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Bring back state pensions

The pensions system is a mess. Instead of sending advisers to explain the complex pension credits system, the government should bring back a decent state pension that works for everyone.

You couldn't make it up. The Government is apparently sending thousands of advisers to knock on the doors of elderly citizens to explain the Pensions Credit. Last year, 2,500 staff of the Pensions Service made 900,000 visits to people approaching retirement, or already of pension age that's about 17,000 visits a week, says Lucy Warwick-Ching in FT Money. The initiative is absurd. First, if the Pensions Credit is so complicated, why not simplify it? It would be a lot easier than sending an army of Whitehall wonks onto the streets.

Second, the cost of administering the Pensions Credit is already huge. Does it really make sense to add even more to the cost pile? The Government is rightly embarrassed that nearly four out of ten people who are entitled to the credit are not claiming their benefit. But should the taxpayer really fund the vainglorious ambitions  of Gordon Brown? "At what point will the Government acknowledge that we will never get 100% take-up of means-tested benefits and simply provide a decent basic state pension that would work for everyone?" asks Kate Jopling of Help the Aged.  couldn't agree more.

Labour has a chance to improve the system with its White Paper. If it restores the link between the state pension and earnings, it will be a start. But only a start. Pensions are in a bit of a mess and the spat between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown is partly to blame. But the dignity of our elderly population is more important than politics.

Cutting the cost of complaining

If you ever phone a company to complain, it could be profiting from you. Yes, it's the curse of the 0870 numbers. They are everywhere call almost any big company and you will often dial an 0870 number. They are called "national rate", but can cost up to 8p a minute, so are more like premium-rate numbers, says Martin Lewis in The Guardian.

There are also 0845 Lo-Call numbers, but they aren't cheap either. If you make a half-hour call from a BT line in the evening, you would normally pay 5.5p. If you dialled an 0845 number, the cost would rocket to 30p. Now you know why some companies keep you hanging on the line they are racking up profits.  So what can you do? The website Saynoto0870.com has some useful tips. Sales lines are often free, so you could call the sales number and ask to be put through to enquiries or complaints.

Moneysavingexpert.com also lists some of the cheapest providers for 0870 and 0845 calls. Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, has just announced some proposals to rein in the use of these numbers. Sadly, we'll have to wait until 2008 for any action. Again, we are being kept hanging on.

Chip-and-pin is no guarantee

The latest chip-and-pin cards apparently do not live up to their promise to protect against fraud. Shell recently had to suspend the use of chip-and-pin at 600 petrol stations after fraudsters stole more than £1m from customers' accounts. Fraudster Frank Abagnale, inspiration for the film Catch Me If You Can, has warned that the cards make it easier to commit certain types of crime. It seems we have the technology, but it doesn't work.

Naomi Caine is former money editor of The Sunday Times

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