Watch out for the Age Gap Tax
The government has announced significant changes to the rules around claiming Pension Credit and Housing Benefit which will take effect from 15 May 2019. These changes will affect couples, whether married or simply living together, where one person is over the state retirement age and the other partner is younger. These are known as a mixed-age couple. Here’s what this will mean.
What currently happens?
Currently, mixed-age couple have the choice between being able to claim Pension Credit or claiming Universal Credit. Pension Credit is aimed at helping older people on a low income and can be paid on top of State Pension (which is completely unaffected by this change).
Universal Credit is a new benefit for working-age people that replaces six benefits and tax credits such as Jobseeker’s Allowance and Child Tax Credit. It has been rolled out across the country over the past seven years. There has been a great deal of publicity about people claiming Universal Credit experiencing problems with budgeting and getting into rent arrears, as well as being required to maintain an online journal as part of claiming.
From 15 May 2019, anyone in a mixed-age couple will not be able to claim Pension Credit until both members of the couple have reached state retirement age. Obviously, the bigger the age gap between the partners in the couple, the longer this period could be. One real concern is the potential financial loss for those affected.
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What difference will this make?
The basic personal allowance for a couple claiming Pension Credit from April will be £255.25 a week, whereas the same amount for a couple claiming Universal Credit is approximately £114.80 a week, a difference of £140.45 weekly or £7,300 over the course of a year. Obviously, the exact amount will depend on the particular circumstances of anyone affected but this is a significant reduction in the financial support available for older mixed-age couples.
Anyone who is in a mixed-age couple who already claims Pension Credit or Housing Benefit at the date of change will not be affected – they can carry on claiming provided their circumstances do not change. However, if there is a break in their claims of even one day, they may find themselves unable to return to the old benefits and will also be forced to claim Universal Credit if they qualify.
Are claims backdated if I apply after 15 May 2019?
Yes, but only for 3 months. Claims made on or before 13 August 2019 can be backdated to before the rule change applied, provided you met the entitlement conditions applicable on 14 May 2019.
What you can do
As such, if you are in a mixed-age couple and one partner has reached state retirement age before 15 May 2019, it makes sense to try and make a claim for Pension Credit (or Housing Benefit) as soon as possible. If you do qualify, then you’re protecting yourself now rather than risking what might happen in coming months or years. Even if it’s only a few pounds a week Pension Credit that you’re entitled to, this can also “passport” you to other benefits like Cold Weather Payments and help with some health costs.
Age UK benefits calculator
A straightforward way to check if you're entitled to benefits. It only takes a few minutes and it can make sure you're claiming everything you're entitled to. Alternatively, you can call Age UK's free, confidential advice line on 0800 678 1602. It's open 8am-7pm, 365 days a year.
Apply for Pension Credit
You can apply Pension Credit by phone, in writing or in person. You can telephone the Pension Credit claim line on 0800 99 1234 (text phone 0800 169 0133) to make a claim by phone or to ask for a claim form to be sent to you.
The line is open from 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday. If you’re calling, make sure you have your National Insurance number handy, as well as details of savings and any other income that you are receiving.