Skip to main content

Written Statements

Volume 573: debated on Monday 6 January 2014

Written Statements

Monday 6 January 2014

Treasury

Child Trust Funds

On 23 December 2013 the Government published their response to the child trust fund consultation.

In response to the consultation the Government will be going ahead with their proposal to allow the voluntary transfer of savings from child trust funds to junior ISAs if requested by the registered contact for an account (usually the parent or guardian).

The Government will be taking legislative powers to both permit these transfers and to allow for further intervention in the market in case this is required at a later date.

I will deposit copies of the consultation response document in the House

Libraries.

Communities and Local Government

Christmas Recess (Department's Work)

I would like to update hon. Members on the main items of business undertaken by my Department since the House rose for recess on 19 December.

Helping councils with flood recovery

I would like to thank the Environment Agency, local authorities and voluntary groups like the British Red Cross which have worked successfully with the emergency services to deal with the damage caused by the recent flooding and their continued help to households and businesses dealing with the aftermath.

Many households and businesses have been disrupted by the severe tidal surge and resulting floods that have affected parts of the country. We want to ensure all possible action is taken to help affected households get the support they need.

On 29 December, my Department wrote to all local authorities in England to notify them that the Bellwin scheme was activated. The Bellwin scheme retrospectively reimburses councils for exceptional costs incurred from emergencies or unexpected events.

We also asked councils for assurance that they are prepared for any future flooding and that everything possible is being done to help those affected by the bad weather during what has been a difficult holiday period for many.

Tackling rogue landlords

The overwhelming majority of landlords are law-abiding citizens, who work hard to provide quality accommodation to their tenants. However, the coalition Government are determined to help councils tackle the small minority of rogue landlords, while avoiding disproportionate red tape on the whole private rented sector.

On 30 December, my Department announced a £4 million boost for local authorities to tackle rogue landlords in their area. Twenty-three councils will share the funding so they can take on landlords that force their tenants to live in squalid and dangerous properties, making their lives a misery. This is part of a package of measures that will ensure millions of hard-working tenants get a better deal when they rent a home.

In addition, new legislation which came into force in December will enable courts to take account of landlords’ assets, as well as their income, when levying fines for housing offences.

We also published an application criterion which means redress schemes for lettings and property management will now be able to come forward for approval. All agents will be required to join one of the approved schemes, so their tenants have somewhere to turn to if they do not get the service they deserve.

Ensuring fair play on housing waiting lists

As a result of lax immigration controls under the last Labour Government, one in six of all social housing tenants in London are now foreigners, and across England, one in 10 of all new tenants are foreign nationals.

This coalition Government are determined that hard-working local people should be given priority for council homes. We want to restore fairness to a system that many people believe is often skewed against the local people it is designed to support.

We published new statutory guidance on 31 December which makes it clear that only hard-working people with a well-established residency, relatives or a job in the local area can go on their council’s waiting list. This means they will be the first to benefit when homes become available.

The guidance ensures councils require people to have lived in the area for at least two years. Only those who pass this test will be accepted onto the waiting list in their local area—and then be considered for social housing.

To reassure local people that they are being treated fairly, councils are encouraged to publish information about who is applying for and getting social housing in their area.

The new guidance also confirms that members of the armed forces, who are often unable to settle in one area for a long time, are considered a priority for housing. This move will end years of confusion and anger in local communities about the way council housing is allocated.

Helping those with small deposits get on and move up the housing ladder

The Help to Buy schemes help those with small deposits get on and move up the housing ladder. The Help to Buy equity loan scheme is overseen by my Department; the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme is overseen by HM Treasury.

Latest figures show that from its launch in April 2013 to the end of November, there have been 20,652 reservations for new build homes under the Help to Buy equity loan scheme. There have been 9,459 completed sales over the same period, 90% of which are to first-time buyers and the average value of property purchased was £199,000. Over 90% of the 1,200 house builders registered under the scheme are small to medium-sized developers. In contrast to England, the Help to Buy equity loan scheme is not currently offered by the Labour-run Welsh Government.

These figures are complemented by the latest Help to Buy mortgage guarantee figures showing that over 6,000 people have put in offers on a home and applied for a Help to Buy guaranteed mortgage. Households are looking to buy houses worth about £160,000 on average (below the UK average price of £247,000) and 80% are first-time buyers. These mortgages, once approved, will represent nearly £1 billion of new lending to aspiring home owners who may have previously found the property market out-of-reach because of the size of deposit required. I am pleased to say that the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee is available across the United Kingdom, as it is a reserved matter.

The two Help to Buy schemes are part of the Government’s long-term economic plan to build a stronger, more competitive economy, and support those who aspire to own their own home. Indeed, I would also note:

House building at its highest level since 2007. New orders in residential construction have risen to their highest level since 2007 (ONS, Output in the Construction Industry statistics, 13 December 2013).

The value of residential loans advanced to first-time buyers is at its highest rate since 2007 (Bank of England, Mortgage Lenders and Administrators Statistic, 10 December 2013).

The number of new mortgage arrears cases is at its lowest quarterly number of new cases since the series began in 2007 (ibid.).

Helping social tenants get on the housing ladder

This coalition Government are determined to help hard-working tenants aspire to buy their home. We have taken further steps to reinvigorate the Right to Buy scheme across England in 2014.

On 3 January, I announced that the maximum discount for a house will increase from 60% to 70% of its value, and the £75,000 cap will start increasing in line with the consumer price index rate of inflation. A £100 million fund will improve access to mortgage finance, and new Right to Buy agents will guide people through the buying process. Revenue from additional sales will be ploughed back into delivering new affordable homes for rent, which will help drive up the rate of house building across England.

The Right to Buy gives something back to families who worked hard, paid their rent and played by the rules. It allows them to do up their home, change their front door, improve their garden—without getting permission from the council. It gives people a sense of pride and ownership not just in their home, but in their street and neighbourhood, helping to build strong families and stable mixed communities. So we are determined that this help is on hand for hard-working, aspiring homeowners.

The support for Right to Buy in England is in strong contrast to the policy of the Labour-run Welsh Government which has slashed back the Right to Buy.

Offering a fair deal to firefighters

We all hold our brave fire men and women in the highest regard and are grateful to them for their help during the recent flooding and bad weather.

However, despite offering firefighters a fair deal and one of the most generous pension schemes in the public sector, it is unfortunate the Fire Brigades Union took the decision to take industrial action during the holiday season, on 24 and 31 December and 3 January.

Although Ministers met with the Fire Brigades Union on Christmas eve to continue discussions their continued industrial action shows that they are not serious about resolving this dispute, and have simply further damaged firefighters’ standing with the public.

Our fair offer means a firefighter who earns £29,000, and retires after a full career aged 60, will get a £19,000 a year pension, rising to £26,000 with the state pension. An equivalent private sector pension pot would be worth over £500,000 and require firefighters to contribute twice as much.

The firefighter pension age of 60 was introduced in 2006 and is in line with the police and armed forces. We have been clear with the Fire Brigades Union our pension reforms are not introducing a national fitness standard.

Supporting regular bin collections for family homes

My Department continues to urge councils to bring common sense back to weekly bin collections. Weekly rubbish collections are the most visible of all front-line services and we believe every household in England has a basic right to have their rubbish collected every week.

On 4 January, we published the first ever Government guidance on weekly collections (the “bin bible”) which promotes best practice lessons learnt from the weekly collection support scheme and highlights how all councils can keep weekly collections, increase recycling and still make common sense efficiency savings.

Fortnightly collections were actively promoted under the last Labour Government: bin collections halved, while council tax doubled. Indeed, fortnightly bin collections are the official policy of the Labour-run Government in Wales—which is now even encouraging monthly bin collections.

Our guidance builds on steps this Government have already taken in England including:

safeguarding weekly collections for 6 million households through the weekly collection support scheme;

removing Whitehall directives, targets and financial penalties demanding fortnightly bin collections;

supporting over 41 innovative reward schemes to back recycling;

abolishing plans for new bin taxes;

changing the law to scrap unfair bin fines;

amending building regulations to tackle “bin blight”;

removing powers of entry and snooping powers from bin inspectors and scrapped guidance telling people to rifle through families’ bins.

This Government are standing up for front-line services for hard-working people, while keeping their council tax bills down.

Copies of the press notices and associated documents have been placed in the Library of the House.

Health

Migrant Access to the NHS

On 30 December 2013, I published a response to the recent consultation on proposed changes to the way temporary migrants and visitors access the NHS in England. The response sets out initial decisions and next steps, taking account of feedback received during the consultation as well as the results of independent research on visitor and migrant use of the NHS that we commissioned in parallel with the consultation and which we published on 22 October1.

The independent research was commissioned to provide, for the first time, a reliable estimate of visitor and migrant health care costs, in particular the costs of provision for those who should be charged, and for “health tourism” where visitors have an explicit intention of obtaining extensive health care without due payment. This research provides a compelling case for new and more robust and consistent administrative processes and systems to be introduced.

The consultation was launched on 3 July at the same time as a linked consultation, “Migrant Access to Health Services in the UK” from the Home Office. Both consultations put forward the proposal that non-EEA temporary migrants should in future contribute to the costs of their health care. The Immigration Bill includes a provision to introduce the immigration health surcharge on a UK-wide basis to allow people to make this contribution with minimal operational impact or burden on the NHS.

The consultation also sought views on whether any changes should be made to the categories of non-residents who should be exempted from charges. A proposal to provide more generous exemptions to ex-pats, many of whom should be charged for treatment provided when returning on visits, received broad support. The response proposes to confirm the principle that exemptions should be consistent with criteria applied to UK pensions and other state benefits, but further work is required to confirm specific qualifying criteria and financial impact.

The open review of current exemptions generated requests for a number of new or extended exemptions for maternity, victims of domestic and other violence as well as victims of human trafficking and children. The response commits my Department to give further thought to the exemptions for victims of domestic and other violence and of human trafficking, seeking the views of relevant agencies and advisers as appropriate.

We do not intend to establish an exemption for children or for pregnant women. In both cases we believe there is significant risk of abuse by visitors either seeking maternity care for themselves or care for their children with existing serious illnesses, and may act as a draw to illegal migrant families. We will listen to arguments about how best to cover other vulnerable children who might otherwise be unable to access treatment. All of these potential changes will be subject to further final cabinet approval following further evaluation.

The consultation also proposed extending the scope of NHS services for which charges should apply for non-exempt visitors. Charges currently can only be made for most secondary care in hospitals. In primary care, we will retain free access to GP consultations. We expect GP practices to participate actively in the administration of the new system for identifying and recording chargeable patients.

The response signals our commitment to charge visitors for treatment in hospital A&Es, but this will not be introduced until improved systems can support its effective administration, including the safe and efficient delivery of A&E services, avoiding unintended charging of legitimate residents and ensuring immediately necessary treatment is not refused. It also confirms the intention to extend charging to other services and treatment that are part of primary care, including community-based health care, prescriptions and dental services (that are already subject to charges for many residents). Officials will work with the NHS to determine how appropriate and cost-effective non-resident charging should be defined and administered.

Finally, the response reinforces the need to make significant improvements in how the NHS manages and administers the charging and recovery process. Sir Keith Pearson, the independent NHS advisor to the visitor and migrant NHS cost recovery programme, and the director of cost recovery are working in partnership with external NHS experts and stakeholders to design and roll out proportionate, cost-effective and operationally successful implementation.

All of these proposals apply to the NHS in England only, although my officials will continue to engage with devolved Administrations who may wish to replicate some or all of the proposed changes.

“Sustaining services, ensuring fairness; Government response to the consultation on migrant access and financial contribution to NHS provision in England” and the supporting equality analysis has been placed in the Library. Copies of the response are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper office.

It is also available at: www.gov.uk/government/consultations/migrants-and-overseas-visitors-use-of-the-nhs.

Note:

1https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/overseas-visitors-and-migrant-use-of-the-nhs-extent-and-costs

Prime Minister

European Council

I attended the European Council meeting in Brussels on 19 and 20 December. Discussion focused on defence; economic and monetary union; and EU enlargement and association agreements. The opening session was addressed by the Secretary-General of NATO.

Defence

Protecting our national security is our first priority. At this European Council, the United Kingdom was clear that when it comes to defence issues and decisions about national armed forces, policy must be driven by nations themselves, on a voluntary basis, according to individual priorities and needs; not by the EU institutions.

For the UK, this means that NATO has been, and will continue to be, the foundation of our national defence. We are pleased to be hosting the 2014 NATO summit—the first time such a summit has been hosted in the UK since 1990.

It is of course also right for European neighbours to co-operate on defence issues and in this respect I am proud that the UK is always in the vanguard when our European allies are in need of practical help, including supporting French efforts in Mali and the Central African Republic and co-ordination of the EU’s counter-piracy operation off the horn of Africa.

I made these points at the Council and the agreed conclusions make it clear that there will be no EU ownership of defence assets and no EU headquarters. I removed references to Europe’s armed forces, to a European pooled acquisition mechanism and to EU assets and fleets and made it clear that equipment such as drones and air-to-air refuelling tankers are to be owned and operated by the member states. The conclusions of the European Council are clear that nations, not the EU institutions, are in the driving seat of defence and must remain there.

Economic and Monetary Union

The Council also held important discussions on the future of the eurozone and measures to strengthen economic and monetary union. Britain is not in the eurozone and will not be joining the euro, but it is in our interest for those that are to have a strong and stable single currency. We therefore support efforts to achieve that as long as the UK’s interests are protected. My priority at this Council was to ensure that, just as the UK is out of the EU eurozone bailout mechanism, so there can be no financial liability for the UK from banking union or from any future euro area mechanism of loans or guarantees for eurozone countries. This is reflected in the conclusions which make clear there will be no financial obligations on countries not participating in these areas. The conclusions also reiterate the importance of making the EU more competitive, completing the single market and cutting red tape for business.

Leaders also agreed to build on the UK’s G8 agenda with an explicit commitment to agree further measures on tax transparency as swiftly as possible.

Enlargement and Association Agreements

The UK has long supported enlargement as one of the EU’s greatest strengths. The prospect of EU membership has proved a huge driver for peace, prosperity and progress across our continent. But the EU of today is very different to the European Community of 50 years ago and it was never envisaged that the accession of new countries would trigger mass population movements across our continent.

So I made it clear that when future countries join the EU we must look again at the transitional arrangements for the free movement of workers, and my preference to look at options such as much longer transitional periods and new benchmarks that would need to be met. I also made the case for returning the principle of free movement to a more sensible basis and making it clear that it should never be a completely unqualified right but should be what the EU first envisaged—the free movement of workers, not of those after the best benefit deal. This is not just the view of the UK. At the recent meeting of Interior Ministers, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands all made it clear that we need to find a better approach to tackle free movement abuse. In this spirit, we can now look forward to continuing these discussions in the coming year and ensuring that future enlargements proceed in a way that regains the trust and the support of our peoples.

Copies of the Council conclusions are available in the Libraries of both Houses.

Work and Pensions

Parliamentary Written Answer (Correction)

I wish to inform the House that an error has been identified in the written answer given to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) on 21 November 2013, Official Report, column 1023W—written answers and statements. The information included within the table in the answer to PQ 176414 contained some incorrect figures and these have now been amended. I apologise to the House for this error.

The full answer given was:

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many jobseeker’s allowance claimants in Hull have been sanctioned since 22 October 2012; how many such sanctions have been subsequently overturned; how many such claimants had previously been asked to undertake a literacy course by a jobcentre; and how many claimants were previously claiming employment support allowance. [176414].

The information is tabled as follows:

Number of jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) claimants with an adverse JSA sanction decision, and of these, the number overturned upon reconsideration or appeal in Kingston upon Hull local authority, 22 October 2012 to 30 June 2013

Number

Total number of jobseeker's allowance (JSA) claimants with an adverse JSA sanction decision

6,540

Of Which:

Decision overturned: Total

1,140

Decision overturned: Following reconsideration

1,050

Decision overturned: Following appeal

90

Notes: 1. Figures are rounded to the nearest 10. 2. Totals will count individuals who have had both a sanction overturned upon reconsideration and also upon appeal.

Source: DWP Information, Governance and Security Directorate: JSA Sanctions and Disallowance Decisions Statistics Database.

The information requested how many such claimants had previously been asked to undertake a literacy course or how many claimants were previously claiming employment and support allowance (ESA) is not readily available and could be provided only at disproportionate cost.

The revised answer is as follows:

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many jobseeker’s allowance claimants in Hull have been sanctioned since 22 October 2012; how many such sanctions have been subsequently overturned; how many such claimants had previously been asked to undertake a literacy course by a jobcentre; and how many claimants were previously claiming employment support allowance. [176414].

The information is tabled as follows:

Number of individuals with a jobseeker's allowance (JSA) sanction by decision in Kingston upon Hull local authority, 22 October 2012 to 30 June 2013.

Number

Sanction applied

4,330

Overturned following reconsideration

880

Overturned following appeal

80

Notes: 1. Figures are rounded to the nearest 10. 2. Data are to the 30 June 2013 which is the latest available information. 3. Sanction applied: New sanctions rules came into force for JSA from 22 October 2012. The number of sanctions applied is the number of low, intermediate and high-level referrals where the decision was found against the claimant. Further information can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/jobseekers-allowane-overview-of-sanctions-rules. 4. The decision to apply a sanction can be overturned following reconsideration or appeal. 5. All figures may include individuals who have had more than one sanction decision e.g. if an individual has a sanction applied and another sanction overturned following an appeal then they will appear twice. Source: DWP Information, Governance and Security Directorate: JSA Sanctions and Disallowance Decisions Statistics Database.

The information requested how many such claimants had previously been asked to undertake a literacy course or how many claimants were previously claiming employment and support allowance (ESA) is not readily available and could be provided only at disproportionate cost.