Pensions and benefits recipients deserve clear guidance over changes to payments options

May 13, 2004 12:00 AM

Tom Brake MP has added his support to a Liberal Democrat parliamentary motion calling on the Government to make clear how housebound, disabled and older people who are not able to cope with the Government's three Direct Payment options will be able to claim their pensions and benefits after 2005. The motion, tabled by Malcolm Bruce MP, has gathered cross party support.

Tom Brake commented:

"Most people will prefer to receive their benefits and pensions directly into their bank account or into a post office card account. Many housebound, disabled and older people however will have difficulties opening an account, remembering a PIN and using a pinpad. The options provided by the Government for pension and benefits collection has led to widespread distress and anxiety among this very vulnerable group of people.

"They are not being told the whole truth by Government. A fourth option will be unveiled later this year which will very probably not involve any sort of account.

"The only conclusion to draw is that the Government is withholding this information and the fact that people can continue to use their order books until 2005 to make sure they choose the cheapest option - even if it is a wrong one for them.

"My Liberal Democrat colleagues and I believe people are entitled to know the full facts about this new system of pension and benefit payments. If the Government aren't going to do it, we will."

Text of Early Day Motion 375:

That this House calls on the Government to clarify as a matter of urgency how elderly, housebound and disabled people who are not able to cope with the Government's three Direct Payment options will be able to claim their pensions and benefits after 2005; notes that the Government has consistently acknowledged the need for an 'Exceptions Service' yet has failed to give any firm indication of how this system will operate; notes that the Exceptions Service will only be in place 18 months after the move to Direct Payments began and that letters to claimants and the Government's publicity material largely fails to mention the Exceptions Service or that people can continue to use their order books and girocheques until 2005; notes that uncertainty about how they will be able to collect their pension or benefits has led to anxiety and distress among the most vulnerable members of our society and that many of these people have either not responded at all or have chosen an unsuitable method of receiving essential income due to ignorance of the Exceptions Service; and calls on the Government to guarantee that the Exceptions Service allows for multiple third party collectors, does not require a pinpad and PIN, is fully accessible at post offices and reinforces the viability of the Post Office Network.

Direct Payment was introduced in April 2003 but the DWP has admitted it will only have an Exceptions Service established in October 2004. The Government's target is for at least 85% of benefit recipients to have moved to Direct Payment by 2005.

According to figures released by the Department of Work and Pensions 34% of people invited to convert to Direct Payment have failed to respond at all.

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