My Lords, it is too early to tell if claim numbers in the past 12 months have resulted in a net increase in the overall number of people eligible for, and in receipt of, pension credit, particularly with the scale of uncertainty surrounding the impact of Covid-19 and the changes to the over-75 free TV licence concession. The latest figures, however, show that more than 1.5 million people receive pension credit, of whom 900,000 are over 75.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister, but does she accept that the combined effect of the Government’s awareness campaign, online claims and the threat of losing their TV licences has resulted in fewer than 30,000 of the more than 1 million eligible non-claimants claiming? Will she and her colleagues therefore convene a meeting with the officers of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ageing and Older People, and most importantly of all, all the age charities, so that we can launch together a much more effective, powerful and imaginative campaign?
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on the Government’s campaign in GP surgeries and post offices earlier this year to increase pension credit take-up. This is vital for the poorest pensioners to avoid poverty, and it makes them eligible for vital support such as housing benefits, cold-weather payments and free TV licenses. As the triple-lock does not apply to the pension credit, can the Minister say if there are further plans to improve take-up, such as using new channels, as suggested by the charity Independent Age?
My Lords, as my noble friend says, the triple lock is a manifesto commitment. In February this year we launched a nationwide campaign to raise awareness of pension credit and to help dispel some of the misconceptions that people might have about their eligibility. We engage with stakeholders including Age UK, Age Scotland, Age Cymru, CAB and Independent Age, among others, to help spread the word. The point that my noble friend makes is a very good one, and we would welcome ideas from stakeholders and any noble Lords about how to best improve the understanding of what pension credit is.
My Lords, in the evidence given to the Scottish Social Security Committee inquiry into benefit take-up in January this year, it was confirmed that the DWP has no written strategy to increase the uptake of pension credit. Without an action plan that sets out a programme of activity and overall objectives, any future awareness-raising activity risks taking place in isolation divorced of a wider strategy. Does the Minister agree with the charity Independent Age that an action plan is needed, possibly to include auto-enrolment? Will she commit to returning to her department to recommend producing one?
I would like to make it clear to all noble Lords that the Government are absolutely committed to as many people getting pension credit as are eligible. We have no plans, at the moment, to introduce targets on take-up. However, the noble Baroness makes a very good point, which can be joined up with the point that the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, made. As I have said, I will go back to the department, and I will personally come back with a response.
My Lords, given excess death rates, the Government must be increasingly concerned about vulnerable, low-income pensioners. Pension credit is targeted on the poorest. Some 1.5 million pensioners claim it but, worryingly, four out of 10 eligible pensioners do not, and they are missing out on other benefits, too. Will the Government increase the guaranteed pension credit by at least the cash value of a triple-lock increase to the new state pension? Those eligible for, but not claiming, pension credit will get a TV licence demand for £157.50. How will the Government protect them, given that their campaigns are not enough?
The noble Baroness makes the point that there are, I think, 1.1 million people who could have pension credit if they made a claim and were eligible. I know of no plans at the moment to uprate the other benefit to which the noble Baroness referred, but I will go away and find out and respond to her in writing.
Does the noble Baroness agree that many pensioners who do not claim pension credit feel stigma and shame in submitting to means testing? If so, will the Government consider revisiting auto-enrolment, to ensure that the poorest pensioners receive their full entitlement to financial support?
The noble Baroness raises a very important point about the reasons why people do not claim pension credit. Some believe that they are not eligible; others think that they have too many savings; others think that there is a stigma to it; and others think that they might get only a small amount, so it is just not worth the effort. The noble Baroness raises valid points about the vulnerable; we must do all we can to make sure that those people are aware of pension credit and that they make a claim where appropriate.
My Lords, the take-up campaign launched in February, which has been mentioned, does not seem to have had much of an effect. The government website said that its main feature was a video to be shown in 800 GP surgeries and some post offices. However, once the pandemic hit, the chance of its target audience being in GPs’ surgeries and post offices went through the floor. So did the DWP refocus its work in the light of the pandemic, or is it planning a fresh campaign—and how much money is it putting behind it?
The noble Baroness raises a valid point about the impact of Covid on GPs’ surgeries and post offices, and that people were not able to access the information. At the moment there are no plans for a new campaign. We are working with stakeholders, who again are absolutely swamped by the impact of Covid, to ensure that the message gets out. Once I have gone back and spoken to the department, I will come back to the noble Baroness with a written response, as I will to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins.
On 6 May, we launched the online Apply for Pension Credit service. Around 50% of claims are made through this medium. In addition, people can claim by calling a freephone number, and I am sure that our stakeholders will help in those instances.
My Lords, it is nearly a decade since the DWP conducted research into non-take-up of pension credit. Will it therefore now instigate new research into who non-claimants are, their reasons for not claiming, and where they are concentrated, as a crucial element of any effective action plan to increase take-up, which I agree with colleagues is essential.
My Lords, Citizens Advice in my home city of Newcastle upon Tyne reports that, during the Covid pandemic, there has been a rise in the number of young people seeking advice, but a proportionate decline among people over 55. This may relate to the lack of availability of face-to-face advice. But does the Minister agree that there should now be a new campaign to promote pension credit and that, without that, a lot of pensioners who would qualify are not going to have as much money as they otherwise might?
I can only agree with the noble Lord that many people over 50 prefer to do business face to face, and I appreciate that that opportunity has been curtailed. I have no desire to be dismissive, but I think I have already answered questions about a new campaign, and I will come back to the House with an answer.