§ 7. Mr. Dodsworth
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he is satisfied with the arrangement for the payment of retirement pensions in Giro cheque form following the delay in issuing pension books.
§ Mrs. Chalker
I very much regret the delay in the issue of some pension order books which resulted from a combination of factors. In addition to a change of computers at the Department's Newcastle central office, a nine-week overtime ban from 23 February to 30 April and delays in the postal service have had an adverse effect. We arranged to pay the affected pensioners by giro cheque in accordance with our normal procedures and these arrangements appear to have been satisfactory. I visited the Newcastle central office last week, and I know at first hand the efforts being made by management to recover normal working service.
§ Mr. Dodsworth
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that helpful reply. Does she accept that any delay of this nature in payments of pensions is critical to many of those involved? Furthermore, if delays occur in the issuing of pension books, with fresh increases later in the year that will increase the burden on those who are already in difficult circumstances. Will she instigate a complete inquiry into all the procedures concerned, in addition to the pension books?
§ Mrs. Chalker
First, I assure my hon. Friend that I am conducting an inquiry into the matters that were under way even before we took office. We are concerned that the industrial action which has recommenced will put pensioners and other beneficiaries in grave difficulties. The long history of industrial problems at Newcastle and Washington will take time and patience to resolve. We shall 270 do everything—including giving fresh information to local offices where necessary—to ensure that pensioners who do not receive their payment books will know that they have to go to their local office. We shall make arrangements for payments to be made through the local offices if the industrial action continues.
Mr. R. C. Mitchell
Will the Minister make the same arrangements for the payment of child benefits? Is she aware that some of my constituents are having to wait three months for those payments and, as many are on low incomes, the payments are an essential part of their incomes?
§ Mrs. Chalker
I regret to have to tell the hon. Gentleman that not only is there an overtime ban at the Washington child benefit centre but, in addition, a work to rule has been commenced. We deplore the action and we shall do all that we can to bring matters back to normal. In the meantime, we are examining urgently measures to help the parents who will not only be inconvenienced severely but put under great financial pressure. I advise hon. Members that any constituents writing to them should be told to go to their local office if they are in financial difficulty.