Since last December, people applying for pension credit have been able to get housing benefit and council tax benefit at the same time via one phone call to the Pension Service. As a result, 14 per cent. more pensioners now request these benefits and the resulting number of successful claims through pension credit has gone up by 39 per cent.
That is a very important point, as organisations such as Age Concern and Help the Aged play a key part in helping to deliver the service and finding people who are not claiming their benefits. It is important to remember that those benefits are not a privilege, but an entitlement, and we should do all we can with those organisations to help people to get them. I would like to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Age Concern and the local service on the nearly 1 million face-to-face contacts that they made last year to encourage people to take up their benefits.
It is excellent news that more pensioners are gaining access to this support, which is vital to them, but will the Minister look further into the use of call centres and dedicated call lines for people applying for benefit assistance? Frankly, in some instances, it is causing real difficulties.
Many people find it easy to claim over the phone, but if my hon. Friend knows of any constituents who are reluctant to use the service, they can, of course, request a visit from the Pension Service locally, which will either visit them at home or find a setting such as Age Concern where they might feel more comfortable about making their claims. I would be happy to write to my hon. Friend with more details.