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Incapacity Benefits

Miss Begg: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will review the therapeutic work rules that apply to incapacity benefits; and if he will make a statement. [155577]

22 Mar 2001 : Column: 341W

Mr. Bayley: From April 2002 we propose to introduce new rules for people who receive Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance and Income Support based on incapacity who want to undertake some form of paid work which may ease their way back into full-time employment. We are aware of concerns that the current therapeutic work rules may be of limited use where it is difficult to demonstrate that a particular job would be beneficial to a person's medical condition. The current rules also do not help someone who wants to work on a limited basis in order to have social contact if they do not satisfy the therapeutic requirement. This is why we have reviewed the current position and are introducing some improvements.

Under the proposed changes, the therapeutic work rules will cease to exist. Instead we intend to introduce rules which will allow any person receiving incapacity benefits to:

Claimants who undertake sheltered work or are undergoing a hospital treatment programme which includes work, will, as now, be able to earn up to £60.50 a week (April 2001 rates) with no limit on the number of hours they work.

We believe that these rules are much fairer than those that currently exist. Because we are opening up the rules to anyone on incapacity benefits we are giving more people the opportunity of trying paid work. This, together with our other measures to help people find suitable work, will enable people to move off benefits and into work. Also, by allowing all claimants to do some paid work without time limit, we will be encouraging those who are otherwise excluded to take part in activities which will help them feel part of, and play a more active role in, their local community. Additionally, of course, there are the rules which we already have in place to allow claimants to try full-time work or training and return to benefit at the same rate if they have to give up that work or training.

These changes do not affect the position whereby people receiving Incapacity Benefit or Severe Disablement Allowance may do unpaid voluntary work for an unlimited period.

Winter Fuel Payments

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) how many representations he has received concerning delays in payment of Winter Fuel Payment since May 1997; [153583]

Mr. Rooker: The administration of Winter Fuel Payments is a matter for Alexis Cleveland, the Chief Executive of the Benefits Agency. She will write to the hon. Member.

22 Mar 2001 : Column: 342W

Letter from Alexis Cleveland to Miss Anne McIntosh, dated 21 March 2001:

Medical Examinations

Mr. Stunell: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many medical examination reports were graded A, B and C in each of the last three years in each of the three Sema contract areas; and if he will make a statement. [153573]

Mr. Bayley: Medical Services conduct a national programme of audit on a random selection of cases. This yields results that are statistically significant by contract area, at benefit level and on a quarterly basis. Viewed across all areas of work carried out by Medical Services, an analysis of this audit shows the following results:

Contract areaABC
September 1998 to August 1999
South West82.612.15.4
South East78.416.94.8
September 1999 to August 2000
South West81.612.57.0
South East74.219.66.3
September 2000 to February 2001
South West83.610.75.7
South East80.013.95.3


Figures may not add up to 100 per cent. because of rounding up or down to one decimal place.

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It should be noted that during 1999, Medical Services were refining their quality audit system, and as a result applied more stringent quality criteria. This is a factor in any apparent deterioration in performance between 1998-99 and 1999-2000.

Mr. Stunell: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what arrangements he has made with Sema to ensure doctors making medical examinations are given reports on (a) appeal outcomes and (b) grading of their medical reports; and if he will make a statement. [153575]

Mr. Bayley: In response to the recommendations of the Social Security Select Committee (SSSC) in its report on Medical Services, the Department of Social Security's Chief Medical Adviser and the President of the Appeals Service are establishing a formal process for feedback on the quality standards of medical reports in appeal cases. Interim arrangements for feedback have been in place since July 2000 and five cases have so far been referred.

All cases referred to the Chief Medical Adviser are forwarded to Sema for information, further investigation and remedial action with the doctor concerned, if appropriate.

Sema Medical Services monitor the quality standards of medical reports of all their doctors on a rolling programme, to volumes which are statistically significant over a three-month rolling period. The outcome of monitoring is recorded, and feedback given to each individual doctor on his or her performance. Where this has fallen below the standard expected, the doctor is given appropriate advice by an experienced full-time colleague; if necessary, arrangements are made for remedial training.

Mr. Stunell: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what percentage of doctors have completed the required training in (a) mental health, (b) disability awareness and (c) musculo-skeletal examinations in each of the last three years in each of the three Sema contract areas; and if he will make a statement. [153557]

Mr. Bayley: These training modules were all developed during 2000 (year two of the contract). Training in these topics has been delivered in 2000 and 2001. The proportion of doctors who are currently carrying out work on the Benefits Agency contract and who have completed the training are as follows:

Percentage of doctors who have completed the required training

Contract area
NorthSouth EastSouth West
Assessment of people with mental health problems918586
Behaviours, attitudes and sensitivities for dealing with people with disabilities898586
Clinical skills in the assessment of musculo-skeletal problems928791

Any doctor who started with Sema Medical Services before 31 December 2000 will have completed their training by the end of June this year.

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Mr. Stunell: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what proportion of DLA applications were decided after (a) medical examination and (b) scrutiny in each Sema contract area in each of the last three years; and if he will make a statement. [153574]

Mr. Bayley: This information is not available.

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