HC Deb 25 November 2002 vol 395 cc14-6
13. Mr. David Rendel (Newbury)

What plans he has to improve the take-up of benefits for pensioners. [81281]

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

We have made good progress in our efforts to ensure that pensioners take up their entitlements, including the national advertising campaign for the minimum income guarantee, the shortened claim form and working closely with partner organisations that represent older people. We are equally committed to ensuring maximum take-up of pension credit.

Mr. Rendel

Given the lack of information about the cost-effectiveness of different methods of encouraging take-up, how can the Minister be sure that her plans are the best use of resources? What plans does she have to make sure that in future we get better information about how cost-effective take-up campaigns are?

Maria Eagle

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, as a member of the Public Accounts Committee, will have studied carefully the recently published National Audit Office report. We welcome the report's findings, which include comments on better information and evaluation, but the important thing for us is to make sure that elderly people who have entitlements to additional benefits such as pension credit take them up. We have reorganised the Pension Service to be much more effective at ensuring that people take up their benefits and entitlements, so I am confident that there will be an improvement in the current level of take-up. The first test, of course, will be pension credit.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)

How long does my hon. Friend believe it will be before we have a system whereby, when pensioners make their claims through the Pension Service, they get their housing benefit and council tax benefit calculated at the same time? We want one-stop benefits for pensioners, so that they get all the benefits to which they are entitled.

Maria Eagle

My hon. Friend is right. It is often difficult and confusing for people to have to claim their entitlements from different bits of central and local government and to fill in different forms. The major IT infrastructure programmes that we have in the Department for Work and Pensions should enable us to join up a lot more of our own claims processes. Some of the improvements that we are making by cutting the size of claim forms and introducing trigger points to indicate entitlement are already coming through, but with housing benefit being administered by local authorities, it is difficult to ensure such joined-up local and central Government administration. We are doing our best to make progress as speedily as we can.

Annabelle Ewing (Perth)

The Secretary of State said a moment ago that the Government had more to do to tackle pensioner poverty, and presumably that includes Scotland, where one in four of our pensioners still live in poverty. Is not the problem of take-up exacerbated by the massive extension of means-testing of benefits introduced by the new Labour Government?

Maria Eagle

The pension credit abolishes the weekly means test and targets money on those at the lower end of the income bracket by using a simplified five-yearly assessment process. I hope that the hon. Lady, along with other hon. Members, will encourage pensioners in her constituency to take that up, as it is an entitlement. We in the Department will do all that we can to ensure that, when pension credit comes in October 2003, there is maximum take-up.