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Ms Winterton: My hon. Friend is right. I was sad that some Opposition Members were a little derisory about reducing intrusion, because that has been a concern of older persons groups. For customers aged 75 and over, we are removing the need for a detailed review of their retirement provision every five years, which will benefit an estimated 1 million pensioners. That will make a difference to the way people feel. Having to come back after five years for another detailed review can be a bit intrusive.
Mr. Waterson: Is the principle that the right hon. Lady is putting forward on behalf of the Department that it is perfectly okay to bring about improvements for one group of vulnerable people at the expense of another, rather than finding the necessary money in the departmental budget, or in the billions of pounds that are paid out every year by her Department owing to fraud and error?
Ms Winterton: I am not clear which other group the hon. Gentleman means.
Mr. Waterson: The Minister is trying to argue that the changes are being made to save money, which in turn will be used to improve automatic payments and so on. Is it now a principle of the Department that to improve the way in which one kind of benefits are handed out, it will penalise groups now unable to claim because of the reduction in backdating?
Ms Winterton: I do not understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. We are not penalising anybody. He referred to pensioners who are on the lowest incomes, but the evidence is that some 70 per cent. of people on the lowest incomes make the guaranteed credit claim within 3 months. We want to ensure that we have a simplified system for claiming council tax benefit and housing benefit. People face real problems in that respect.
This group of benefits is different from many other benefits because there is no need to show any good cause for the payment not having been made before. They were introduced to encourage take-up at the beginning of the process of introducing pension credit. However, we recognise that when many people make a telephone call and say, “I’d like to claim pension credit,” there is an element of surprise that it can go back a whole year because it is an income support benefit that is meant to help people in their day-to-day living. Some of the most vulnerable people in our society will benefit from the measure, so we want to concentrate on getting the benefit through as quickly and efficiently as possible.
It is therefore right that we consider the measure as a package. It is not just about these regulations; it is about the wider picture. We have agreed a wider package with Age Concern and Help the Aged. That is what we are trying to explain. Over the long term, the package will result in extra expenditure on pensioners. By around 2020, the Government will spend an extra £75 million a year because of the changes, and by 2050 an extra £250 million a year will be spent. These changes are not about cost-cutting. They are about ensuring that we get benefits through to the people who need them and that we do so in an effective way.
We will continue to work with welfare rights organisations and others to ensure that there is greater take-up and that people are aware of the changes. I hope that, in view of the explanation I have given, the Committee will support our regulations and reject the Liberal Democrat motion.
Question put:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 6.
Division No. 1]
Atkins, Charlotte
Gilroy, Linda
Gwynne, Andrew
Jones, Helen
Kidney, Mr. David
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Taylor, Ms Dari
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Duddridge, James
Howell, John
Kawczynski, Daniel
Waterson, Mr. Nigel
Willott, Jenny
Young, rh Sir George
Question accordingly agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the Social Security (Miscellaneous Amendments) (No.4) Regulations 2008 (S.I. 2008, No. 2424).
Committee rose at twenty-five minutes past Ten o’clock.
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