Life is getting tougher for pensioners, as their fixed incomes are stretched thinner than ever by rocketing food and fuel bills. However, at the same time, there's £5.5 billion in benefits waiting to be claimed by pensioners.
So what is this money, and why isn't it being claimed?
The seriousness of the financial crisis facing pensioners must not be underestimated. New research from Age UK found that 56% are worried about affording the absolute basics of feeding themselves and paying for heating. A fifth had to cut back on heating this winter, while a fifth are buying cheaper food. It's a growing crisis, which means that 1.7 million pensioners are now living in poverty.
However, at the same time as pensioners struggle, there are billions of pounds which should be lining their pockets, which are lying unclaimed at the Treasury.
What is this money?The bulk of the money is pension credit - which makes up £2.8 billion. According to Age UK, around 38% of all those who are entitled to pension credit do not claim it - that's around 1.58 million people. The credit will top up your income to £145,40 a week, and the average amount being missed is £1,092 per person per year.
And finally there's Council Tax, of which £1.69 billion goes unclaimed every year. Age UK estimates that 46% of those who would be entitled to it don't claim it - which works out as 2.23 million people. The average person is missing out on £728 a year.
Why?There are several reasons why this money is not claimed. Some people don't know they are entitled to it. Others don't know how to apply. Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said: "A lot of people simply don't know about the help that's out there. Others are put off because the system can seem very daunting. Some think the amount they get will not be worth the trouble. But all too often they are missing out on substantial amounts of extra cash that could make a real difference to their lives."
What can be done?Age UK has a benefits calculator which works out what you are entitled to, and is a great place to start.
You can also get help in person - not just assessing what you are entitled to, but claiming for it as well. Charities like Age UK and Step Change have teams of experts trained to help you apply for benefits and complete all the paperwork properly. Alternatively you can ask for help at your local Citizen's Advice Bureau.
Meanwhile, some people will not claim benefits through a sense of pride. People are perfectly entitled to take any kind of stand they like. But given that so many of them have paid so much in tax over the years, and taken so little out of the system, surely they deserve some help with basic necessities as they get older.
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