An East London advice and advocacy service which supports pensioners is sounding the alarm over the high levels of unclaimed benefit for pensioners in the borough.
A June campaign by Independent Age showed that the government has sat on an unclaimed £7bn in unclaimed pension credit payments since 2017.
This amounts to an average of £49 per week nationally, which is just under the weekly average spend on food and non-alcoholic drink for the poorest fifth of pensioner couples.
Now Age UK East London (AUKEL) has pointed to figures showing that 6,427 people are entitled to the benefit but do not claim it, amounting to a whopping unclaimed sum of £26,831,727
AUKEL’s Adam Pervoe said: “Did I miss the questions in the House about it? And why is nothing being done to publicise pension credit and to ensure that every single pensioner and pension-age couple know about this entitlement and are encouraged to apply?
“The ONS figures for the boroughs we serve shame us as a country. The Department for Work & Pensions and HMRC must know the amount of households and individuals at risk of falling below the minimum single pension guarantee of £167.25 and £255.25 for a couple.
“Our help has been hindered by the huge cuts to local authority grants and the fragility of the voluntary sector in general.
“This issue needs to be raised in Parliament, and something urgently done to right this appalling wrong and to ensure that no pensioner, in London and beyond who is entitled to this benefit goes without.”
Pension credit is means-tested, and tops up single people’s weekly income if it’s below £167.25, or £255.25 (for couples). It can also provide an extra payment for people who saved money towards their retirement.
It also opens the way to other benefits, including housing benefit, free NHS dental treatment, help with council tax, fuel bills and meeting the costs of a partner’s funeral.
Dr Cynthia White, chair of the City & Hackney Older People’s Reference Group said: “We share Age UK East London’s alarm and concern. The first urgent step is to identify those not claiming Pension Credit and to use any and every available person or service to contact and assist non-claimants to apply for this life-saving benefit.
“The second urgent step is a DWP publicity campaign to raise awareness not just of pensioners themselves but the public and health and care professionals in general.
“Without informed targeted intervention, these invisible citizens, often living alone in penury, with multiple health problems and declining faculties, may lie undiscovered until the worst happens and they arrive at A&E, too often malnourished, facing life’s end. Are we happy to live with that?”
The Town Hall is now understood to have completed the first round of a project identifying, contacting and offering support to eligible Hackney households.
This first round has focused on couples where only one partner is of retirement age.
Cllr Rebecca Rennison (Lab, Kings Park), cabinet member for finance and housing needs), said: “We recognise and value the role independent advice organisations play in supporting residents in realising their rights.
“That’s why we have protected our advice grant budget from cuts and why we are working proactively with the advice sector to respond to the increasingly challenging environment.
“The funding for Hackney’s advice sector remains the same as in previous years and is approximately £770k.
“A further £110k is also available to support the advice sector based in GP surgeries and Age UK is in receipt of over £100k of this budget.
“The council has also protected its wider voluntary sector grants programme of £2.6m and its other forms of support such as rate relief and voluntary sector property.”