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Volume 407: debated on Wednesday 25 June 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in what circumstances income related benefits are payable to families where one parent is abroad for a period of time. [117839]

Entitlement will depend on whether a family had an existing claim to benefit when one of the parents went abroad.To be entitled to income support a person must live in Great Britain. In some circumstances a person already in receipt of income support who goes abroad for a temporary period may be paid benefit for the first four or eight weeks of their absence from the country depending on the reasons for the absence.

If one parent leaves Great Britain temporarily and is absent for more than four or eight weeks but less than 52 weeks the remaining parent can continue to claim income support. The couple will continue to be treated as a couple and the conditions of entitlement must continue to be met by the parent in Great Britain and the parent absent from the UK. The parent remaining in Great Britain is paid as a lone parent and receives any relevant premiums. If the parent absent from the UK has a change of circumstances this must be reported and might affect the claim to income support.

If the family was not claiming income support prior to the absence of one parent the remaining parent can make a claim to income support. The remaining parent would have to satisfy the conditions of entitlement and if other parent's absence was temporary they would still be classed as a couple so the remaining parent would not be treated as a lone parent.

Full details of the rules applying to absences abroad are contained in the Decision Makers Guide, Volume 2, paragraphs 071940–071948 and Volume 4, paragraphs 24548–24561, copies of which are available in the Library.

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how much (a) an asylum seeking couple with two children and (b) a couple with two children in receipt of income support and the new child tax credit receive in total each week in state benefits. [117968]

Since 3 April 2000, asylum seekers cannot claim social security benefits but instead receive accommodation and a cash allowance from the Home Office's National Asylum Support Service (NASS). The cash allowance is the equivalent of up to 70 per cent. of the income support personal allowance.The exact amount a couple with two children would receive under the NASS scheme or income support will depend on the particular circumstances of each case. However, the basic rates of payment are as follows.An asylum seeking couple with two children would be entitled to £137.03 a week under the NASS scheme. They may also receive an additional payment of £50 per person for every six months for which they remain eligible for support. Those families in NASS accommodation have their accommodation and services provided for. They also receive certain travel costs associated with their asylum claim.A couple who are not claiming asylum, both aged over 18, with two children aged under 16, would be entitlement to £178.50 income support per week. They could also receive housing benefit and council tax benefit. From 6 April 2003 to 5 April -2004, child tax credit will be taken into account on a pound-for-pound basis when assessing entitlement to income support.

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many people are in receipt of (a) jobseeker's allowance and (b) income support in Scotland, broken down by local authority. [120132]

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) what measures have been taken to reduce cases of overpayment of benefits; what action is taken when a recipient of benefits is overpaid; and how long after a recipient has been overpaid the Department will continue to seek a return of money; [119608](2) if he will make a statement on the financial problems experienced by recipients of benefits overpayments when they have benefits reduced at a later date to compensate for overpayment; and how this can be limited; [119609](3) what action can be taken by persons who have been repeatedly overpaid benefits that face financial and emotional stresses as a result of having to repay monies; and if compensation will be paid to them for mistakes made by the Department. [119610]

We are making great efforts to reduce overpayments by ensuring that the right benefit is paid to the right person right from the start. Latest figures show that we have reduced the level of error and fraud in income support and jobseeker's allowance by 24 per cent. since 1998.An overpayment of benefit may be recoverable if it is decided that it has been caused by misrepresentation or failure to disclose a material fact by a benefit recipient. Recovery may also be sought if the overpayment has been caused by the error or omission of an official, but only where it is considered reasonable to assume that the recipient should have realised that they had been overpaid.The Department can recover the overpayment from on-going benefit in cases of misrepresentation or failure to disclose a material fact by the benefit recipient. Where benefit is no longer in payment or the overpayment is a result of official error, the customer will be invited to repay the amount overpaid. Failure to do so may result in the Department seeking recovery through civil action. If a benefit recipient states that recovery of an overpayment from their benefit would cause hardship, officials will consider on a case-by-case basis whether the customer's weekly outgoings merit recovery at a reduced rate.There is no time limit for the recovery of overpayments by deductions from benefit. Where recovery is through court action, there are time limits of 20 years from the date of the overpayment decision in Scotland, and six years from the last contact with the customer in England and Wales.Under the terms of the Department's scheme for financial redress for maladministration, a consolatory payment may be made to compensate a customer who suffers gross inconvenience or severe distress as a result of official errors. Details of the Department's scheme can be found in the guide, "Financial Redress for Maladministration" (Revised April 2003), a copy of which is in the Library. It is also available in every DWP office for the general public to read upon request and in the Publications section of the DWP internet site at: