Jackie Baillie is calling on all pensioners living on a low income with a partner of working age to urgently check their eligibility for Pension Credit[i] and Housing Benefit[ii] and put in a claim before the Government changes the rules on 15th May.[iii]
The UK Government’s changes, sneaked out during the first ‘meaningful vote’ on Brexit in January, will see the right to claim Pension Credit and Housing Benefit – important tools in the fight against pensioner poverty – withdrawn from future claimants who happen to have a partner who hasn’t yet reached their own pensionable age.
This move will have severe financial consequences for all those affected. Jackie Baillie MSP is warning that this could have a devastating impact on some of the areas poorest older residents.
Jackie Baillie MSP is urging anyone who may be entitled to claim benefits to call the Age Scotland helpline on 0800 12 44 222 for a free benefit and entitlement check before 15th May.
Age Scotland is warning that by slashing the entitlement of couples needing to claim support in the future by as much as £7,000 a year,[iv] the new policy will place some pensioners in the absurd position of being financially better off if they split up and live apart from their younger partner. This is because once the change is implemented, the older partner could be eligible for significantly more money by claiming Pension Credit as a single person than if the pair of them claim Universal Credit as a couple.
Although in theory this change will not impact on existing claimants the Charity is warning that if a so-called ‘mixed-age couple’ temporarily loses their eligibility for these benefits because of a change in their personal or financial circumstances, they will be unable to regain it and will be thrown back onto the Universal Credit regime, the problems of which are well documented.
Jackie Baillie said:
“I urge pensioners in my constituency who are living on a low income with a partner of working age to urgently check their eligibility for Pension Credit and Housing Benefit and put in a claim before the Government changes the rules on 15th May. These changes could have a devastating effect on thousands of couples and as Age Scotland rightly points out, some couples could be over £7000 worse off.
This is a huge amount of money and I would hate to see any of my constituents affected in such a way. This is a heartless policy change by the Tory government in Westminster which will hit the poorest in our local community. My office is always open to anyone who would like help with checking their eligibility.”
Age Scotland’s Chief Executive Brian Sloan said:
“These changes will have a devastating impact on the lives of some of the poorest pensioners in Scotland. Around one in six pensioners living in Scotland are in poverty and this retrograde move will do nothing to improve this.
“Beyond the Pension Credit support, these mixed age couples could also miss out on a range of ‘passported benefits’ such as housing benefit, council tax reduction, cold weather payments, support for dental and eyecare costs, perhaps even the warm home discount. All in, this could mean that the loss of financial support for those on the lowest incomes could be well over £7000 a year. That is wholly unacceptable and the UK Government must change course.
“It is vital that older people ensure that they claim everything they are entitled to. The Age Scotland Helpline offers free benefit and entitlement checks and can support older people with pension credit claims. Call 0800 12 44 222 before the 15th May for information and advice about these changes.”
Over recent years the means-tested benefit systems for pensioners and people of working age have been growing further apart. Some of the main differences are:
• The amount you receive: The standard rate of Pension Credit guarantee is paid at a higher level than the standard rate of Universal Credit and this gap has widened. Over recent years Pension Credit guarantee has been uprated, at least in line with earnings, while working age benefit levels have been frozen or increases restricted.
• How any earnings are treated: For Pension Credit, usually just £5 a week (£10 for a couple) of earnings from work are ignored after which earnings reduce payments £1 for £1. Under Universal Credit, earnings reduce benefit by a 63% taper. So, for example, if earnings rise by £100 a month, benefit reduces by £63.
Notes to editors:
1. Many older people are missing out on the benefits they are entitled to. Nationally it is estimated that 50% OF couples entitled to Pension Credit are not receiving it. Among single pensioners, 37%) who should be receiving Pension Credit have not claimed. (Income-related benefits: estimates of take-up 2016/17), DWP published 2018).
2. Case study
Mixed-age couples – the impact of changes for a hypothetical couple
Peter, aged 70, draws a State Pension of £140 a week. His wife Jean, aged 62 gave up work five years ago to care for her father who has recently died. They own their home and have a few hundred pounds in savings. They receive Pension Credit to top up their joint income to £248.80 a week (the standard rate of Pension Credit for a couple rising to £255.25 from April 2019).
After the rules change….
Peter and Jean’s position will be protected if they are still receiving Pension Credit when any changes come in – as long as their circumstances stay the same.
However, a couple in this situation who need to claim benefits for the first time after 15 May 2019 would not be entitled to Pension Credit due to Jean’s age. Peter’s State Pension is too high for them to receive Universal Credit (currently £498.89 a month, around £115 a week, and not due to change in April 2019).
So, their total joint income will just be Peter’s State Pension (around £143.50 a week from April 2019). If Jean cannot find a job, which may be difficult given her age and time out of the labour market for caring, this will be their income for another 4 years until Jean reaches SPA at age 66. By this time Peter will be 74.
If Peter was single…..
However, if Peter was living on his own, because they separate, or Jean dies, he would be able to claim Pension Credit in which case his State Pension will be topped up to £163.00 a week (£167.25 from May 2019) – considerably more than the Universal Credit standard rate for a couple of about £115 a week.