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Medical Assessments (Benefits Agency)

28. Mr. John Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what recent representations he has received regarding medical assessments by the Benefits Agency; and if he will make a statement. [141830]

Mr. Bayley: No recent representations have been received other than correspondence relating to individual claimants. In June we published the Government's response to the Social Security Select Committee's report on Medical Services. A series of regional presentations about Medical Services for representatives of welfare rights organisations took place between January and July this year.

Fraud

29. Mr. Jack: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many announcements of social security fraud reduction targets he has made since 1997; and which targets have been fully achieved. [141831]

Mr. Rooker: In March 1999, for the first time, we set a public service agreement target to reduce fraud and error in Income Support and Jobseeker's Allowance by at least 10 per cent. by March 2002 with a further target of a 30 per cent. reduction by March 2007.

In July we announced, and are committed to achieving, revised targets to reduce fraud and error by 25 per cent. by March 2004 and by 50 per cent. by March 2006.

The latest figures from the Government Statistical Service show a significant fall in fraud and error in Income Support and Jobseeker's Allowance and demonstrates we are well on track to meet our first target by 2002.

Dr. Gibson: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what recent steps have been taken to counter benefit fraud. [141816]

Mr. Rooker: We are taking effective action to combat Social Security fraud. We are implementing a strategy to ensure that from the start of the claim the right benefits are going to the right people at the right time. Among the new measures we have introduced are a new fraud bill, tighter checks on new Income Support claimants, cross-checking DSS records with information from other Government Departments and the automatic transfer of claims related data from the Benefits Agency to local authorities.

Benefit Withdrawal

31. Mr. David Heath: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what arrangements he will make to ensure the welfare of dependants of those from whom benefits are withdrawn. [142141]

Mr. Rooker: Withdrawing benefit from those who have failed to honour their responsibilities is an established feature of the benefit system. So too are safeguards to prevent hardship.

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Our recent proposals to sanction, to withdraw or to reduce benefits payable to those twice convicted of benefit fraud will be underpinned by these safeguards. Thus, those without any other means will be able to apply for help on a similar basis to that provided to unemployed claimants who have failed to make themselves available for work. Moreover, the new proposals will not affect benefits payable for dependants, such as child benefit.

Disability Benefits

32. Sir Teddy Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what estimate he has made of the savings which will accrue to public funds from the cancellation of disablement benefits; and if he will make a statement. [142142]

Mr. Bayley: The reforms of Incapacity Benefit are not being driven by a need to make savings. We are committed to targeting help on those in greatest need. The cost of the improvements we are making for carers and disabled people will exceed any savings that may be made by the Incapacity Benefit reforms.

Between April 2001 and April 2002 we will spend around £200 million more on support for disabled people and their carers. Over the period 2001-04 we will spend an extra three quarters of a billion pounds on targeted benefits for these groups.

Benefits Agency Medical Services

33. Mr. Efford: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what assessment he has made of the performance of the Benefits Agency medical services contract; and if he will make a statement. [142143]

Mr. Bayley: In February 2000 the Social Security Committee published a report on Medical Services.

Our response to the report was published on 30 June 2000 (Command Paper No. 4780), and this included four additional targets which we expect Sema to meet:





The Department is working closely with Medical Services to address these and other issues identified within the SSSC report.

Wide-ranging audit of medical quality standards is being carried out by the Department's Chief Medical Adviser to identify and rectify poor performance.

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SERPs

34. Mr. Rendel: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when he next expects to review the rebate rates for those who have contracted out of SERPs and taken out private pensions. [142144]

Mr. Rooker: The Government Actuary is shortly expected to report to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on the level of National Insurance rebates for those contracting out of the state additional pension for the period 2002-07. Next year, when my right hon. Friend has considered the Government Actuary's advice, he will lay a report before both Houses setting out the proposed level of the rebates.

Mr. Stunell: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what has been (a) the cash flow and (b) the interest payment benefit to his Department of delays in payment of SERPs to qualified newly retired pensioners for each financial year since April 1997; and if he will make a statement. [141517]

Mr. Rooker: The information could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

Pensioners (Ethnic Communities)

35. Mr. Dismore: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement on the support he is giving to pensioners from ethnic communities. [142145]

Mr. Rooker: Pensioners from ethnic minorities benefit from targeted policies such as the Minimum Income Guarantee. Pensioners from ethnic minorities can call the Minimum Income Guarantee tele-claim centre and speak to an interpreter, and many departmental leaflets are available in a range of languages.

Winter Fuel Allowance

36. Mr. Gerald Howarth: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security for what reason the Winter Fuel Allowance has been increased to £200 for the current year only; and what the administrative cost is of this change. [142146]

Mr. Rooker: As part of the transitional arrangements to our new pension reform, we decided to increase the Winter Fuel Payment--for this winter only--to £200. This is double the amount paid last winter to qualifying households.

Within the overall context of the scheme as a whole, the extra cost of making this change is likely to be very small.

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many automatic payments of winter fuel payment are outstanding; and how many of these he expects to have been paid by Christmas. [143090]

Mr. Rooker: All automatic payments where a clear entitlement has been established have been issued.

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will estimate how many men aged 60 to 64 years are eligible to receive backdated payments of winter fuel payment; and how many had not applied to receive a backdated payment by the deadline of 3 November 2000. [143091]

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Mr. Rooker: We estimated that there may be up to 1.7 million men eligible for payments in respect of previous years of the scheme; however, not all of them have claimed. We have already paid 976,495 men who have chosen to claim. There is no deadline for claiming winter fuel payments for past winters.

Benefit Policy

37. Mr. Viggers: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what steps he takes to ensure that his policies are shaped so that benefits are made available on a basis which is fair. [142147]

Mr. Bayley: We are refocusing both policies and delivery to better address the needs of different client groups:

Children and families are at the heart of the welfare reform agenda. More than a million children will be lifted out of poverty by measures introduced over this Parliament, including changes to Child Benefit and the introduction of the Working Families Tax Credit.

We are setting up a new agency for people of working age that will provide a single access point helping those who can work to find work, and providing proper support for those who cannot.

We are also committed to ensuring that pensioners share in the rising prosperity of this country. The Minimum Income Guarantee has boosted the income of the poorest pensioners. And we are creating Pension Credit to help pensioners with modest savings, occupational pensions or earnings, to ensure they are rewarded for working hard to make their own provision. We are also creating a new pensions organisation that will provide pensioners with a modern, integrated service.


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