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Annabelle Ewing: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many cold weather payments have been triggered this winter as a result of low temperatures, broken down by (a) weather station and (b) nation and region of the United Kingdom. 
Malcolm Wicks [holding answer 11 January 2002]: Cold weather payments are a key part of our strategy to tackle fuel poverty. They provide extra help towards heating costs for the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society in periods of exceptionally cold weather. They are paid to pensioners receiving the minimum income guarantee, and to people receiving income support or income-based jobseeker's allowance who have children under the age of five or who have a premium for disability or long term sickness.
The payments are made automatically and are triggered when the average temperature is recorded as, or forecast to be, 0 degrees Centigrade or below over seven consecutive days at the weather station linked to the customer's postcode. So far this year we estimate that payments to the value of almost £16.8 million have been triggered. Available information on the breakdown of the payments is in the tables.
|Weather station||Estimated number of payments triggered from 1 November 2001 to 14 January 2002||Estimated value of payments triggered (£)|
|Linton on Ouse||62,637||532,414.50|
21 Jan 2002 : Column 628W
|Country||Estimated number of payments triggered from 1 November 2001 to 14 January 2002||Estimated value of payments triggered (£)|
1. Figures are not available by Government Office Region.
2. Those weather stations where cold weather payments have not been triggered are excluded from the tables.
3. Cold weather payments are payable for periods of cold weather between 1 November and 31 March each winter.
4. Social security matters in Northern Ireland are the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
5. The figures provided are estimates. The final number and value of actual payments made will be reconciled after 31 March 2002.
Estimates are based on a scan in November 2001 of income support and jobseeker's allowance live load linked to Weather Station postcodes.
Annabelle Ewing: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how the determination is made as to whether a benefit applicant faces significant difficulties such that a freecall number is provided by the Benefits Agency. 
Malcolm Wicks: In deciding whether a freecall service ought to be provided, a variety of factors are considered, e.g. the anticipated length of calls, location of the customer and their likely financial circumstances. Guidance to staff within the Department tells them to make a return telephone call to a customer in the UK on request.
21 Jan 2002 : Column 629W
Annabelle Ewing: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many freecall numbers have been provided by the Benefits Agency to such benefit applicants since 1997 (a) in Scotland and (b) in the rest of the United Kingdom. 
Malcolm Wicks: Since 1997 the Benefits Agency has provided two freecall numbers for benefit applications. Both services are available to all UK customers. The first was provided for the benefits inquiry line and the second for minimum income guarantee claims.
Annabelle Ewing: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what effect the NHS recognition of ME as a medical condition will have on the operation of the physical capability assessment; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Nicholas Brown: We recognise chronic fatigue syndromes, including ME, as potentially debilitating illnesses and the Department's Chief Medical Adviser constantly evaluates the latest developments in the understanding of these conditions. The personal capability assessment which is used in determining entitlement to incapacity benefit is a functional assessment which looks at the extent to which a person's ability to carry out certain everyday activities is affected by their medical condition. In general, it is the effect of the condition that is important, not the specific diagnosis.
The application of the assessment to people who have a medical condition that fluctuates or varies in its severity (such as ME) is already covered in the training and guidance given to Medical Services doctors who provide advice for Decision Makers. The doctors are trained to base their advice on the level of function that the person is capable of most of the time taking into account such factors as pain, fatigue and variability of symptoms.
(3) whether attendance allowance payments contribute to the funding of free nursing care in England; 
(4) how the attendance allowance money withdrawn from recipients in Scotland will be allocated by his Department. 
Mr. Darling: To avoid duplicate provision from public funds, the Great Britain-wide social security benefit rules have always precluded payment of attendance allowance to people in residential care homes and nursing homes who receive help with the cost of their place in the home from a local authority or a health authority. Benefit spending is determined by the number of claimants who satisfy the qualifying conditions that apply to a particular benefit. A reduction in forecast benefit expenditure will increase the funds available for public expenditure as a whole, and issues regarding their allocation will be dealt
21 Jan 2002 : Column 630W
Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what percentage of benefit recipients have received their benefits by automated credit transfer in each year since ACT was introduced. 
Malcolm Wicks: Comprehensive statistics on customers paid by Automated Credit Transfer (ACT) date back to 1993. The table reflects the average take up across all benefits apart from job seekers allowance (JSA) as take-up data are not currently available.
|Year||Percentage of benefit recipients receiving their benefit by ACT|
(20) Includes IIDB from June 1996
(21) Includes ICA from June 1998
(22) Includes guardians allowance from June 2000
Mr. Clappison: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what his estimate is of the costs that the Government will incur in servicing Post Office card accounts for (a) 3 million, (b) 4 million, (c) 5 million and (d) 6 million benefit claimants. 
21 Jan 2002 : Column 631W
have a bank account; and if he has estimated how many of these claimants will choose to transfer to a Post Office card account when they start to be paid by ACT. 
Malcolm Wicks: Around 85 per cent. of benefit claimants have an account into which they can be paid directly. In general, we expect that they will choose to use these accounts when moving to payment by ACT.
Mr. Clappison: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on what information the Government based its assumption that around 3 million benefit and tax credit recipients will open a Post Office card account and what provision is being made available should this figure rise following the introduction of the Universal Bank. 
Malcolm Wicks: Our assumption was derived from the number of benefit and tax credit recipients without bank accounts, recognising that some of these customers will open basic accounts with a high street bank. The commercial arrangements between the Government and the Post Office will provide for the possibility that the actual number of Post Office card accounts may be higher or lower than our 3 million operational assumption.
Mr. Clappison: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what recent discussions he has had with the Post Office about the provision of the Post Office card account; what the outcome of these discussions was; and if he will make a statement. 
Malcolm Wicks: Officials, together with officials from the Inland Revenue and the Northern Ireland Social Security Agency, have had extensive discussions with the Post Office. These are still continuing.
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