HC Deb 26 April 2004 vol 420 cc629-30
11. Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con)

How many pensioners have applied for the savings element of pension credit in the last year; and how many of these were eligible. [167687]

The Minister for Pensions (Malcolm Wicks)

I am pleased to report that in March we had the largest ever increase in pensioner households joining pensioner credit—138,000. Now 1.67 million households are receiving the savings element of pension credit, including 623,000 households that were not formerly receiving the minimum income guarantee, so these households are being rewarded for their savings for the first time. In the hon. Gentleman's constituency, some 4,760 households are now receiving pension credit, with an average award of just over £39 a week. Of these, 3,490 are receiving the savings credit.

Mr. Steen

There could be even more pensioners getting pension credit if their modest savings were not preventing them from getting it. Can the Minister explain the Government's hypothetical figure of 10 per cent. interest per annum on pensioners' capital, whereas 4 per cent. is all they could get? They save money and are then charged 10 per cent. by the Government, but they can never get 10 per cent. on their money anywhere else. How do the Government reach the hypothetical figure of 10 per cent., which is preventing more people from getting the credit?

Malcolm Wicks

Whatever divides us, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree that that is an advance on the old Conservative system of income support, where money was taken off, pound for pound. This Government introduced the savings element. Let us remember—we do not want to misinform constituents about this—that the first £6,000 of savings is not taken into account at all in the calculation. That covers the vast majority of pensioners. Some 85 per cent. are covered by the limit on the £6,000. That is a far more generous treatment of interest and savings than under the old system.

John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland) (Lab)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that he has done and on the £46 a head, on average, that the constituents of Glasgow, Anniesland are receiving in pension credit. What does he intend to do about the mop-up when we get to the end of June and have gone round all the pensioners? What do we do then to catch those who did not apply?

Malcolm Wicks

At the end of last month 2.4 million pensioner households were receiving pension credit. That represents 2.9 million individuals, so we are where we intended to be in the campaign. We have a target of 3 million by 2006. We now enter a phase in which, through home visits and by working with voluntary organisations and others, we go back to people who have not yet claimed. We all have a role in that. I have previously described my hon. Friend as a mighty champion of older people in his constituency, and he is. One of the dangers that we face, however, are the cynics in the House, not least on the Liberal Democrat Benches, who go round the country stirring up apathy and confusion about pension credit. They get headlines, and that is putting some people off claiming pension credit. That is why we will redouble our efforts to make sure that pension credit becomes a triumph of hope over fear.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con)

How many pensioners in the country currently receive means-tested benefits?

Malcolm Wicks

Some 2.4 million people currently benefit from pension credit, and I can write to the hon. Gentleman with the details to give him a fuller answer. When he meets constituents who receive pension credit for the first time and who gain by £10, £20 or £30 extra a week—our local Pension Service sometimes brings extra benefits to the attention of his elderly constituents—does he say to them, "This is terrible. You are a victim of means-testing."?