HC Deb 20 January 2003 vol 398 cc190-1W
Mr. Truswell

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what use his Department and its agencies make of postcode areas for(a) the collection and publication of data, (b) devising formulae for the distribution of grants and awards and (c) the delivery of services; and when such usages were last reviewed.[87744]

Beverley Hughes

The available information held centrally is set out as follows:

(i) Collection and publication of data

The Home Department uses a postal address file in major surveys conducted by the Home Office such as the British Crime Survey, Home Office Citizenship Survey and Crime and Justice survey. This involves sampling at postcode sector level (or sometimes in segments of postcode sectors). Sampling is undertaken by independent survey companies and the Home Office is not informed of which areas/addresses have been selected to ensure that the anonymity of respondents is preserved but they do attach other data to the survey datasets using the postcode link (eg indices of local deprivation).

Also, statistics showing the area of residence of asylum seekers supported by the National Asylum Support Service (NASS) are currently published for NASS-defined administrative regions and cluster areas. Recent analysis of postcode information recorded on the Asylum Seekers Support System (ASYS), the administrative system maintained by N ASS, has allowed provisional statistics to be compiled for standard administrative areas (Government Office Regions and Local Authorities). In the case of those asylum seekers in receipt of subsistence only support, this provides much greater geographical detail than is currently available. These statistics are currently being quality assured and are intended for publication once this process is complete.

(ii) Formulae for the distribution of grants and awards

The Home Department is responsible for devising formulae to allow for the effective distribution of police grant and geographic information (such as postcodes) are used. These data form part of an annual assessment of population within Force and Basic Command Unit (BCU) boundaries (based on estimates of population movement and of changing boundaries within or between Forces).

The information is based on the most current estimates of population and demography available, and is updated at least every year. In addition the forthcoming analysis of the Census will lead to a more substantive revision than is normally the case, as these figures will be used to re-normalise estimates. In addition to the Police Funding Formula, these population changes within Basic Command Units contribute to the crime rates for certain offences. For example Robbery is commonly quoted as a rate per 1,000 (resident) population, as boundaries change and populations change this is therefore reflected in the rates calculated.

Each year based (in some part) upon the demography within a BCU, the home department also revise the so-called BCU families. These families group BCU's in clusters, this grouping uses many variables, and again as boundaries change the characteristics of each BCU changes and this can be reflected in a change of grouping. These groups are currently used for comparison of performance and identifying exceptional performers such that this 'good practice' can be shared.

(iii) Use of postcodes in the delivery of services

In certain instances the Home Department and its agencies work with police and Criminal Justice System (CJS) agencies on special operations which have a specific geographic location such as a specific crime 'hot spot'. Special Home Office funding is often used to support these operations. In these cases the postcodes are more incidental than proactively driving the delivery of services.

The Home Department used postcode data for the locks for pensioners scheme. To be eligible for the scheme the house had to be in a BCU with an above average burglary rate; the Home Department had to translate BCU areas into postcodes so that the scheme managers could tell whether applicants were eligible.

The scheme officially ended in June 2002—ie that was the last day that applications were accepted—but surveying and installation work continued after that date. Most, if not all, should be completed this month.

We also used postcode data on the Crime Reduction Website (www.crimereduction.gov.uk) to provide a facility for people to check if they were eligible for the scheme. Now that the scheme has finished, the facility has been removed.