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Pension Credit

Volume 407: debated on Tuesday 24 June 2003

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2.

What discussions he has had with senior citizen organisations regarding the take-up of the pension credit in Scotland. [120210]

I discussed the pension credit yesterday at the older people's consultative forum in Edinburgh. The Department for Work and Pensions, through its new Pension Service and a forthcoming media campaign, is active in ensuring that pensioners receive full information about the pension credit.

I thank my hon. Friend for her reply. She will be aware that the benefit is valuable and will help many thousands of people in Scotland. Many elderly people are, unfortunately, unable to look after their own affairs, so has she discussed with the voluntary sector, local authorities and the Scottish Executive how we can ensure that such people benefit from this valuable new incentive?

My hon. Friend is correct. We need to ensure that those who are in receipt of care or who are looked after by family or carers are included. The most vulnerable pensioners have been specifically targeted since April this year with a specially designed direct mail pack, which is issued to carers or pensioners, and the campaign will continue until June 2004. As part of my ongoing discussions with the Scottish Executive, I will ensure that her points are fully taken on board in Scotland.

On behalf of the Liberal Democrats, may I welcome the Secretary of State to his new duties? Is the Minister aware of the recent admission by the chair of the Inland Revenue to the Treasury Select Committee that the computers had serious problems with the tax credits, which had come as a bolt out of the blue? Given the complexity of the pension credit, what assurance can she give Scottish pensioners that the computers will work and the helplines will cope, bearing in mind that on 12 March 2002 the Secretary of State himself described the Department of Work and Pensions' computers as "decrepit"?

First, may I advise the hon. Gentleman that the decrepit computers have been replaced? Secondly, I assure him that the Pension Service has extensive experience of working with the complexity, as he put it, of the pension credit. Every effort will be made to ensure that pensioners who are eligible for the pension credit take it up. As he is well aware, the new pension credit will give people with small occupational pensions the benefit of savings that they accumulated throughout their working lives, so it is to be welcomed.

May I follow up the point made by the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso)? Sir Nicholas Montagu, chairman of the Inland Revenue, was called before my Committee last week. He said that the dress rehearsal went well, but that when the curtain went up on day one it was a shambles. We do not want a shambles on day one, as the pension credit is good news for many elderly people in Scotland. Given that EDS is the IT company responsible, can the utmost pressure be put on it to ensure that the first day of a rollout is good news, not bad news?

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the relevant Ministers are, of course, aware of the importance of getting the new pension credit right, and I am sure that the lessons of our experience and the situation that we inherited from the previous Government will be learned. My hon. Friend is correct—the pension credit is good news for pensioners across Scotland, and we should not lose sight of that core fact.

I am sure that the Minister is aware that pension credit take-up is dependent on pensioners' and senior citizens' organisations believing that it will make a difference to them and will not be negated by the action of other Departments? When will she resolve the dispute between the DWP and the Scottish Executive over the non-payment of attendance allowance, and thus allow pensioners in self-funded care to benefit? Does not that long-running conflict, which originated under the Secretary of State when he was at the DWP, not require the full-time input of a part-time Secretary of State for Scotland?

The hon. Gentleman should be aware—in fact, he is aware—that what he calls a long-running conflict was resolved some years ago. I understand that Age Concern Scotland has raised a legal issue, which it is intent on pursuing but, as far as the UK Government and the Scottish Executive are concerned, this matter has been resolved.

After the trivia of the previous question, may I return to the important matter of support for pensioners? The minimum income guarantee was a great success for those who got it, but 20 per cent. of pensioners did not get it, either because they could not fill out the forms or because they could not get access to them. The difference with the pension credit is that we already have records of people with employment-based pensions through the Inland Revenue system. Is it not time that that system was used to seek out people with those extra pensions so that they can automatically be passported to the pension credit?

I take my hon. Friend's point, but I am not sure whether we can read across from the pension credit to the minimum income guarantee. This issue has been raised before at Scottish questions, and I can assure the House that the Department for Work and Pensions is trying every conceivable means of ensuring that pensioners who are eligible for the minimum income guarantee are advised of that fact. I again appeal to Scottish Members of Parliament, who are leaders in their own communities, not to miss the opportunity to highlight the importance of the minimum income guarantee to their pensioner constituents.