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Pension Credit

Volume 810: debated on Monday 8 March 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to increase the take up of Pension Credit.

The DWP continues to use available channels to promote pension credit and reach potential recipients, their families and friends. This includes using proactive press activity and social media posts to encourage older people to check whether they are eligible. The department is currently writing to over 11 million pensioners in Great Britain about the increase in their state pension from April. The accompanying leaflet highlights that an award of pension credit can provide access to other benefits, such as housing benefit or a free over-75 TV licence.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister, but does she recall that when we met her and the Pensions Minister last November they promised much more action on pension take-up? We still have nearly 1 million people who are entitled to pension credit but not claiming. They are now losing the TV licence as well. Please will the Minister meet again the Peers who met her before, with the BBC, Age UK and Independent Age, so that we can plan a new more dynamic and innovative take-up campaign?

I understand the noble Lord’s desire to move speedily on this and I share that desire. Following our engagement session in November, policy officials met the BBC and the director of policy then had a meeting on 17 December. This was followed by a working-level meeting with the DWP and BBC on 11 February. On 29 March, the Minister for Pensions and I will meet the BBC director-general. Of course we will meet Peers again. We are open to dialogue and, in early May, there will be a stakeholders’ meeting including people from other industries.

My Lords, it is clear that the numbers in pensioner poverty have risen. Benefit take-up rates by poor pensioners are low—37%, or 1 million, do not claim the credit. They are now being billed for a TV licence that they should not have to pay for and that they cannot afford, and they will get even poorer. The Government handed over policy on pensioners and the licence fee to the BBC, but they did not hand over their responsibility for the poorest pensioners. I put again the question asked by my noble friend: will the Minister give a backstop date by which there will be a meeting of the Peers with the voluntary bodies involved with the pensioners, the BBC and DWP, so that all the parties in the room can look at this challenge that we need to face? Secondly, will the Minister confirm that she will consider innovative changes to get that take-up rate increased, such as auto-enrolling the poorest pensioners?

I assure the noble Baroness that the Government are committed to action that helps to alleviate levels of pensioner poverty. I regret that I cannot confirm a backstop date, but I can confirm that we will meet Peers and that we will use all the tools available to us for innovation to try to help this group access pension credit.

My Lords, this is not a new phenomenon. While the Question specifically refers to pension credit, we know that successive Governments have not been able to achieve adequate take-up of benefits generally. Will my noble friend suggest to her colleagues that a fundamental review of how benefits are rolled out needs to take place, because public policy is defeated if there is not adequate take-up? Secondly, will she tell the House whether her department takes into account non-take-up amounts in the budget, so that there is a regular build-in of non-take-up by her department?

I will certainly take the suggestion of a review of benefits back to the department. I am afraid that I will have to write to the noble Lord about the issue of non-take-up as far as the budget is concerned.

My Lords, I am delighted that the Government have included information about pension credit when writing to pensioners about their state pension increases. Will my noble friend tell the House whether that includes mention of the entitlement to all the other benefits that are passported to by pension credit? Will she confirm, if necessary in writing, whether my estimate of around a further £8,000 a year is potentially available to pensioners on pension credit—they may be getting very little of that benefit—in council tax, housing benefit and, indeed, £140 off their electricity bill in warm home discounts, which also suggests that the electricity companies may have some obligation to help on pension credit take-up?

On the last point that the noble Baroness raises, I am happy to go back and find out the information. I will write to her and place a copy of my letter in the Library. I emphasise that our meeting with stakeholders in early May will include energy companies. I will certainly take her idea back to the department.

Does the Minister believe that take-up campaigns fully involve local agencies, such as the charitable and voluntary sector and more particularly local government, which provide many essential services for older people? What plans are there for further involvement of such local agencies in future take-up campaigns?

I reiterate that we continue to make best use of all the available channels to make sure that we can reach those people and confirm to them their eligibility, particularly family and friends. I am not aware at the moment of anybody making a suggestion about local agencies, but through our stakeholder engagement we have certainly raised this point. I will take back the local government issue to the department.

Many elderly people who may well be eligible for pension credit find that applying online and even by telephone daunting. Will my noble friend explain why there is no automatic awarding of pension credit?

Whether a person is eligible for pension credit and how much they can get is, as with other means-tested benefits, determined by their financial and personal circumstances, which can be complex. The noble Baroness’s point about technology and vulnerable and elderly pensioners is well made. We try to encourage stakeholders who represent this group, family and friends to do it on their behalf. They can also use the government telephone number.

My Lords, would it not make more sense for the Government to use state resources to support increasing the take-up of pension credit, rather than continuing the policy of the triple lock on state pensions, given that so many people over state pension age continue to work full time or have other incomes? Would taxpayer funds not be better spent promoting pension credit widely, which would increase state assistance for older people in financial need?

The noble Baroness has obviously had a great career supporting, promoting and championing pensioners in need. On the use of taxpayers’ money, I am not aware of any plans to do as the noble Baroness suggests.

On International Women’s Day, we should note that women pensioners are more likely to be poor than men. A DWP official told the Scottish Social Security Committee that if all poor pensioners claimed pension credit, housing benefit and the council tax reduction, pensioner poverty would reduce to almost zero. The DWP take-up campaign last year has not worked. Peers keep asking Ministers to meet with us, together with charities, because we need more energy and creativity behind a campaign. I do not understand why the Minister keeps side-stepping that request. Can she explain that?

I am really not aware that I or any of my colleagues have side-stepped meeting with Peers to talk about creativity, and I do not agree with the noble Baroness on that point. There will be a meeting where people will have the opportunity to discuss and put forward their ideas. I am sure that the department will consider them carefully.