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The BBC's Karen Allen
"The new campaign will offer advice on their rights"
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Wednesday, 29 March, 2000, 07:09 GMT 08:09 UK
Elderly 'missing out' on benefits
Pensioner incomes are rising on average
More than half a million pensioners who may have missed out on benefits over the past 20 years are to be urged to collect what is due to them.

The Department of Social Security is to run a TV campaign in May to encourage older people to claim their full income support entitlement.

The campaign is to feature 88-year-old actress Thora Hird, who is to join Social Security Secretary Alistair Darling to launch the initiative on Wednesday.

"At long last, the government is doing something about all those older people who are missing out on the money they are rightfully entitled to," she said.

"I hope we can make a real difference in bringing much needed help to hundreds of thousands of pensioners."

A new freephone line will mean pensioners can claim over the phone for the first time, without having to visit a Benefits Agency office.

DSS officials are also to write to the two million pensioners they believe are most likely to be entitled to income support.

Incomes rising

Mr Darling said: "The letters, the phone line and the TV advertising will work together to reach those pensioners who are just getting by when they should be getting more."

The government is also publishing a paper which shows what has happened to pensioner incomes over the last 40 years.

It reports they are rising on average, but a significant number of older people have lost out.

Sally Greengross, director general of Age Concern England, said: "We know from our long experience of working with older people that there is an ongoing need for straightforward advice.

"Age Concern is delighted that the government is now addressing this issue.

"We hope that older people who are living on very limited incomes will be encouraged to claim this additional means-tested money on top of their state pension."

'More effective'

But Steve Webb of the Liberal Democrats said the problem was "a problem of the government's own making".

"If they had actually put the money on the state pension in the first place, which we know all pensioners claim, including the poorest, that would have been a much more effective way to tackle the problem."

Chancellor Gordon Brown's Budget last week introduced a raft of new measures to help less well-off pensioners.

It set a minimum income guarantee of 75 a week for single people and 116.60 for couples, raised the winter fuel payment by 50 and announced free TV licences for over 75s from the autumn.

The freephone line for pensioners who think they are missing out is 0800 028 1111.

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See also:

27 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Former minister blasts Budget
15 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Pensions error to cost millions
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