§ Mr. Webb
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, pursuant to the answer of 19 December 2001,Official Report, column 365W, on housing benefit, what conclusions he has reached in his investigations of how local authorities can receive tailored electronic access to other departmental benefit data; and if he will make a statement. 
§ Malcolm Wicks
We are committed to improving the Housing Benefit scheme to make it easier for councils to administer and easier for the public to understand.
Providing access to a wider range of Departmental benefit data has long been a requirement for local authorities and we have identified a suitable technical solution to give authorities improved tailored access to this information. We have recently made available to all local authorities tailored access to the Departmental Central Index which enables them to access personal details where a National Insurance number is known, and where necessary trace National Insurance numbers.511W
Further enhancements are planned including access to details of State Retirement Pension, Incapacity Benefit and Bereavement Benefits. We anticipate that development work will be completed by April 2003 and further access will be made available to local authorities shortly thereafter.