Pensioners "should lose free TV licences and winter fuel"

Alan Milburn

Alan Milburn, a former health secretary and now an adviser to the coalition, has said that wealthy people ought to lose their automatic right to universal pensioner benefits such as free TV licences and the winter fuel allowance. He was arguing that well-off pensioners should face their share of the pain of austerity, so that cash could be freed up to help the young.

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The report

The recommendations came as part of a broader report on social mobility, which highlighted that child poverty was not a problem of the workless, but that two thirds of poor children now come from low income working families - who are worse off than their parents.

He argued that there ought to be more help for those on Universal Credit, a higher minimum wage, and increased learning and earning opportunities for young people.

His suggestion for scrapping universal pensioner benefits for well-off retirees was one way he said that these proposals could be funded.

The reaction

There has already been plenty of work from the coalition to distance themselves from the recommendation. Nick Clegg responded in the Telegraph by saying that punishing the elderly would not help the younger generations.

Meanwhile the BBC reported a spokesperson for David Cameron saying: "The prime minister believes it is right to make commitments to pensioners in relationship to state provision".

The coalition has pledged that the universal pensioner benefits will stay in pace until the next election, and no-one is expecting any movement on this.

The future

However, what happens after the election is another question entirely. There have been a number of statements, as recently as the summer, which would indicate that senior members of the coalition are laying the groundwork for a change to these benefits.

In June George Osborne said that after the election: "Of course we have got to look at how we can afford them." A month before that Iain Duncan Smith seemed to argue that benefits for pensioners had been protected for the life of the parliament, because "pensioners need a much longer time if you are going to make changes to their income." He had already urged well-off pensioners to 'hand back' their winter fuel allowance

Nick Clegg has made it clear on his radio show that: "I think it is right to say that millionaire pensioners, for instance, don't need winter fuel payments and free TV licences, because they can afford them perfectly well themselves."

Meanwhile Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls has said that Labour would end winter fuel payments for better off pensioners.

What would it mean?

Clearly the tide is turning - albeit slowly. Unfortunately until the move gets closer we will not know what it means for most people. The definition of a well-off pensioner could be up for debate.

The politicians know they can refer to millionaires and garner support, but the question of where they draw the line is a thorny one. They might opt for a high bar like higher-rate taxpayers. They could opt for a far lower one - like the threshold for pension credits.

They could even set a very low and completely arbitrary one. This week in the debate over means testing for care for the elderly, care minister Norman Lamb described people with savings of £23,000 as 'quite wealthy' as he proposed that this should be the point at which people are made to spend their savings on care rather than being able to defer paying until after their death.

What's to stop them arguing that these 'quite wealthy' pensioners don't need universal benefits either?

Seven retirement nightmares
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Pensioners "should lose free TV licences and winter fuel"
Figures from charity Age UK show that 29% of those over 60 feel uncertain or negative about their current financial situation - with millions facing poverty and hardship. Even though saving for retirement is not much fun, the message is therefore that having to rely on dwindling state benefits in retirement is even less so. To avoid ending up in this situation, adviser Hargreaves Lansdown recommends saving a proportion of your salary equal to half your age at the time of starting a pension. In other words, if you are 30 when you start a pension, you should put in 15% throughout your working life. If you start at 24, saving 12% of your salary a year should produce a similar return.
Many older couples rely on the pension income of one person - often the man. Should that person die first, the other person can therefore be left in a difficult position financially.
One way to prevent financial hardship for the surviving person is to take out a joint life annuity that will continue to pay out up to 67% of the original payments to the surviving partner should one of them die.

The disadvantage of this approach, however, is that the rate you receive will be lower. Again, the Pensions Advisory Service on 0845 601 2923 is a useful first port of call if you are unsure what to do.

Around 427,000 households in the over-70 age groups are either three months behind with a debt repayment or subject to some form of debt action such as insolvency, according to the Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS).

Its figures also show that those aged 60 or older who came to the CCCS for help last year owed an average of £22,330. Whether you are retired or not, the best way to tackle debt problems is head on.

Free counselling services from the likes of CCCS and Citizens Advice can help with budgeting and dealing with creditors.

Importantly, they can also conduct a welfare benefits check to make sure you are receiving the pension credit, housing and council tax benefits, attendance and disability living allowances you are entitled to.


The average UK pensioner household faces a £111,400 tax bill in retirement as increasing longevity means pensioners are living on average up to 19 years past the age of 65, according to figures from MetLife. And every year in retirement adds an extra £5,864 in direct and indirect taxes based on current tax rates to the costs for the average pensioner household. You can be forced to go bankrupt if you fail to pay your taxes, so it is vital to factor these costs into your retirement planning.It is also important to check that you are receiving all the benefits and tax breaks you are entitled to if you want to make the most of your retirement cash.

The cost of a room in a care home in many parts of the country is now over £30,000 a year, according to figures from Prestige Nursing and Care. So even if the prime minister announces a cap on care costs - last year the economist Andrew Dilnot called for a new system of funding which would mean that no one would pay more than £35,000 for lifetime care - families will still face huge accommodation costs. Ways to cut this cost include opting for home care rather than a care home. Jonathan Bruce, managing director of Prestige Nursing and Care, said: "For older people who may need care in the shorter term, home care is an option which allows people to maintain their independence for longer while living in their own home and should be included in the cap." However, the only other answer is to save more while you can.
Older Britons are often targeted by unscrupulous criminals - especially if they have a bit of money put away. For example, many over 50s were victims of the so-called courier scam that tricked into keying their pin numbers into their phones and handing their cards to "couriers" who visited their homes. It parted consumers from £1.5 million in under two years. Detective Chief Inspector Paul Barnard, head of the bank sponsored dedicated cheque and plastic crime unit (DCPCU), said: "Many of us feel confident that we can spot fraudsters, but this type of crime can be sophisticated and could happen to anyone." The same is true of boiler room scams that target wealthier Britons with money to invest, offering "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunities to snap up shares at bargain prices. Tactics to watch out for include cold calling, putting you under pressure to pay up or lose the opportunity for good, and claiming to have insider information that they are prepared to share with you.

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