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Benefits system costing pensioners

PUBLISHED: 09:15 11 February 2009 | UPDATED: 12:59 03 July 2010

PENSIONERS are missing out on up to £200 a week each in benefits because of an inadequate claims system, a Norfolk charity said yesterday.

Age Concern Norfolk said lack of government help in ensuring older people get their entitlement through a complex benefits process means hundreds are missing out.

PENSIONERS are missing out on up to £200 a week each in benefits because of an inadequate claims system, a Norfolk charity said yesterday.

Age Concern Norfolk said lack of government help in ensuring older people get their entitlement through a complex benefits process means hundreds are missing out.

The revelation came as national organisation Help the Aged said pensioners across the UK are failing to claim up to £5bn of benefits they are entitled to every year.

Help the Aged said £14m that would help elderly people was being left unclaimed every day, despite the fact that one in five pensioners lives in poverty.

Lin Mathews, advice and advocacy team leader for Age Concern Norfolk confirmed the picture is reflected locally and said clearer guidelines and a more pro-active stance by government to help pensioners get their entitlement was the solution.

She said, for example, many older people think “underlying entitlements” such as attendance allowance, housing benefit and council tax benefit, are automatically included in pensions. But such benefits, amounting to up to £200 a week, have to be claimed for separately.

Ms Mathews pointed out that carers allowance in particular is complicated because of a rule which says it can not be given as a separate benefit at the same time as a pension but it is effectively paid to successful older claimants via extra pension credits.

She said the lack of help from government officials in ensuring pensioners get what they are entitled to meant the charity was over-whelmed by cases and now has a 31-day queue.

“The government has the information they need to make sure people are claiming what they should be claiming yet it is left to organisations like us to sort it out.”

Help the Aged is calling on the government to automatically pay benefits to those who are entitled to them, rather than forcing people to go through the “convoluted claims process”.

It said nationally 80pc of older people thought the government should pay their benefits to them without them having to submit a claim. Nearly half are missing out on council tax benefit and pension credit.

Each year up to £1.51bn in council tax benefit and £770m in housing benefit goes unclaimed, with people also missing out on £2.81bn of pension credit.

Louise Ward-Bergeman, policy officer for Help the Aged, said: “The government has a moral duty to ensure older people receive their benefits but until automatic payments are introduced, older people also need to take action. We would urge all older people to find out if they are entitled to benefits.''

Pensions minister Rosie Winterton said: “I've been out and about to encourage people to make that call and the Pension Service also makes about 13,000 face-to-face visits a week to people who may need that extra help making their claim.”

Age Concern Norfolk is on 01603 787111. The Pension Service advice hotline is on 0800 991234.

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