HC Deb 12 November 2001 vol 374 cc559-60
7. Mr. David Stewart (Inverness, East, Nairn and Lochaber)

If he will make a statement on the operation of the new pension service. [11685]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Eagle)

The pension service will provide a dedicated, modern and customer-focused service designed to meet the individual needs of pensioners. The new service will be phased in from April 2002.

Mr. Stewart

Does my hon. Friend recognise that many pensioners across the country, from Thurso to Truro, want a local service with local staff who have local knowledge? Will she consider introducing interviews to give face-to-face advice to pensioners in the near future?

Maria Eagle

My hon. Friend is certainly correct to say that some people, pensioners included, prefer to see advisers face to face. That is why we shall have a local service to enable home visits and face-to-face interviews to take place, when requested. That does not take away from the fact that many services that need to be provided nationally can be provided by telephone and run administratively through the pension centres that we are establishing. Pensioners are increasingly contacting us by phone; more than half of all retirement pension claims are now made in that way. It is sensible to centralise the administration of that process to ensure that it can be provided efficiently and give a good service throughout the country.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Does the hon. Lady agree that the individual counselling to be made available from April 2002 will be no substitute for effective public policy on pensions today? Have not the Government betrayed pensioners through the Chancellor's additional tax burdens on pension funds, and through their failure to relinquish the annuity requirement? Above all, is not the fact that the number of private occupational pensioners has fallen since they came to power evidence that their policies are failing?

Maria Eagle

The hon. Gentleman has a cheek to talk about the Labour party betraying pensioners. His party betrayed them over 18 years. We are putting right the mess. He will see that, with our new pension credit policy, we shall close the income gap even more, so that every pensioner gets a decent income in retirement. When his party was in power, pensioners who were carers or disabled did not get any pension at all. We are putting that right, and trying to close the income and wealth gap between pensioners. We are putting right the mess that his Government made.

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam)

The Secretary of State told the House that the computer systems in his Department are ancient and do not talk to each other. Will the Government provide a new computer system to operate the pensioner credit system, and will it be able to talk to the other systems?

Maria Eagle


Mr. Speaker

Order. Once again, that is a matter for the next question. The hon. Gentleman should bide his time.