Tackle pensioner poverty, urge MPs

30 Jul 09
Councils and central government need to do more to alleviate pensioner poverty, according to the work and pensions select committee
By Alex Klaushofer

30 July 2009
Councils and central government need to do more to alleviate pensioner poverty, according to the work and pensions select committee.

Tackling pension poverty, published on July 30, argued that the Department for Work and Pensions should do more to encourage elderly people to claim pension credits they are entitled to. Local authorities could also take action to increase the take-up of housing and council tax benefit, the report said.

The committee said it was ‘unacceptable’ that 2 million pensioners were still poor, and 1.1 million lived on or below half the median income.
‘Local authorities need to work much more closely with the Pension, Disability and Carers Service to ensure that information on people who may be eligible for pension credit, housing benefit and council tax benefit is… exchanged in both directions.

‘This is not done at present and we recommend that this be trialled in some local authorities and, if successful, rolled out nationally,’ the report said.

The DWP should set targets to encourage councils to increase benefit take-up, the MPs recommended.

Committee chair Terry Rooney said: ‘The government needs to develop new and innovative programmes to lift pensioners out of poverty. Take-up of pension credit has plateaued while take-up of housing and council tax benefit is falling. The PDCS also needs to work more closely with local councils to ensure those claiming housing or council tax benefit are also claiming pension credit.’

David Maddison, policy consultant for the Local Government Association, said: ‘There is a lot being done already – you can always do more. There are some very good authorities who are doing some very innovative things. The message that we’ve learnt is that you have to be proactive.’

Automatic payments, now being piloted, could be one answer, the committee said.

The charity Age Concern & Help the Aged, which has been working with the DWP on developing the pilots, said it would welcome a move to automatic payments.

‘Ideally, we would like to see means-tested benefits paid automatically to those older people who are entitled to them. However, we understand the difficulties of moving to automatic payments where we have a system that sets out entitlements to financial help down to the last penny,’ said Michelle Mitchell, charity director.

Contacting people with an estimate of their entitlement and a request for further information could be one solution, she suggested.

Britain’s pensioners are the fourth poorest in Europe, lagging behind countries such as Romania, new European Union figures show.

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