HC Deb 10 July 2002 vol 388 cc1013-4W
Mr. Breed

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what measures he is taking to increase(a) awareness and (h) accessibility of benefit entitlements in rural areas. [66787]

Mr. Nicholas Brown

[holding answer 4 July 2002]: We are leading a fundamental overhaul of the welfare system, transforming it from a passive organisation paying out benefits to an active system that fights poverty, creates opportunity and helps people become self-sufficient and independent. To do this service delivery is being overhauled to offer distinct services that meet the different needs of the Department's client groups: pensioners, people of working age and children. We are investing in improved and modernised services that are easier for customers to access, make better use of technology, and are more accurate and secure.

Jobcentre Plus is addressing the difficulties faced by people living in rural areas, both in securing employment and gaining access to its services. A key part of the new Jobcentre Plus process involves initial contact being made by telephone, improving service for people whose nearest office is a distance from their home.

Customers can also access Employer Direct, Jobseeker Direct and the Benefit Enquiry Line (for people with disabilities) by telephone. In addition, they can access Worktrain, Learndirect and UK Online centres through the internet. Jobcentre Plus will continue to look for innovative ways of delivering and marketing its service, building on current experiments such as locating Jobpoints and other services in retail outlets and post offices.

The local service element of the Pension Service is being developed to reflect the communities it serves in rural areas and it will take full account of the needs of individual communities. Among other things, it will raise awareness and encourage the take-up of benefits to which pensioners may be entitled. At present, a visiting service is provided for customers. From October 2002, we plan that the local service will start to provide surgeries for both appointments and drop-in calls.

Drop-in surgeries will be available from April 2003 such as community centres or the premises of voluntary bodies regularly visited by pensioners, increasing awareness and accessibility of the Pension Service and its work. There will also be a network of formation points in similar locations and a benefits information service for care workers, volunteers and others to raise awareness of pensioner benefits.