Page last updated at 10:55 GMT, Thursday, 25 June 2009 11:55 UK

Billions in benefits go unclaimed

Searching for a job at a job centre
Take-up of Jobseekers Allowance has changed little

Up to £10.5bn in income-related benefits went unclaimed in Britain in 2007-8, government figures reveal.

A calculation of take-up of the five key benefits showed that the estimated amount that went unclaimed shifted up slightly compared with a year earlier.

Unclaimed funds from the five benefits was between £6.3bn and £10.5bn, or 15% to 23% of all entitlement money.

The data includes Income Support, Pension Credit, Jobseekers Allowance, and housing and council tax benefits.

The figures are published annually by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), and reveal the level to which residents fail to claim all of the benefits they are entitled to.

Breakdown

Three of the five key income-related benefits showed a slight decrease in take-up - when comparing the number of benefit recipients in 2007-8 with the previous year, the report showed.

The government needs to work at full speed towards more automatic payments of benefits
Michelle Mitchell, Help the Aged

The proportion of people claiming Pension Credit rose by one percentage point - reaching between 61% and 70% of the total entitlement.

However, the take-up of Income Support, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit all fell by around one percentage point. Jobseekers Allowance take-up remained relatively unchanged.

Charities have been urging people to claim all the benefits to which they are entitled, with a number offering free guidance on how to apply.

'Bogged down'

One of those charities is Help the Aged and Age Concern, which is running a year-long campaign on benefit take-up.

It believes that people do not claim because they are not aware of the benefit, they do not believe they are entitled to it, they are confused by the complexity of the system, or they don't want to take "handouts".

Cash
Four per cent of the adult population do not have a bank account

"These figures show just how badly the means-tested benefits system, which was supposed to lift older people out of poverty, is bogged down," said Michelle Mitchell, the charity's director.

She said that a large number of pensioners were still missing out on Pension Credit, which would give them an average of £31 extra a week.

"The government needs to work at full speed towards more automatic payments of benefits."

Pensions minister Angela Eagle said: "We want to make sure that everyone is getting all of the help that they are entitled to and we are always working to make our benefits more accessible."

She added that the Pensions Service made 13,000 face-to-face visits with retired people every week and a new regional campaign in the areas with the least take-up had been launched.

Unbanked

Separate figures published this week give a hint of the level of financial deprivation in the UK.

FINANCIAL EXCLUSION
Four per cent of the UK adult population did not have access to a bank account in 2007-8
The numbers have fallen sharply since 2002-3
Some 2.71 million people did not have a current account in 2007-8
Source: Treasury

The Treasury revealed that 1.85 million adults do not have access to a bank account - that is 4% of the adult population.

This was a fall from 2.09 million a year ago. It is also a decrease of 35% from 2002-3, when the UK government and major UK banks agreed to attempt to halve the number of adults without access to a bank account.

Toynbee Hall, an East London-based charity that works with the financially-excluded in the UK, welcomed the figures but said more work needed to be done.

"Those who remain without bank accounts are often the poorest and most vulnerable in society and that they are the ones who end up poorer and at risk because of this," said Adam Clark, Toynbee Hall's financial inclusion manager.

He said that anyone without a bank account found it very difficult to get paid a salary or benefits and were more vulnerable to theft.

They also missed out on discounts on certain goods and utilities and often had to pay high costs for cashing cheques and borrowing money.

Those with access to a bank account for the first time often struggled to have the skills and confidence to use it. This left many being hit with charges, such as for unauthorised overdrafts, or having their accounts closed down.



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