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Council Tax

Mr. Coleman: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to analyse the potential effects of council tax revaluation on the levels of council tax benefit restriction; and if he will make a statement. [68906]

Malcolm Wicks: Council Tax revaluation will start in 2005 and Council Tax bills based on updated property values will be issued in 2007. Nearer the time, when the implications of Council Tax revaluation become clear, we will consider what impact this may have on Council Tax Benefit restrictions.

Mr. Coleman: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) what the annual saving has been to the Exchequer since the council tax benefit restriction scheme was introduced; [70033]

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Malcolm Wicks: We do not believe it is right that people living in more expensive properties and who therefore have a higher council tax liability, should, as a matter of course, have all that liability met by taxpayers.

Since 2 July 2001, local authorities have been able to make discretionary housing payments to people entitled to housing benefit and council tax benefit who require additional help with their rent or council tax, including those people whose council tax benefit has been restricted. These payments are at the discretion of the local authority and subject to an annual cash limit. For 2002–03, the Government are contributing £20 million nationally towards the overall limit of £50 million which local authorities can spend.

Comparative data from which to calculate the actual reduction in spending since the restrictions were introduced in April 1998, are not available.

Such other information as is available has been placed in the Library.

Disability Discrimination Act

Mr. Wiggin: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment he has made of the impact on the disabled of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. [71015]

Maria Eagle: The Department has commissioned a number of research studies that examine how the Disability Discrimination Act is having an impact on disabled people. Some have yet to report but it is clear that the number of cases being taken under the DDA is increasing, demonstrating that disabled people are making use of their rights 1 . A body of case law is being developed, which will

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help disabled people to understand the practical application of the law to their own circumstances. There is also evidence that employers are changing their policies and practices with an increase in the number of employers with policies on the employment of disabled people since the Act's introduction in 1996 2 .

1 Leverton, S. (2002) Monitoring the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Phase 2), DWP in-house report 91. This is a follow-up study to research commissioned by DfEE: Meager et al. (1999) Monitoring the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, DfEE Research Report RR119).
2 Golstone, C. (2002) Barriers to Employment for Disabled People, DWP In-House Report 95.


Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many people reached state pension age in each of the last five years; and how many people are expected to do so in each of the next five years. [72417]

Mr. McCartney: The available information is set out in the table.

Number of women aged 60 and the number of men aged 65


1. Information is taken from the Government Actuary's Department population statistics.

2. The figures are based on people reaching age 60–65 in a particular year.

3. The total number of people is rounded to the nearest 10,000.

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Pensions Advice

Mr. Simon Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what research has been undertaken into the preferred methods by pensioners of accessing pensions advice; and if he will make a statement. [72188]

Mr. McCartney: A number of research projects have been undertaken by the Department and other organisations looking at pensioners' preferred methods of obtaining advice and of claiming pensions and benefits. The research published by the Department is listed below and copies of the reports are available in the Library.

In 2001 the Department commissioned BMRB International to carry out a large scale survey of peoples' attitudes to electronic methods of conducting benefits business. The survey topics include pensioners' current and preferred methods of applying for benefits and pensions. Findings from the research will be published in the autumn.

Overseas Visits

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will list the overseas trips on departmental business that have been undertaken in each of the last five years by officials in his Department; and what the (a) cost, (b) purpose and (c) result was in each case. [68723]

Mr. McCartney: All overseas travel by officials in the Department is undertaken in accordance with the principles set out in chapter 8 of the Civil Service Management Code, and the detailed rules and guidance set out in the Departmental Business Travel and Relocation Expenses Guide. The detailed information requested about individual trips is not held centrally, and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

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Asylum Seekers

Helen Jackson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what provision is planned for HIV- positive mothers in the new asylum seekers accommodation centres. [70561]

Beverley Hughes: HIV positive mothers in accommodation centres will be advised not to breast-feed. We will ensure that safe alternatives to breast milk are available for HIV-infected mothers with young babies, and that these can be accessed in a way that preserves their privacy.

Mr. Gardiner: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to amend the employment concession for asylum seekers; and if he will make a statement. [72779]

Beverley Hughes: The asylum system is working increasingly quickly, through reforms and increased resources. Measures in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill will continue this process. This means that the employment concession, whereby asylum seekers could apply for permission to work if their application remained outstanding for longer than six months without a decision being made, is becoming increasingly irrelevant. The vast majority—around 80 per cent. of asylum seekers—receive a decision within six months, and work is continuing to improve that further. An increasingly small number of people, therefore, are entitled to apply for the concession. It is also the case that the great majority of new asylum applicants will have their cases decided within two months and the concession, which dates from a time when lengthy delays were widespread in the asylum system, is therefore no longer appropriate.

I am determined to make it clear that there is a distinct separation between asylum processes and labour migration channels. It is essential that we have a robust asylum process that works effectively and swiftly in the interests of refugees, and also is not open to abuse by those who would seek to come here to work. But that does not mean we are 'fortress Britain'. The Government are putting in place an effective managed migration programme and continues to create a number of work routes to allow more people to come and work here legally in ways which boost our economy. For example, the Government have overhauled the work permits system and the number of work permits issued has doubled over the past two years—in 2001 we issued work permits to nearly 140,000 people. Other entry routes for people who want to work in the United Kingdom include the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme, the Working Holidaymakers Scheme (under which nearly 40,000 Commonwealth young people a year come to the United Kingdom for a working holiday) and the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (which brings in nearly 20,000 seasonal workers a year). In addition, the Government are currently consulting on schemes to bring in more temporary workers in industries with recruitment difficulties.

Those who are granted refugee status can work immediately, and we welcome the enormous contribution that the skills and knowledge of refugees can make to our society and to our economy. However, our asylum system

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exists to help those fleeing persecution—those who want to come here to work must do so through the various economic routes available rather than abuse the asylum system.

I have therefore decided, with immediate effect, that the concession should be abolished. Asylum seekers who already have permission to work will retain that right until such time as a final decision is made on their claim. Asylum seekers who, prior to this announcement, had sought permission to work but have not had a response, will have their requests considered in line with our previous policy. I will retain a discretion to grant permission to work for asylum seekers in exceptional cases.

It is absolutely vital, of course, that all asylum seekers use their time constructively while their case is considered. Therefore, I have also decided to review our current rules governing the voluntary work which asylum seekers can undertake, in order to ensure that there are no unnecessary barriers to participation.

To demonstrate our on-going commitment to purposeful activity for asylum seekers, we have also awarded over £900,000 to 135 projects across the United Kingdom for summer programmes to give them the opportunity to get involved in voluntary activities in the community, or partake in sports-orientated and educational events.

Mr. Lloyd: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what guidance he gives his officials as to the acceptable time within which a decision is notified to asylum seekers after interview. [70383]

Beverley Hughes [holding answer 18 July 2002]: The Government's target in 2002–03 is for officials in the Integrated Casework Directorate of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate to make and serve decisions within two months from the date of application in 65 per cent. of new substantive asylum claims. Against that target the aim is to notify decisions as soon after interview as full consideration of the individual merits of each case can take place.

Mrs. Anne Campbell: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what the length of time set by him an applicant for indefinite leave to remain in the UK should normally be required to wait for their application to be considered; and what information about the progress of the application is provided to the applicant during this period. [70142]

Beverley Hughes: We aim to decide straightforward general immigration applications, which can include those for indefinite leave to remain, on initial consideration within three weeks. At present such applicants are taking on average around four weeks to decide but we are working to reduce this to three weeks as soon as possible. Some applications that need more detailed consideration of further inquiries are, at present, taking up to 12 months to consider due to the large number of cases currently in the system.

All applications are acknowledged within two weeks of receipt which includes advice as to the likely time scale for initial consideration. If the application cannot be completed on initial consideration a further letter is sent advising the likely time scale for considering such cases.

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Helen Jackson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether the maternity grant is available to asylum seekers who are mothers living in emergency accommodation. [70562]

Beverley Hughes: Asylum seekers in emergency accommodation are provided with temporary support under section 98 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (the 1999 Act). Asylum seeking mothers in emergency accommodation are not eligible to receive a maternity grant because this is available only to asylum seekers assessed as eligible to receive support and in receipt of support under section 95 of the 1999 Act. Asylum seekers in emergency accommodation who give birth to a baby are provided with a pack of items to enable them to meet the needs of their baby.

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