To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
(1) what recent steps his Department has taken to encourage the take-up of (a) carer's allowance, (b) pension credit, (c) housing benefit and (d) council tax benefit;
(2) what steps his Department is taking to achieve a higher level of overall benefits take-up;
(3) what steps his Department is taking to achieve a higher level of benefits take-up amongst pensioners.
Addressing pensioner poverty has been one of the Government's key priorities since 1997. The number of pensioners on relative low incomes has fallen from 2.9 million in 1998-99 to 2.1 million in 2006-07 (measured as below the threshold of 60 per cent. of contemporary median income after housing costs).
Maximising the take-up of benefits is crucial to tackling poverty levels. Since pension credit was introduced in 2003 the number of pensioners on relative low incomes has fallen by around 500,000.
We are making every effort to ensure that people are aware of and claim their entitlement.
The pension credit claim process has been simplified to make it easier to claim. Customers no longer need to sign and return their pension credit claim forms, claims can be made entirely over the phone.
A simplified process has been introduced which will enable claims to housing benefit and council tax benefit made over the phone with pension credit, to be forwarded directly to the local authority without the need for a signature—this is a significant improvement to the claim process and should benefit thousands of pensioners.
In February 2007, an additional question was introduced in the pension credit application process to identify relevant caring responsibilities in order to invite the customer, where appropriate, to claim carer's allowance using a new, shortened, claim pack specifically designed for people of pension age.
The Pension, Disability and Carers Service have Joint Working Partnerships, live or at the implementation stage, with all 203 primary tier local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales. These partnerships enable the Pension Disability and Carers Service, local authorities and the voluntary sector to provide a single point of access to social care and benefit entitlement.
The Pension, Disability and Carers Service continues to promote the take-up of all pensioner benefits, entitlements and services through a range of marketing activities. Campaign activity in 2008-09 to promote the take-up of pension credit has utilised direct mail, local partnership activity and regional radio, press and outdoor advertising. In order to reach our key audiences more directly we are planning a series of targeted regional campaigns. The activity will promote the take-up of the full range of pensioner benefits and entitlements, focusing on relevant lead messages for the target audiences. DWP are also working closely with other Government Departments to promote campaigns, such as Keep Warm Keep Well and Act On CO2 to promote ways pensioners can save money on fuel bills and apply for grants to assist in energy efficiency measures.
More widely the Department for Work and Pensions and all its agencies work hard to ensure that a suitable range of information and advice is available on all the benefits it administers (including carer's allowance, pension credit, housing benefit and council tax benefit). The agencies, such as the Pension, Disability and Carers Service, also work closely with external stakeholders, to continuously improve their communication material.