§ The Minister for Pensions (Malcolm Wicks)
I can now provide the latest monthly progress report on the take-up of pension credit, which became payable on 6 October 2003.
There are now 2.45 million pensioner households (2.96 million individuals) being paid pension credit, an increase of 44,000 households (54,000 individuals) during April. As at 30 April, there are 1.78 million households (2.15 million individuals) now receiving more money as a result of the introduction of pension 48WS credit. The pension credit application line, at our four sites across the country, has received 3.54 million calls since it became operational on 7 April 2003 and 94 per cent of calls have been answered within 30 seconds. The average pension credit award is £41.67 per week.
We have now written to every pensioner household in the country to tell them about pension credit. We are continuing to work with 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. The current phase of the campaign is focusing on those customers who are less likely 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, as announced in the Budget statement. This will allow applications to be backdated for a year, or to the date entitlement begins if this is later.
I am placing in the Library a report 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 of the report are also available for hon. Members in the Vote Office.