centre services. HMRC has already committed to maintaining Enquiry Centre services at or close by to where they are currently located. In response to declining demand for its face to face services, HMRC is testing alternative opening patterns in a number of smaller Enquiry Centres with low customer footfall. The results of these pilots will help inform the future pattern of provision of these services.

Mr. Sanders: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what assessment he has made of the likely effect of the Workforce Change programme on the effectiveness of HM Revenue and Customs' management of tax debt. [239803]

Mr. Timms: HMRC believe that by concentrating non location-specific debt management work in fewer locations they will ensure that teams are of a viable size to manage the collection of tax debt more efficiently and effectively and that they will achieve economies of scale. The Workforce Change programme facilitates this business restructuring.

Revenue and Customs: Databases

Justine Greening: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer pursuant to the answer of 3 November 2008, Official Report, columns 103-04W, on Revenue and Customs: databases, what procedures exist to establish (a) the permission or legal authority of departmental staff to disclose data held on the frameworks database and (b) that those receiving the information have the entitlement or legal right to receive it. [237512]

Mr. Timms: Section 18 of the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act 2005 (CRCA) makes it clear that the Department must not give (“disclose”) HMRC information to anyone, unless it has lawful authority to do so. This includes disclosure to other Government Departments and their agencies, local authorities, the police, any other public bodies, agents and members of
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the public. All HMRC staff must comply with this and failure to do so may lead to disciplinary (or even criminal) proceedings.

Revenue and Customs: Devon

Mr. Sanders: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what recent representations he has received from local authorities on proposed tax office closures in South Devon. [239001]

Mr. Timms: Treasury Ministers and officials receive representations from a wide range of organisations 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 representations.

Revenue and Customs: Offices

Mr. Sanders: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what national targets exist for the average distance from customers to HM Revenue and Customs offices; and whether he plans to change these targets as a result of the Workforce Change programme. [238740]

Mr. Timms: There are no such targets.

Mr. Sanders: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what assessment he has made of the service offered by HM Revenue and Customs in areas where (a) reduced opening hours each day and (b) fewer open days per week are being piloted for enquiry centres. [238794]

Mr. Timms: HMRC are piloting different opening hours in 10 Enquiry Centres and these will be fully evaluated during January 2009. Early indications are that service levels and customer satisfaction are being maintained. Where any changes to opening days are piloted these will also be fully evaluated.

Revenue and Customs: South West

Mr. Laws: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what estimate he has made of the proportion of HM Revenue and Customs staff in offices earmarked for closure in the South West who live within reasonable daily travel of a strategic site; and if he will make a statement. [238723]

Mr. Timms: To date it has been decided to vacate only three of HM Revenue and Customs' (HMRC's) offices in the South West: those at Royal Mead, Bath, The Pithay Bristol and Woodlands Court Bristol. Decisions have not yet been made on a number of offices for which proposals were published in June under HMRC's regional review programme.

Impact assessments for all buildings it has been decided to vacate are published on the HMRC website at

They include HMRC's initial estimates of how many staff are within reasonable daily travelling time of another HMRC office it has been decided to retain. After decisions have been announced an established process is followed,
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starting with one to one meetings between individuals and managers, to determine whether relocation is reasonable in individual circumstances.

Mr. Laws: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) what assessment he has made of the environmental impact of HM Revenue and Customs workforce change programme in (a) Somerset and (b) the South West; and if he will make a statement; [238727]

(2) whether an assessment has been made of the environmental effects of the HM Revenue and Customs Workforce Change programme; and if he will make a statement. [238738]

Mr. Timms: The purpose of the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) Workforce Change programme is to match staff and accommodation to future business needs. Its accommodation-related energy requirements will decrease, reflecting the overall reduction in the size of its estate. Any increase in average commuting journey will be more than offset by a reduction in staff numbers resulting in an overall reduction in commuter-generated carbon emissions.

Revenue and Customs: Surveys

Mr. Laws: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many HM Revenue and Customs customer reviews are (a) outstanding and (b) expected to be outstanding by 5 April 2009. [238724]

Mr. Timms: The total number of customer reviews for the tax years 2006-07 and earlier outstanding on 14 November 2008 was 14,074,742. Employer returns for 2007-08 are not yet fully processed and it is not possible to say precisely how many customer reviews will arise for that year, nor how many will remain outstanding at 5 April 2009. Over 77 per cent. of reviews result in no material tax change for the taxpayer.

Revenue and Customs: Telephone Services

Mr. Sanders: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what national targets exist for the maximum length of time taken to answer telephone enquiries to HM Revenue and Customs offices; and whether these targets will be revised as part of the Workforce Change programme. [238739]

Mr. Timms: No such national targets exist. The Department's Workforce Change programme will not alter this. HMRC's performance against targets is shown in the departmental report 2008.

Scottish Consolidated Fund: Fossil Fuel Levy

Mr. Ingram: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) what recent discussions there have been between his Department and the Scottish Executive on the transfer of funds held in the Fossil Fuel Levy account to the Scottish Consolidated Fund; [230030]

(2) what recent representations he has received from the Scottish Executive on the use to which they wish to put the funds held in the Fossil Fuel Levy account; and if he will make a statement. [230031]


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Yvette Cooper: The Treasury receives representations from time to time from the Scottish Executive on a number of issues.

It is open to the Scottish Executive to draw down funds from the Ofgem fossil fuel account to the Scottish Consolidated Fund. However, this does not lead to an increase in the DEL available to the Scottish Executive.

Funds drawn down from the fossil fuel surplus to the UK Consolidated Fund have been used to finance UK public spending and the Scottish Executive has already received Barnett consequentials as a result.

Smuggling: Drugs

Sammy Wilson: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the estimated monetary value of illicit drugs seized by HM Revenue and Customs in Northern Ireland was in each of the last 10 years. [239268]

Mr. Timms: The approximate values of illicit drugs seized by HM Customs and Excise and HM Revenue and Customs in Northern Ireland in the financial years from 2003-04 to 2007-08 are set out in the following table. HM Revenue and Customs central records do not hold information on the monetary values of illicit drugs seized in Northern Ireland prior to 2003-04.

Financial year Value if illicit drugs seized (£)

2003-04

292,000

2004-05

51,000

2005-06

104,000

2006-07

7,689,000

2007-08

186,000


Smuggling: Tobacco

Mike Penning: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the reasons are for the decrease in the amount of illegally imported hand-rolling tobacco seized by HM Revenue and Customs since 2001. [234187]

Angela Eagle: The following table indicates the volumes of hand-rolling tobacco (HRT) seized between 2001 and 2007.

Total HRT seized 2001-07

Tonnes

2001-02

385

2002-03

258

2003-04

185

2004-05

166

2005-06

160

2006-07

228

2007-08

194


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