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Pension Service

Volume 406: debated on Monday 9 June 2003

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6.

What plans he has to improve the operation of the Pension Service. [117288]

The Pension Service is working well. It is geared to providing a high-quality personal service that puts the needs of pensioners first. Both its call centres and local service have been well received by pensioners. A key task is the delivery of pension credit from this October, for which preparations are well in hand. I will be publishing quarterly updates on overall progress during the run-up, the first in July and the second in October. The figures for October will be published in November and there will be regular monthly reports thereafter.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer, but has not centralisation of services led to difficulties for pensioners such as those in my constituency, who have had to travel far greater distances to obtain comprehensive advice? Taking into account the imminent implementation of the pension credit, can he today give an assurance that we will not see a repeat of the recent tax credit fiasco?

One of the things I sensibly did, anticipating the question, was to check whether the Dundee call centre, which serves the hon. Lady's constituents, had had any problems with its telephony. I was assured that it had not. Indeed, the system was working very well and at least 94 per cent. of calls got through first time, which is a good record for any call centre, whether in the public or private sector. On personal access, I know that there are surgeries every Thursday at the A.K. Bell library in Perth, on the first Tuesday of the month at the Kinloch Rannoch medical practice, and on the last Wednesday of every month in Crieff library, as well as at Kinross-shire day centre in Kinross on the last Tuesday of every month. If the hon. Lady or indeed other hon. Members have suggestions as to how the surgery arrangements for constituents offered by the Pension Service can be improved, I and the Pension Service will be very pleased to consider them.

I have heard a couple of anecdotal stories about some pensioners who are having to wait up to three months to get their first pension payment once they reach the age of 60 or 65. I have written to the Department, and am awaiting a reply, on whether that happens only occasionally or is more widespread. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that he speaks to people from the Inland Revenue to make sure that lessons are learned from the implementation of the child tax credit—particularly with regard to the scanning-in of documents, which sometimes leads to the misreading of information—so that such hiccups do not happen when the pension credit comes in?

On my hon. Friend's first question, after the statement, I shall go back to the Department to find an answer concerning her correspondence. I do not believe that such delays should be in any way typical and I should be disturbed if they were. I shall look into the specific case that she raises.

On the lessons for the roll-out of the pension credit, and our telephony, scanning-in and other services, I assure my hon. Friend that we are learning from other tax credits. That is one of the reasons why, in introducing the pension credit, we have been careful to phase the publicity and the projected take-up, so as to align them with the capacity that the system must have in place to meet demand. It is early days, but I have had positive reports of pensioners' experience in applying for the pension credit using the telephone system.