Rowen presses Prime Minister on Christmas pension problem

December 12, 2007 12:00 AM

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) have balmed their "computer systems"! as the reason that thousands of pensioners will be forced to wait until Christmas Eve to collect their pensions.

Lib Dem Work and Pensions Shadow Minister Paul Rowen has pressed the Prime Minister Gordon Brown on the fact that many pensioners face a scramble to collect their Christmas pensions. Mr Rowen was speaking during Prime Minister's Questions.

The MP for Rochdale asked: "Is the Prime Minister aware that pensioners will only be able to collect their pensions from Post Offices on Christmas Eve because the DWP will not transfer the money. This will inconvenience many pensioners. Is this another nail in the coffin of Post Offices?"

The Prime Minister replied: "Mr Speaker, I have looked at this matter and I think he is wrong because large numbers of pensioners will have their pensions advanced to Friday when it will be paid because of representations already made and the Post Office has assured us that the remaining number; those who get weekly pensions will get their pension on Monday (24 December) and there will be sufficient facilities available for that pension to paid to them on the Monday. So I hope that clears up any misunderstanding. Pensions will be paid to millions of people on Friday as well as on Monday."

Mr Rowen said afterwards: "I do not accept the Prime Minister's response. It is clear that although many pensioners are receiving their money on Friday, a huge number of pensioners will not and people claiming benefits will have just three and a half hours to collect what is rightfully theirs - or do without at Christmas. This is unacceptable, it's almost if they are trying to force pensioners to open bank accounts by the back door. We all know the Government's commitment to Post Offices is about closing them. That is why I feel they are not making a concerted effort to pay our must vulnerable residents on State Pensions and Pension Credits earlier. This is the reason I asked the Prime Minister whether this was another nail in the coffin of the Post Office."

It has also emerged that the reason the Government won't reverse this decision is because of two different computer systems. Basic state pensions are paid on one computer and pension credits on another. Pensioners on just the basic state pension will receive their pension on the Friday but those receiving pension credits too will not be able to until the Monday. The DWP have decided against the additional cost to merge this information, leading to the delay for hundreds of thousands.

Mr Rowen said: "The Government's incompetence on IT systems is legendary and it is clear that their lack of coordination is forcing them to delay paying many pensioners for Christmas. This is the real reason for the problem they face. I will be pressing the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Peter Hain MP, on this issue. I am also concerned that the system used to pay pensions will not be able to stand up to the unusually high number of transactions expected to take place this Christmas Eve. The system has crashed before under less pressure."

Anna Pearson, policy manager at Help the Aged, said: "It's extremely disappointing that the Department for Work and Pensions haven't made better plans for pension payments this Christmas. Many older people are living on the breadline and budget on a weekly basis. We're particularly concerned that these people won't have time to collect their money and then be able to buy their food for the week. They will be left with precious little time to get to shops on what is already an incredibly busy and hectic day. The DWP should ensure that people receive two weeks payment at once rather than shoehorning all the payments into half of Christmas Eve when many people will prefer to be at home or with family."

Help the Aged is urging older people to do what they can to plan ahead. The Charity is suggesting that, if possible, people should use a cash machine or buy their Christmas goods in advance.