TV licences - what now?
The BBC has announced it's scrapping free TV licences for the over 75s. But if you're over 75 and claim Pension Credit you could still be eligible for a free TV licence.
Although I have worked at Age UK on benefit issues for many years, it still shocks me that while 1.6 million pensioners live in poverty, almost £3 billion of benefits aimed at older people on low incomes goes unclaimed in a single year. The latest annual Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) ‘take-up’ figures show that over a million pensioner households are missing out on Pension Credit – around 2 in 5 (39%) of those who are entitled to receive it.
The figures also show that around 1 in 7 of those who should be claiming Housing Benefit to help pay their rent are missing out.
Thinking about it, though, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, as I also know how complicated benefits can seem, and there are many things that put people off claiming. They may not be aware that benefits such as Pension Credit are available, may think they wouldn’t qualify, may be put off by the process of applying, or feel reluctant to ask for help.
The current situation
And I worry the problem could be made worse by the current situation. Many older people are very independent and don’t want to be seen as a burden. Some may be hearing the news about job losses among younger people, and the huge increase in claims for Universal Credit, and think that the DWP are too busy dealing with this to have time for claims from pensioners.
We also know that a friendly conversation with someone like an Age UK adviser to check entitlement and offer practical support if needed can be the key factor in encouraging people to claim. But again, older people may feel they shouldn’t be bothering organisations at the moment, assuming there are others worse off. Instead they will manage – even if this means struggling and cutting down on essential items.
Words of reassurance
However, extra cash from benefits due can make all the difference and help people stay independent and healthy. The average amount of Pension Credit unclaimed is £39 a week (more than £2,000 a year), but even a smaller amount such as £10 a week could be a great help towards bills. Plus it can also ‘passport’ people to other types of help such as support with some housing and health costs. We want to reassure people that the Pension Service and advice organisations are still open for business.
For those who use the internet, or who have friends and family that can help, the good news is that there is now a straightforward process to claim Pension Credit online – as long as the person is already receiving a State Pension. And Age UK has lots of great information on our website including a benefits calculator to help people find out what could be due to them.
Help by phone
For the many older people who aren’t online, or prefer to talk to someone in person, the Age UK Advice Line (0800 055 6112) is ready to help. We can send out written information, answer questions or tell people about local help. And while local Age UKs may have had to close their offices temporarily, most Information and Advice services are still up and running. Staff and volunteers have adapted their services and looked at new ways to support people to claim benefits – for example through telephone or video calls.
Doing all we can
At present, life is more restricted for all of us and lack of money can make that even harder. Older people may be limited to local shops or reliant on others to get their groceries, and this can make it much harder to shop around and seek out bargains. And keeping in touch, so important when social activities are restricted, can be expensive for those using a landline or a pay-as-you go mobile phone.
Life is hard enough without money worries and it’s such a shame there are so many people who are not claiming cash that is rightfully theirs. We should be doing all we can, as family, friends and professionals to ensure older people we know aren’t among the million or more missing out on vital additional income.
Understanding Pension Credit
What is it? Who is eligible to claim Pension Credit? How do you claim? Share this with an older friend or relative who might benefit from this information.