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Benefits

Volume 404: debated on Tuesday 6 May 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what benefits are available to women who have paid reduced rate contributions of national insurance. [110773]

Married women paying reduced rate contributions may be entitled to statutory sick pay and statutory maternity pay in addition to the full range of industrial injuries benefits. They will get a basic state pension of around 60 per cent of their husband's entitlement when both have reached state pension age and made a claim. They can also get widows' benefits based on their husband's insurance.Like full rate contributors, they enjoy free access to the National Health Service and may be entitled to non-contributory benefits such as the minimum income guarantee, child benefit, carer's allowance, housing benefit, disability living allowance, attendance allowance and council tax benefit on a similar basis. We are committed to ensuring that the Government's pension reforms improve women's pension rights. The introduction of stakeholder pensions, state second pension, winter fuel payments, improvements to the minimum income guarantee and, from October 2003, pension credit together with the £100 a year payment to people aged 80 and over announced in the Budget are, or will be, of particular help to women.

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many pensioners in (a) the Selly Oak constituency and (b) Birmingham draw their benefits at (i) post offices and (ii) banks or building societies; and what change there has been in the last six months. [110486]

The information is not available in the format requested. Information available prior to 28 December 2002 has not been geographically referenced. Information provided in the requested format has been compiled from the data available on 28 December 2002 and 22 March 2003 respectively, and are shown in the following tables:

1. Pensioners in the Selly Oak constituency
From data available on:Total number of pensioners receiving benefit (s)Drawing at least one benefit at a post officeDrawing at least one benefit at a bank or building society
28 December 200214,9748,5827,157
22 March 200314,8778,4137,202
2. Pensioners in Birmingham Local Authority
From data available on:Total number of pensioners receiving benefit(s)Drawing at least one benefit at a post officeDrawing at least one benefit at a bank or building society
28 December 2002160,619102,95865,324
22 March 2003160,021101,53366,218

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions pursuant to his Answer of 3 April, Official Report, column 837W, on benefit uprating, for what reasons the minimum income guarantee is not uprated by the Rossi index. [109371]

We have made a commitment to uprate the Minimum Income Guarantee (MIG) in line with average earnings for the rest of this Parliament. Since April 2003, a single pensioner receiving the MIG is at least £930 a year better off in real terms than in 1997. A pensioner couple is at least £1,400 a week better off.

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will issue guidance to ensure that callers to the benefits payment helpline wishing to open a post office account are given every assistance in opening such an account, rather than a bank account. [111088]

The Government's information campaign, to support the move to Direct Payment, provides customers with factual information on the banking options available to them, including information on the Post Office card account. We will write directly to all customers affected by the change to provide them with the information they need to decide which option is best for them. The information is presented in a way that enables customers to decide which option is best for their individual circumstances. All of the information material, including the scripts used by our call centre staff, sets out the key features of the various types of accounts and mentions Post Office access and the Post Office card account.Card-based accounts may not be the most suitable option for many people. They may prefer to use an account with a cheque book or pass book. Customers will be supplied with information which clearly sets out their account options and which will enable them to decide which account is right for them.A copy of the script used by the Customer Conversion Centre staff to assist them in helping people who wish to open a Post Office card account is available in the Library.

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many claimants have chosen to receive benefits by (a) basic bank account, (b) ordinary bank and building society account and (c) post office card account. [111221]

As at 18 April, 1,071,072 customers have responded and opted for payment into a bank or building society account.We cannot distinguish between existing or basic bank accounts. Many of these people will choose to access their bank account at a Post Office branch.The total number of customers requesting post office card accounts is 203,404.

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has for an exceptions service to assist people with disabilities to receive their benefits following the introduction of direct ACT payments; what the timetable is for introduction of such a service; and if he will make a statement. [111222]

I refer the hon. Member to the Written Answer I gave the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow) on 1 April 2003, Official Report, column 606W.

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to allow casual agents to collect benefits on behalf of elderly and disabled claimants following the introduction of direct ACT payment of benefits. [111223]

The current system which allows "casual agents" to collect money on behalf of the customer is one of the reasons order books and girocheques are so prone to fraud.

There are arrangements in place to allow regular carers/helpers to access money paid to customers. There are no corresponding arrangements in place for those customers with no regular carer/helper and we are looking to find the best way to meet the needs of these people.

Where people need help to collect their money they will, for the meantime, be allowed to keep their order book. We will monitor how the new arrangements work in practice to see how many people are affected and what their precise circumstances are.

For many people payment into a bank account, where a cheque book facility is available, could offer a more effective way of obtaining their entitlements: for example the customer could simply write the "casual agent" a cheque rather than require them to attend a post office on their behalf.

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the consequences are to a claimant of failure to respond to correspondence concerning direct payment of benefits by ACT; how many claimants have failed to respond; what consequences have followed such failures; and if he will make a statement. [111224]

The Department is contacting 13.5 million customers over a two-year period, providing them with information (including letters and leaflets) which clearly sets out the account options as part of the move to Direct Payment. 87 per cent. of our customers currently have access to an account suitable for Direct Payment.Responses as at 18 April are very good but we recognise that we may need to contact some people more than once. 37.8 per cent. (782,543 customers) of invited customers have not yet responded, but we expect the overwhelming majority will do so following further contact.Direct Payment is now the normal method of paying benefits and pensions. Over the next two years order books will be phased out. From 2005 they will no longer be an option so customers will normally have to be paid by Direct Payment.

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps have to be taken by (a) a claimant, (b) the Post Office and (c) his Department in order for a claimant to receive benefits through a Post Office card account. [111225]

The process for opening the Post Office card account is relatively straightforward and no more complicated than opening any new bank account.Customers do not need to take any action to change to Direct Payment until the Department contacts them. Once they receive a letter from us and they want information about the Post Office card account they are asked to contact the Department. This will ensure they have considered all their options and have the information they need to choose the account that best suits their needs. If the customer chooses to opt for a Post Office card account, the next stage is to issue them with a letter inviting them to apply for a card account, this is known as the Personal Invitation Document (PID).

Customers take the PID to their local Post Office branch where they will fill in a Post Office card account application form. The application form sets out the documentation that customers will need to open a Post Office card account.