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Mr. Timms: It is difficult to predict with any certainty when judgment in this case may be given. However, from our experience of other cases, we would expect a decision in 2007. The timing is, of course, dependent on the court's handling of the case, and the timing of each case can vary.
Mr. Timms: The Financial Assistance Scheme Operational Unit opened for business on 1 September. The Unit is currently receiving scheme information during the notification period which concludes on 28 February 2006. As my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) said in a written answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) on 31 October 2005, Official Report, column 610, we hope to make the first payments before Christmas.
Mike Penning: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what estimate he has made of the number of people in (a) Hemel Hempstead constituency, (b) Dacorum and (c) Lancashire who have lost their pensions due to firm insolvency since 1997. 
Sir Malcolm Rifkind: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many incapacity benefit claimants of working age receive (a) income support with a disability premium, (b) incapacity benefit and (c) severe disablement allowance; and how many did so in May 1997. 
|Incapacity benefit only||1,730,800||1,614,500|
|Incapacity benefit and income support||550,300||867,200|
|Income support only||106,400||116,200|
|Severe disability allowance only||144,200||76,200|
|Severe disability allowance and income support||199,200||183,400|
Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on the effect of the reduction in the number of referrals in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire on job centre contracts for re-training for those seeking work. 
The Secretary of State has asked me to reply to your question concerning the effect of the reduction in the number of referrals in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire on Jobcentre contracts for re-training and those still seeking work. This is something which falls within the responsibilities delegated to me as Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus.
We have sought to improve the effectiveness of our contracting processes to ensure we deliver improved results. As a result contracts were only extended where performance was satisfactory and there was a clear business need or mandatory requirement for the provision. In the Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Swindon district all but one contract was extended beyond April 2005. All New Deal customers who wish to access Jobcentre Plus funded training are able to do so.
Annette Brooke: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what was the average time taken in England to process a claim for jobseeker's allowance in the last period for which figures are available; and what the target is. 
[holding answer 28 October 2005]: The administration of Jobcentre Plus is a matter for the Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus, Lesley Strathie. She will write to the hon. Member.
9 Nov 2005 : Column 548W
The Secretary of State has asked me to reply to your question concerning the average time taken to process a claim to Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA). This is something which falls within the responsibilities delegated to me as Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus.
The time taken to process a claim is calculated from the date of first contact with the customer; or the first day of the customer's unemployment, to the date when a decision or payment notification is issued to the customer. It also includes a period where the claim might be awaiting further supporting evidence form the customer.
Mr. Timms: The first phase of Link-Age has concentrated on increasing benefit take-up by older people, including pension credit, housing benefit, council tax benefit and attendance allowance. The second phase will include Link-Age Plus pilots, based on Sure Start principles. These pilots will provide a comprehensive information service which will include care options. The pilots will commence next year. In addition, the initial pilot of Individual Budgets for care will commence by the end of 2005, with further pilots beginning next year.
We will wish to analyse the evidence and consider any options and recommendations put forward by the Commission before making our response. We expect that response to set out proposals for reform and set an ambitious pace for any timetable for consultation and legislative change.
Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what his latest estimate is of the number of pensioners (a) entitled to and (b) receiving pension credit; and if he will make a statement. 
Sir Malcolm Rifkind: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what his latest estimate is of the number of pensioners who are entitled to pension credit but who are not claiming it. 
Mr. Timms: Information on numbers of households and individuals in receipt of pension credit at 30 June 2005 is contained in the most recent quarterly pension credit progress report published on 20 October. A copy of the report is available in the Library.
It is becoming clear that the number of people who are eligible for pension credit is less than the initial estimate. National statistics showing the number of pensioners entitled to pension credit in the first six months after its introduction and the subsequent take-up rate are expected to be available in December. The precise date of release of these statistics and the publication plans for the following set, covering 200405, will be pre-announced in National Statistics Updates"; the diary of statistical releases.
Mr. Timms: The Government have given an undertaking to increase the guarantee credit in line with earnings up to March 2008 ensuring that pensioners are sharing in the nation's rising prosperity. Ministers have not yet announced a policy on up-rating of pension credit after this date.
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