HC Deb 06 April 1982 vol 21 cc815-6
7. Mr. Bowden

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is his latest estimate of the amount of money remaining unclaimed by pensioners able to claim supplementary and other benefits.

Mr. Newton

For pensioners the problem of non take-up of benefits is largely confined to supplementary pension. As to estimates of the amount unclaimed, I refer my hon. Friend to my reply to him yesterday.

Mr. Bowden

Is it not tragic that nearly 1 million pensioners do not receive or claim their full entitlements? Does that not mean that they must be suffering hardship and deprivation? Will my hon. Friend give the maximum priority to ensuring that that number is substantially reduced?

Mr. Newton

I hope that my hon. Friend will not overstate the case. According to my information, the amount involved is less than £2 a week for about half of those who do not take up their full entitlement. Nevertheless, I accept that we should do everything possible to reduce that number and to increase the take-up. As my hon. Friend knows, we are issuing to all new retirement pensioners claim forms with their new order books. We are specifically drawing their attention to that matter. Quite a lot of unclaimed benefit is due to the confusion caused by the problem of deciding whether to claim rent rebates or supplementary pension. That problem will be considerably eased by the transition to housing benefit. We are actively working with local authorities to ensure that those who still retain an entitlement to supplementary benefit are identified and advised.

Mr. John

Will the Minister shed his complacency? One in three pensioners entitled to supplementary benefit do not claim it. By any standards that is a high figure. In addition, the average weekly loss is £3.10 per week. That is a sum that those pensioners can ill afford. Will the Minister do something instead of waffling complacently at the Dispatch Box?

Mr. Newton

I reject the charge of complacency. Within the past few days I have announced further steps that are designed to help the take-up problem. Having introduced a scheme that will prove of significant help—the housing benefit scheme—we are actively working to build on it and to reduce the problem still further.

Mr. Eastham

The Minister consistently expresses a desire for people to take up their benefits. Is he aware that in my constituency we printed a card, at our expense, to encourage people to claim? The cards had "Freepost" printed on them, but they were rejected by the Department of Health and Social Security. Is it not right and proper to encourage such people to claim?

Mr. Newton

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will write to me about that specific case. We seek to co-operate with local authorities in well-aimed schemes to improve take-up. We are keen to co-operate in that respect. We are worried about blanket operations, because they may raise hopes that cannot be fulfilled and can easily greatly overload the local office.