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Bob Spink: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what safeguards will be put in place to protect the interests of post office customers who open bank accounts in order to access their benefits, pensions and child benefits. 
Malcolm Wicks: We understand that some customers will be concerned about the forthcoming changes. We have designed the new system with their needs in mind. For example, pensioners have told us that two of the most important things for them were to still be able to collect their money from the post office and also to be able to continue to collect it weekly. Both of these options will be available.
Our information campaign will take customers through the changes, including getting their money from their account at the post office. Customers will be supplied with information which clearly sets out their account options and enables them to decide which account best meets their needs and circumstances. Customers do not need to take any action until they receive a letter about the change.
Mrs. Calton: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) what measures are being taken to require social fund staff to ensure that applicants are properly advised on the type of payment most helpful to them; 
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(3) if he will review the guidance and training for social fund staff administering funeral payments; 
(4) if he will ensure that those in contact with the recently bereaved are able to give those people accurate information about the social fund funeral payments. 
Malcolm Wicks: We share the social fund commissioner's view that people should receive good quality advice. Although existing procedures are already designed to provide high standards of service delivery, the Department is currently examining what improvements are possible in this area.
The Department continues to work to improve the training and guidance it gives its staff, including non social fund staff who have contact with customers. Any instance where an office gives wrong information will be investigated and the Independent Review Service has now agreed to provide the Department with details of any such cases that it becomes aware of.
We recognise that bereavement is very distressing and training and guidance for staff reinforces the message of sensitivity when dealing with claims for funeral payments and the need to provide accurate advice and information to customers.
Mr. Nicholas Brown: The reduction in numbers of preventive inspections from 116,652 in 199697 to 75,237 in 200102 is a reflection of the increase in both the quantity and complexity of HSE's reactive work in carrying out investigations. The numbers of investigations has increased from 27,889 in 199697 to 37,855 in 200102, a rise of 35 per cent.
Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will undertake simulation modelling of the distributional impact of his policies taking account of predicted levels and patterns of non take-up of entitlement to benefits; and if he will make a statement. 
Malcolm Wicks: The distributional impact of policies is assessed by the Department, when it is appropriate and robust to do so, by using simulation modelling based on the Family Resources Survey. The process of making these estimates involves making assumptions regarding the level of take-up of entitlement to income-related benefits. The precise nature of these estimates
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Harry Cohen: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many officers in his Department and officers authorised by him he estimates will be permitted to seek access to communications data as defined in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000; how many times his Department or such officials sought access to such data from communications providers including Internet service providers under the Data Protection Act 1998 in the last year; and if he will make a statement. 
Malcolm Wicks: The Department is currently making use of powers under the Social Security Fraud Act 2001 which allow authorised officers to require information, including communications data, from the financial, utility and educational sectors to find evidence of fraud. Powers like these will help us continue our crackdown on fraud and make sure that the right benefits go to the right people.
These powers were commenced on 30 April 2002 and 114 officers have so far been authorised by my right hon. Friend. This is in line with our commitment made during passage of the legislation that there would be no more than 300 authorised officers in the department at any one time. In addition, 66 local authority officers have been authorised by their chief executives or chief finance officers.
Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions whether he plans to adopt the recommendation in his Department's Research Report 172, Social Fund use amongst older people, to establish a separate Social Fund for minimum income guarantee claimants as part of the new Pension Service. 
Mr. McCartney: The Government are committed to improving the service currently provided to today's and future pensioners. The Pension Service has replaced the Benefits Agency services for pensioners from 1 April 2002, and is working to introduce an improved service tailored to the needs of pensioners. The Pension Service has been developed as a customer-focused organisation after researching what customers need and expect from the Government in relation to pensions business.
The Pension Service will play a crucial role in both tackling pensioner poverty and encouraging saving by providing a dedicated service for today's pensioners, using modern technology whether they deal with us by telephone or through the internet, by post or face-to-face. It will also improve the service to future pensioners, by providing accurate information to help them make decisions about saving for their retirement. The Pension Service is committed to making access to benefits and services for pensioners, including the Social Fund, as simple and straightforward as possible.
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|Year to 31 March||# million|
A paper on the work of the Activity Led Funding sub group was discussed by the Education Funding Strategy Group on 9 September 2002. It is available on the DfES website at www.dfes.gov.uk/efsg/papers.cfm.
Mr. Pickles: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how many incidents of arson there were, broken down by (a) fire brigade area and (b) local authority in England and Wales in each year since January 1997. 
|England and Wales||72,932||75,541||91,072||98,005|
|England (non met counties)||34,292||36,018||43,290||47,735|
|Hereford and Worcester||610||549||692||706|
|Isle of Wight||87||68||78||84|
|Isles of Scilly||0||0||0||0|
|England (met counties)||33,390||33,717||40,856||43,436|
|Tyne and Wear||3,152||3,173||3,466||3,326|
|Mid and West Wales||1,523||1,721||2,123||1,959|
(12) Includes Xlate" call and heat and smoke damage incidents.
(14) Includes estimates for a small number of incidents not recorded during industrial action (Merseyside July 2001 ).
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