Many pensioners on low incomes are still not claiming the benefits they’re entitled to according to McCarthy & Stone, Britain’s leading builder of retirement housing. Through its Entitlements Advice Service, the company has helped nearly 250 homeowners in the past 12 months find unclaimed benefits worth nearly £900k – the highest figure since its service began in 2011.
Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) indicate that up to £2.8bn in pension credit is not being taken up, while the total amount of benefits by pensioners in pension credit, housing, council tax and disability benefits is £5.5bn. McCarthy & Stone recommends that pensioners should carry out a full benefits check including state pension, pension credit, attendance allowance, disability, council tax, health, winter fuel, TV licence and warm home discount scheme.
The Entitlements Advice Service from McCarthy & Stone is a free and confidential service provided to existing and potential homeowners on request. It advises that a low awareness of the range of benefits older people are entitled to, the fear of talking to strangers about money problems, and the complexity of the forms are often why many pensioners are struggling to cope with their finances and failing to claim the extra cash.
Says Colin Cuthbert, Entitlements Advisor, McCarthy & Stone: “This is the highest ever figure we’ve seen in unclaimed benefits since our service began in 2011. Too many retirees are still unaware of what they’re entitled to and believe that because they own their own apartment they will be disqualified from claiming benefits when this isn’t the case – the extra help can make a real difference to many older people who have been struggling to meet the rising cost of living. A majority of the people we help have never claimed anything extra in their life, but we explain that they are totally entitled to review their options.
“Over the past 12 months I’ve spoken to 885 people about their benefits. From this number, 242 are either now receiving new benefits for the first time, or were entitled to an increase in their benefits as a result of using the service. For example, one couple are now receiving an extra £12,035 per year in benefits. If someone is awarded the high rate of Attendance Allowance, this will give the claimant an extra income of £4,227 per year.”
A low awareness and knowledge of what pensioners are entitled to is also confirmed in a Research Report, Pension Credit eligible non-recipients: Barriers to claiming**. Of those who had heard of pension credit, 54% had only heard the name, 35% said they did not know who they could contact about the state pension or other benefits, 62% acknowledged that they do not like ‘asking’ for benefits and 65% said they did not think they were eligible/no longer eligible/have too much money. It is estimated that about one in three of those eligible are still not claiming pension credit.
Adds Colin Cuthbert: “Anyone aged over 60 or over in England should also know that they’re eligible for free NHS prescriptions and sight tests – many of our residents who receive Guaranteed Pension Credit don’t realise that this automatically qualifies them for help towards NHS costs too, so they can get free NHS dental treatments and a voucher towards the costs of glasses or contact lenses. They can also receive help with essential travel costs to receive NHS treatment if referred by a Doctor or Dentist, or need to see a Consultant. This really can make a difference as these costs can especially add up in later life.”
Homeowners who live in a McCarthy & Stone apartment can arrange a free and confidential review of benefits they are entitled to by contacting its Entitlements Advice Service on Freephone 0800 027 2445. Since the service began in 2011 the company has helped its residents claim a total of almost £2 million in unclaimed benefits.
Are you entitled? Five key tips to check if you are entitled to more financial support from Colin Cuthbert, Entitlements Advisor, McCarthy & Stone.
Remember even if you are not eligible now, you may be entitled to receive certain benefits if you move into retirement accommodation, or if your situation changes in the future.
- Guaranteed Pension Credit
There are two elements of pension credit – Guaranteed Credit and Savings credit, so you may be entitled to receive one or both of them. Guaranteed Pension Credit may be paid when you reach the qualifying age. It tops up your weekly income to a guaranteed minimum if it’s below £148.35, or £226.50 for a couple. These figures can also increase if in receipt of disability/careers benefits and/or if you are liable for ground rent and service charges.
- Savings Credit
Savings Credit is an extra payment for those who have saved some money towards their retirement for example a pension and you may be able to get it if you are aged 65 or over. You may also be entitled to Savings Credit as well as Guaranteed Pension Credit. This could be worth up to £16.80 per week for single people or £20.70 for couples.
- Attendance Allowance
Attendance Allowance is also one of most frequent benefits pensioners fail to claim. This is a non-taxable benefit for people living at home aged 65 and over who need someone to help look after them because they are physically or mentally disabled and is a non-means tested benefit.
The name given to this entitlement is confusing as it implies that you need to have someone actually looking after you at home to benefit. This is certainly not the case. A typical successful applicant for this entitlement will be over 65 years of age who through illness or disability occurring for at least the last 6 months requires help with personal care, support or supervision. What matters is that you need the help, not whether you are actually receiving it.
There is not a list of illnesses or disabilities which determine who will and who will not receive the Attendance Allowance but special rules do apply for certain conditions including blind and terminally ill applicants. Successful eligible applicants can receive £54.45 paid weekly, often if needs are limited to day time and £81.30 weekly if your needs are for day and night. Applicants have to submit an Attendance Allowance Claims Pack.
4. Council Tax Benefit
This may be met in full if you qualify for the Guaranteed Pension Credit. There are possible discounts if you have a low income and you can receive a 25% discount if you live on your own. You may be entitled to a reduction in Council Tax if you are disabled or have a disabled person living with you.
5. Personal Independence Payment/Severe Disability Premium
Personal Independent Payment is a non-taxable benefit for people who have become disabled and make a claim before 65. It is non-means tested. Severe Disability Premium, if you receive a qualifying benefit such as Attendance Allowance or Personal Independence Payment you may also qualify for a premium on top of the basic personal allowance known as Severe Disability Premium.
*Figures from DWP, 2009-10.
** DWP Report No 819, 2012.