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Tea and social
Sarah Toyne, BBC
better way to launch the government's new pensions credit than over a nice
cup of tea?
and Pensions Secretary Andrew Smith was competing for attention with
"Turkey and Tinsel" breaks to Eastbourne at £169 a throw on the
Age Concern stand, as he met pensioners at Westminster's Churchill Hall.
a slice of cake and a cuppa, he set out to sell the government's new mega
benefit - the £2.5bn Pension Credit.
the benefit's launch only a month away, everyone involved is keen to get
one wants a repeat of the chaos that surrounded the launch of new tax
credits in April.
one of the biggest question marks is whether the new credit will win over
pensioners - a group often reluctant to claim benefits at all.
or two sugars?
Mr Smith was not just there to say "hi" to the 50 pensioners who
had gathered in the hall.
was there to launch the "Pick it up. It's yours" advertising
campaign, which is aimed at raising awareness about the credit and
total advertising budget over the next year will cost £17m.
the benefit could potentially reach five million households, the
government says it will be pleased if by 2006 if it has three million
pensioners claiming, although Mr Smith says he very much wants to beat
new benefit can't come fast enough for one of those at Mr Smith's coffee
Varrakalion, who is disabled, and lives on a local housing estate, has got
nine months to go until she becomes a pensioner - but she needs the extra
don't see why I shouldn't be entitled to a top-up now, rather than wait.
The bills aren't going away...the last thing you need is your expenditure
exceeding your available income," she tells BBC News Online.
benefit policies are devised by think-tanks and Whitehall mandarins, they
are made or broken by detail - and punters' attitudes. The government
seems mindful of this by its emphasis on getting out in to the community
and helping people claim the benefit.
the comment of one late arrival at the coffee morning is anything to go
by, who said she didn't know what it was, it will be much needed.
government is using a network of local advice agencies and community
groups, as well as its local Pension Service, to help recruit people.
Beal is a liaison manager for the Pensions Service in the Westminster
area, and is one of those who is spreading the message.
Beal says they hold regular weekly benefit surgeries and do lots of
outreach work with vulnerable, and disabled pensioners, as well as working
with ethnic minority community groups.
Pension Service is even helping patients in elderly care wards sign-up
from their hospital beds.
could the Pension Credit become a Tax Credit Mark Two?
Smith is trying hard to make it work more smoothly.
launch is being staggered, with recipients of the existing top-up
benefits, the minimum income guarantee (Mig), taking priority.
2.1 million pensioners are set to receive the credit from 6 October. Of
these 1.8 million are Mig customers and 300,000 are new claimants.
have deliberately planned to make the process as gradual as
possible," says Mr Smith.
can also be backdated a year, so people don't miss out.
is also keen to stress his department has "tried and tested
technology" - and that a lot of effort is being spent on training the
Smith told BBC News Online the helpline has a capacity to cope with 3,500
calls an hour, or the equivalent of 40,000 calls a day.
the peak of the tax credits problems, the helpline was receiving two
million attempted calls.
is an additional capacity to increase the number of calls the new helpline
receives by 2,500 calls an hour, if the need arises. With the exception of
local advice agencies, including the Pension Service, the credit can only
be obtained by calling the freephone number.
application process is completed over the telephone, and then the finished
form is sent out to pensioners for a signature.
the process makes it easy for pensioners, each application is taking about
20 to 25 minutes to process.
department is keen to emphasise the preventative measures it has put in
place - but it could be a nervous wait to see if they have done enough.