HC Deb 12 February 2004 vol 417 cc1595-6W
Dr. Murrison

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what action is being taken to ensure that elderly people receive the benefits to which they are entitled. [153819]

Malcolm Wicks

We want all eligible pensioners to take up their entitlement and initiatives are in place to encourage them to do so.

We are currently in the main phase of our marketing campaign for pension credit and aim to have at least 3 million households in receipt of pension credit by 2006. By June 2004, we will have written to all pensioner households, to explain about the new entitlement. Direct mail is being supported by extensive TV and press advertising. From May, we intend to focus campaign activity on those pensioners who are likely to be entitled but who have not responded.

The Pension Service Local Service is playing a key role, particularly in encouraging pensioners who are less likely to take up their entitlement to apply. We continue to work closely with organisations such as Help the Aged and Age Concern/at both national and local level, and with local authorities.

Local authorities have a statutory duty to promote take up of housing benefit and council tax benefit. In order to encourage take up of council tax benefit, which has historically been lower than for other income-related benefits, we have launched a take-up campaign to help support local authorities in encouraging those who may be entitled to claim.

The introduction of pension credit also means around 320,000 pensioner households will be newly entitled to council tax benefit. To help facilitate take up of housing benefit and council tax benefit applicants for pension credit who also want to claim these benefits are sent a claim form to return to their local authority. We have also recently introduced a shortened version of this claim form for pensioners to make the process of claiming even easier.

Those pensioners who are entitled to the pension credit guarantee credit have linked entitlement to housing benefit and council tax benefit which can meet up to 100 per cent. of their rent and council tax liability. The Department is improving the take-up of attendance allowance in a targeted and well directed way. We have removed a major barrier to people claiming attendance allowance by introducing a new claim form that is much shorter, personalised and more responsive to customer needs. New information technology has been introduced throughout the organisation to speed up the decision making process and enable a better and more professional service.

We are also working closer with partners such as local authorities and welfare rights organisations who are able to advise people about disability benefits in a far more targeted way than would be possible through any mass disability awareness campaigns.