HC Deb 21 October 2002 vol 391 cc19-21
14. Mr. David Stewart (Inverness, East, Nairn and Lochaber)

What assessment she has made of the role of the new pension centres in increasing benefit take-up. [73073]

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

We are leading a fundamental overhaul of the welfare system, transforming it from a mainly passive organisation paying out benefits to an active system that fights poverty. The pension service will encourage people to claim the benefits to which they are entitled, create opportunity and help people to be self-sufficient and independent. To assist in that process, we have established three pension centres in Scotland, located in Motherwell, Dundee and Glasgow. As a result, approximately 800 new jobs are being created in Scotland.

Mr. David Stewart

I thank my hon. Friend for her answer. I recently visited Burnley pension centre, and was very impressed by the quality of the staff and the effectiveness of the service. Surely, however, the acid test is how effective the centres will be in maximising take-up by pensioners, particularly of the minimum income guarantee.

Maria Eagle

Unlike the previous Government, we are committed to ensuring that those who are entitled to benefit and pensions receive them in full rather than putting them off. Three quarters of retirement pension claims are already made on the telephone, and the fact that our services will be much more accessible will help enormously. In addition, our people are better trained, our systems will enable us to have trigger questions to identify possible entitlement, and we will be out there searching to ensure that people who contact us receive their full entitlement. It will be easier to contact us, and we will therefore make sure that more people receive their proper entitlement.

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe)

Since phone calls from the south-east will often be answered in Scotland, as the Under-Secretary said, what assurance can she give my ethnic minority constituents—those born in Pakistan or Kashmir or their descendants—that their calls will be understood?

Maria Eagle

Generally, it is perfectly possible for members of the public to understand our Scottish staff. The hon. Gentleman has a particular concern about ethnic minority constituents, but a translation service is offered and his constituents will be able to access our services in the language in which they are happiest. He should not have any concerns that his constituents will be unable to contact the service or to get advice in the language in which they are happiest. Our Scottish staff are perfectly capable of communicating with anybody in this country.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Speaker

Perhaps I can now communicate; I call the Foreign Secretary.

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