§ The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Andrew Smith)
I can now report further progress on the take-up of Pension Credit, which became payable on 6 October.
There are now 2.06 million pensioner households (over 2.43 million individuals) being paid Pension Credit, including 90,000 new Pension Credit households (over 106,000 individuals) in November. As at 30 November, there are over 1.37 million households (over 1.61 million individuals) now receiving more money as a result of the introduction of Pension Credit. The Pension Credit Application Line, at our four sites across the country, has received 1.64 million calls since it became operational on 7 April, and 96 per cent. of calls have been answered within 30 seconds. Some 490,000 signed applications have been returned to Pension Centres since the campaign began in April. The average Pension Credit award is £46.40 per week.
Our direct mail campaign is continuing, supported by a major advertising campaign on TV and in the press which began in September. We are continuing to work with partner organisations, such as Help The Aged, Age Concern and Citizens Advice, amongst others, both at a national and local level, to encourage eligible people to take up their entitlement.
There is plenty of time for pensioners to apply for Pension Credit. To ensure that pensioners do not lose out, there is a twelve month backdating provision until October 2004. This will allow applications to be backdated to October 2003, where entitlement exists, or to the date entitlement begins if this is later.
I am placing in the Library a set of charts and tables showing progress so far, including regional breakdowns of the number of Pension Credit households and numbers of Pension Credit awards in Parliamentary constituencies in Great Britain. Copies are also available for hon. Members in the Vote Office.
This is the second of the monthly progress reports on take-up of Pension Credit, which will continue to be provided on a regular basis.