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Credit where it’s due

  • 15/06/2022

Morgan Vine, Head of Policy and Influencing at Independent Age has written a blog on the importance of claiming Pension Credit for the Pension Credit Day of Action.

Woman smiling at the camera

At Independent Age - a national charity supporting people aged 65 and over - we speak to people in later life on a daily basis who are struggling financially to make ends meet.

Now the weather is going a bit colder, I try to live in the day in one [room]… I’ve managed with a little [radiator] in the kitchen where I generally spend my time and I go out a lot anyway. I’m trying to keep costs down that way.” Pat, 80

“The prices of everything, food shopping, bills, everything are just rocketing at the moment. I’m just hoping that it will flatten out into next year sometime because I don’t know how long we can go on like this.” Christine, 65

Pat and Christine are not alone. Times are tough for many. Even before the cost of living started to rise in 2022, over 2 million older people were already living in poverty.

Research we released this year - in partnership with academics at City, University of London - showed that across a 9 year period 40% of all people over State Pension age dropped below the poverty line for at least 1 year.

In reality this means too many people are being forced to make tough choices as they age; whether they’re cutting out meals to keep the heating on, or wearing a hat to bed so they can afford fresh fruit, life is difficult.

With the situation having got significantly worse for many over the last few months, help is needed from all sides, including from the government who have a key role to play.

One thing that could help support older people on a low income is receiving the financial top up Pension Credit. Each year, the government sets aside money to give Pension Credit to those who are eligible for it, yet in 2019/20 alone over £1.7 billion pounds of this money did not reach those who were entitled to it.

On average Pension Credit can increase someone’s income by £40 per week. And our calculations show that up to £7,000 per year could be received if someone qualifies for all the support linked to Pension Credit, such as housing benefit, council tax reduction, dental treatment, and a free TV license for the over 75s.

The older people we speak to tell us that Pension Credit can be life changing when they receive it. Anisah, a retired nurse in her 80s, told us:

“I retired from my career when I was 56 — I had major problems with my back after lifting a patient at work and had to wear a steel corset for years. I have many other health issues too, some caused by the malnutrition I suffered during the war. For some reason, I was given a low pension. I often had to choose between eating or turning on the heating. I just didn’t have enough money. Social services told me about Pension Credit. I’ve been receiving it for ten years now, and that’s when I started to live again. I’ve been able to eat healthier food and keep myself warm. Pension Credit has also changed my life because of the other benefits I’ve been able to access, such as the free eye care and dental treatment.”

You can watch Anisah’s video on Independent Age’s YouTube channel.

We think it’s imperative that everyone entitled to Pension Credit receives it and though some progress has been made, the most recent statistics estimate that only 66% of eligible people are receiving this much needed financial support. That’s why, since 2019, we’ve been calling on the UK government to tackle the unacceptably low levels of Pension Credit up-take.

We want to see more money in the pockets of older people. To achieve this, alongside the free information and advice we provide to people in later life, we’re calling on the government to:

  • Deliver a strategic action plan to significantly improve the uptake of Pension Credit. We know there are no quick wins, but we believe that a mixture of activity could be delivered in both the short-term and longer-term to help older people who are struggling financially. This could include:
    • Strengthening national awareness raising activity by making it more targeted.
    • Conducting research on the most effective way of communicating to, and reaching, eligible non-claimants.
    • Funding Local Authority income maximisation teams.
    • Establishing more awareness raising partnerships between DWP and Local Authorities where data is shared for targeting purposes.
    • Making more of the application process automated.

We think that if the government take these actions it could substantially increase the number of people getting Pension Credit and result in more older people being able to live their lives with dignity, choice and purpose.

If you want to keep up to date with Independent Age’s campaign activity, you can join their campaign supporter network.

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