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Pension Credit

Volume 406: debated on Monday 9 June 2003

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15.

What progress his Department has made towards the introduction of the pension credit. [117297]

Good progress. The Pension Service has already written to those in about 1.8 million pensioner households who currently receive the minimum income guarantee to tell them that they will automatically transfer to pension credit. This month, 45,000 mail packs a week are being set out, inviting pensioners to apply before October and advance applications are now being taken on a freephone application line.

I thank my hon. Friend for her reply. I welcome the introduction of the new pension credits, which will benefit many constituents in my area, but, as she will be aware, a significant number of elderly people are unable to look after their financial affairs, so what discussions has she had with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish Executive to ensure the maximum take-up of that very valuable benefit?

I have had no such discussions, but the Pension Service is involved in discussions about take-up throughout the country with local partners, local government and the Scottish Parliament. We are anxious that as many people as possible take up their entitlement to pension credit, not least because, for the first time, it will provide a reward for saving instead of penalising it, and those pensioner households who are entitled will receive an extra £400 a year on average.

With the greatest respect to the Minister, can I tell her and perhaps the Prime Minister how much we have missed the ebullient presence of the former Minister for Pensions during Question Time today? Does she think that not having a Minister for Pensions has had any significant effect on the performance of her Department?

Well, of course, we are all working hard, as one might expect, to make up for the work load of my right hon. Friend the former Minister for Pensions, who was well known in the Department for working from noon—[Interruption]—from morning till noon, till night, day in, day out, so I can assure the hon. Gentleman that things have not been easy, but I hope that no one will have noticed my right hon. Friend's departure; that has certainly been the aim of those of us seeking to cover his efforts.

Does my hon. Friend have any plan to run take-up campaigns for pensioners generally? What assessment has she made of Age Concern's recent survey, which shows that pensioners in Liverpool are among the poorest in the country?

My hon. Friend is right. We have plans with all our local partners, including Age Concern, to maximise the take-up of pension credit entitlements. We want to ensure that all those who are entitled take up pension credit. To the extent that our local partners, such as Age Concern in Liverpool, can help us to achieve that, we will work very closely with them to ensure that people do so.