By Sally West
Income Policy Officer at Age Concern England
Pensioners are missing out on millions in benefits
Pensioners are missing out on millions of pounds worth of state help. Sally West, Age Concern's policy expert, offers some help to those who want to get their hands on the cash.
Many older people look forward to a comfortable retirement. A lack of cash can sometimes make the reality very different.
Pensioner poverty is now at crisis levels and two million pensioners live below the government's poverty line. Many older people find it difficult to cover day-to-day living costs, never mind luxuries.
But the good news is that many pensioners could boost their income by claiming new benefits.
Since the introduction of Pension Credit, half of all pensioners should be entitled to a cash top-up.
It's just the complexity of the different benefits and a lack of awareness which sometimes stops the cash from reaching older people's pockets.
Pensioners are more likely than anyone else to miss out on benefits. Each year hundreds of millions of pounds in benefits cash lies unclaimed.
The main benefits older people should check their entitlement to are:
- Pension Credit
Pension credit has two elements: The Guarantee Credit and Savings Credit.
The Guarantee Credit can be claimed by pensioners who are 60 or over, while the Savings Credit can only be claimed by pensioners who are 65 or over.
This guarantee element tops the income of single people and couples up to a minimum of £119.05 a week in 2005/2006 and couples to £181.70 a week in 2007/2008.The levels can be higher in some circumstances - for example for some disabled people and carers.
You do not need to have paid National Insurance (NI) contributions to qualify but your income and any savings and capital over a certain level are taken into account.
The Pension Credit also goes a step further and provide extra cash for people aged 65 and over who have made moderate savings for retirement.
You can get a claim form from your local social security office or by calling the Pension Credit Information Line on 0800 99 12 34.
Age Concern fact sheet 18 offers information about money benefits including Pension Credit and fact sheet 48 has more facts and figures about the Pension Credit.
- Council Tax Benefit and Housing Benefit
Many older people find council tax a major drain on their income. Council Tax Benefit, which can reduce your bill, is the benefit pensioners are most likely to miss out on.
It can be claimed by homeowners as well as tenants - the value of your home is not taken into account.
Housing Benefit helps with rent, certain service charges and, in Northern Ireland, with general rates.
These benefits are based on your income and savings.
Other factors such as people in your family, whether you are disabled, and the level of your rent and council tax may affect the amount.
Currently up to 1.4m eligible older people miss out on Council Tax Benefit, resulting in up to £580m remaining unclaimed each year. The average amount unclaimed is £7.50 a week, or £390 a year.
Up to 270,000 eligible older people are not claiming Housing Benefit, resulting in up to £400m remaining unclaimed each year.
If you apply for Pension Credit you should be asked if you wish to claim these benefits as well, otherwise contact your local authority. Age Concern's fact sheet 17 also gives information about Housing and Council Tax Benefit.
- Attendance Allowance and Disability Living Allowance
People aged 65 and over who are physically or mentally ill or disabled can get extra cash to help with the extra costs of disability through Attendance Allowance.
It is for people who need help with personal care. If you receive it you choose how you spend it. Attendance Allowance is not related to income or savings and is paid at two different rates: £41.25 if you need help in the day or night and £62.25 if you need help during both.
There is no upper age limit but if you are under 65, you should apply for Disability Living Allowance instead - this can provide extra money for people with care and/or mobility needs.
Age Concern's fact sheet 34 gives more information about Attendance Allowance and Disability Living Allowance.
To get a claim pack from the DWP ring 0800 88 22 00.
Department for Work and Pensions (DWP):
you can go to its website (see link on right) to download claim forms for some benefits, obtain leaflets, publications and other information including details of your social security office. The Pension Credit Information Line is 0800 99 12 34.
most areas have a local Age Concern which may provide benefits information. Alternatively you can get free fact sheets from Age Concern's Information Line on freephone 0800 00 99 66 or from its website (see link on right). Age Concern also publishes a range of finance-related publications including Your Rights which are available from 0870 44 22 044.
Citizens Advice Bureaux:
these provide advice and information on all kinds of subjects. Find your nearest in the phone book or library.
you will find the address of your local authority in the phone book under the name of your county, unitary authority, metropolitan or London borough, or ask at your local library.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by the BBC unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.