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There are now 2.40 million pensioner households (2.91 million individuals) being paid pension credit, including 138,000 pension credit households (176,000 individuals) added in March. This is the greatest monthly increase in the number of pension credit households (so far to date) and means that we have met our published target for the end of March. As at 31 March, there are 1.74 million households (2.09 million individuals) now receiving more money as a result of the introduction of pension credit. The pension
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credit application line, at our four sites across the country, has received millions of calls since it became operational on 7 April 2003 and 95 per cent. of calls have been answered within 30 seconds. The average pension credit award is £41.34 per week.
Our direct mail campaign is continuing, supported by a major advertising campaign on TV and in the press. By the end of this month we will have 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, among others, both at national and local level, to encourage eligible people to take up their entitlement. In particular, the pension service 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 cards in parliamentary constituencies in Great Britain. Copies of the report are also available for hon. Members in the Vote Office.