§ Mr. Marlow
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what time elapses between a Government decision on pension rates and the receipt of pension books by pensioners; how this time is spent; and what period of time the pension books cover.696W
§ Mrs. Chalker
There are over 8½ million pensioners in Great Britain. Some 7 million of these are paid by national insurance retirement and widows' pension books which are produced by computer and cover a period of 13 weeks. They are normally prepared and issued to post offices three weeks before the date of the first order in the book, ready for collection by pensioners on the expiry of their old order books. With the new rates normally coming into effect in mid-November, the first pension books to contain an order at the new rate will be issued to post offices at the end of July.
As regards the 1.7 million supplementary pension cases, these are paid by supplementary pension books, which are prepared manually in local offices and cover a period of 26 weeks. They are usually issued directly to pensioners about three weeks before the date of the first order in the book. The first books, which should contain an order at the new rate, would ideally be issued early in May. Special arrangements have to be made at extra administrative cost if this is not possible.
It is the calculation of these individual supplementary pension increases which takes the time. The process cannot start until each person's new national insurance pension rate is known and in most cases there are discretionary additions which also have to be identified and increased.
These complex operations cannot begin until the new benefit rates have been announced to Parliament and the appropriate instructions have been prepared and issued to DHSS central and local offices. In addition, it is of course necessary to prepare and obtain the approval of Parliament for the up-rating order and regulations, but this does not interfere with the administrative timetable.
In normal circumstances, an announcement of the new rates in April, at the time of the Budget Statement, allows sufficient time for all these operations, which require an extra effort and occur over a peak work period, to be carried out in good time before the new rates come into force in November. Because of the election this year, however, the uprating announcement was delayed with the result that some supplementary beneficiaries will not receive the increased 697W rates by the due date. Everything possible is being done to ensure that they will receive the increases, which will of course be backdated, as soon as possible after 12 November.
We are considering actively whether there are any measures which could shorten the time lag between the announcement of an increase and its coming into payment, but I have to tell my hon. Friend that any changes, including perhaps the wider use of computers, will take some time to implement.