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Written Answers to Questions

Friday 23 March 2001

DEFENCE

Service Pensions

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if the review of compensation arrangements for Gulf War veterans will examine the seven-year rule on eligibility for war pensions; and if he will make a statement. [154049]

Dr. Moonie: I refer the hon. Member to the answer which my hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Murphy) on 16 March 2001, Official Report, column 756W. The Ministry of Defence Consultation Document on the Joint Compensation Review is not confined to arrangements for Gulf veterans, but seeks views on the general eligibility for claims under a new compensation scheme. We will give careful consideration to all views put forward during the consultation phase. The proposals resulting from the review do not envisage changing the eligibility for claims under the DSS administered War Pension Scheme.

Foot and Mouth

Sir John Morris: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what troops and equipment he has available for assisting in the destruction of animals infected with foot and mouth and the containment of the disease. [155041]

Mr. Spellar: The armed forces are supporting the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food by co-ordinating the disposal of carcases in areas worst hit by the outbreak, and in providing a small number of vets and logistic support at MAFF HQ.

Although the situation is being constantly monitored and necessary adjustments made, the details, as of midday 22 March, are as follows:



Thirty Royal Military Police personnel have deployed to Exeter to form a headquarters, from where they will provide a command and control function for mobile teams engaged in the co-ordination of disposal in Devon. There are 15 such mobile teams comprising a further 30 personnel from the Royal Military Police.

Thirty personnel of the Prince of Wales' Own Regiment have deployed to Carlisle, from where they will provide a command and control function for mobile teams engaged in the co-ordination of disposal in Cumbria. There are 20 such teams, comprising a further 40 personnel drawn principally from 42(NW) Brigade.

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The Green Howards have deployed to Worcester to form a headquarters from where they will provide a command and control function for mobile teams engaged in the co-ordination of disposal in Cheshire, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Staffordshire and Herefordshire. The precise requirement for the mobile teams is currently being scoped but they will be manned by the Green Howards.

Sierra Leone

Mr. Keetch: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, pursuant to his answer of 8 February 2001, Official Report, column 633W, on malaria, and his subsequent letter, how many service personnel of the 200 deployed to Sierra Leone without anti-malarial treatment have since been diagnosed with malaria; to which regiments they belong; and if he will make a statement. [155073]

Dr. Moonie: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave him on 27 February 2001, Official Report, columns 609-10W. There are no more than 10 personnel who have contracted malaria among the group who deployed without anti-malaria tablets. These personnel were from 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment and 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment.

Service Pay

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) how many enlisted personnel left each of the three services in the last 10 years, citing pay as the reason for leaving; and if he will make a statement; [153981]

Mr. Spellar: Information is not available as to the specific reasons why each individual leaves the armed forces prematurely. Each service does, however, run leaver surveys. In the past three years these surveys have indicated that, more often than not, it is the cumulative effect of several factors rather than a single item that has the most impact on retention. From these surveys it is possible to say that dissatisfaction with pay is not one of the most influential factors in an Officer's or Other Rank's/Rating's decision to leave.

MOD Police (Housing)

Mr. Key: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what the outstanding total of backdated claims is from (a) serving and (b) former MOD police officers in respect of (i) rent allowances and (ii) housing allowances; and if he will make a statement. [155120]

Dr. Moonie: There are no outstanding backdated claims from serving or former Ministry of Defence police officers in respect of rent or housing allowance.

SOCIAL SECURITY

Benefit Fraud

Mr. Goggins: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when he will publish the inspection report of the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate in respect of the London borough of Hackney. [155728]

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Mr. Rooker: The Benefit Fraud Inspectorate report was published today in respect of the London borough of Hackney and copies of the report have been placed in the Library.

The report makes recommendations to help the council address weaknesses and to improve the administration of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit, as well as its counter fraud activities.

The reports main conclusion is that the standard of service provided to benefit claimants over the past three years has been very poor. The council contracted out its Benefits and Revenues services in 1997 and the BFI reports that flaws in the contract coupled with a failure to invest sufficient resources in the client side management, has contributed to the present situation.

Inspectors found that a poorly designed claim form, considerable backlogs and very poor processing performance was having an effect on other parts of the service leading to significant delays and a sharp increase in the numbers of complaints to the Local Government Ombudsman.

The report notes that some measures were introduced to improve customer service. But the effectiveness of these measures is being seriously undermined by long waiting times and inefficient use of the caller centre.

Inspectors found that since April 1999 Hackney has failed to comply with the requirement to notify claimants of their benefit entitlement and subsequent changes. The report also noted major concerns in the prevention and recovery of overpayment. In 1999-2000 the HB debt was £17.8 million.

The report notes the introduction of a strong management structure of the council's counter fraud unit and a number of good practices. But limited resources were resulting in poor quality fraud investigations and a failure to make full and proper use of all investigative practices and powers.

The report notes, however, that a new Managing Director took up post during the BFI inspection and its clear that considerable effort is being put in to address some of the significant weaknesses in performance.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is now considering the report and will be asking the council for its proposals in response to the findings and recommendations of the BFI.

Mr. Goggins: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when he will publish the inspection report of the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate in respect of Glasgow city council. [155729]

Mr. Rooker: The Benefit Fraud Inspectorate report was published today in respect of Glasgow city council and copies of the report have been placed in the Library.

The report makes recommendations to help the council address weaknesses and to improve the administration of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit, as well as its counter fraud activities.

Overall, inspectors found a number of weaknesses and poor standards of performance in benefit administration and counter fraud work that needed immediate attention.

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They also identified inconsistent and ineffective work practices and substantial delays with appeals and review boards.

The BFI notes the council's lack of effective performance standards and targets, inadequate management information, weaknesses in checks and controls, the poor management in the recovery of benefit overpayments and inadequate standards in fraud investigations.

The report notes that the council was preparing for the possible bulk transfer of its council housing stock to the private sector. Should this go ahead, the implications for the delivery of benefits service are enormous.

The report concludes that BFI has serious concerns about Glasgow's performance in managing and delivering a secure benefits service. More positively, however, the report notes that the council has recognised the significant challenges it faces and is committed to and already acted upon a number of BFI's recommendations.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is now considering the report and will be asking the council for its proposals in response to the findings and recommendations of the BFI.

Mr. Goggins: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when he will publish the inspection report of the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate in respect of Sheffield city council. [155730]

Mr. Rooker: The Benefit Fraud Inspectorate report was published today in respect of Sheffield city council and copies of the report have been placed in the Library.

The report makes recommendations to help the council address weaknesses and to improve the administration of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit, as well as its counter fraud activities.

Inspectors found a number of weaknesses and poor standards of performance in benefit administration and counter fraud work. Performance is failing to meet contractual expectations in a number of key areas.

The report notes the council is struggling to cope with significant backlogs of work which are resulting in lengthy delays in claims processing and reduced customer services. The council has introduced measures to resolve the backlogs and some progress is being made towards restoring an effective benefits service.

Benefits administration needs to be improved with regard to verification, overpayment classification and implementation of effective qualify checking controls. Although some weaknesses were found in the control and management of overpayments work Inspectors found the council to be pursuing recovery of debts effectively.

The report notes that although there is some good counter fraud work, it is not focused and management controls are largely ineffective and provide little assurance. Inspectors found investigation work to be of poor quality and insufficient to tackle the estimated level of fraud in the council's area.

Inspectors were pleased to find effective corporate policies and measures were in place to encourage an anti-fraud and corruption culture.

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The report concludes that the council has shown a positive commitment towards improving its performance and is developing an action plan to address the issues raised by the inspection. Some remedial action had already taken place by the time the inspection finished.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is now considering the report and will be asking the council for its proposals in response to the findings and recommendations of the BFI.


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