Two Devon charities are joining forces to inform people about an upcoming change in the benefits system that could see mixed-age older couples (one who is over state pension age and one who is under state pension age) worse off as a result of new Universal Credit rules – unless they are able to make new Pension Credit claims before 15th May 2019.
Citizens Advice Devon and Devon Communities Together are warning that from 15th May 2019, couples will not be entitled to make a new claim for Pension Credit unless they have both reached pension age. Currently, these ‘mixed-age’ couples can choose whether to claim Universal Credit or Pension Credit but this choice will soon stop. As the basic rates of Pension Credit are more than twice the basic rates of Universal Credit, it’s much better to claim Pension credit if you can, which is why Citizens Advice Devon is running a training course on Benefits for Older People in Exeter on 29th March. The course is designed to help organisations that work with older people to understand the changes and advise their clients on the best possible routes to take over the coming months.
Vincent Willson, trainer for Citizens Advice Devon and Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Teignbridge, said: “There is growing evidence that the increase in state pension age is causing increasing financial hardship to older working age claimants.
“From 15th May a whole new category of claimant will be introduced to the Universal Credit regime and will also be affected by issues like the ‘bedroom tax’. As this group is likely to consist of older claimants there is a strong likelihood that this cohort will be quite vulnerable, encompassing claimants with relatively high levels of disability and caring commitments. This may make it difficult for them to adjust to the requirements of Universal Credit, like being available for work. Furthermore, evidence shows that older claimants are more likely to be digitally excluded than younger claimants, which may make it more difficult for this group to make and maintain their Universal Credit claim, which must be done online.
“ ‘Mixed-age’ couples already in receipt of Pension Credit or pension age Housing Benefit will be protected from this change. As both these benefits are currently underclaimed it is important that clients who may be adversely affected by these changes make a claim for housing benefit or pension credit before this change is introduced in May.”
Members of the Devon Senior Voice network were briefed about the upcoming changes at a recent Strategy Group meeting and expressed concern about what it could mean for many older people in Devon.
Dr Louise MacAllister, Project Manager at Devon Communities Together, which supports the Devon Senior Voice network, commented: “Members of the Devon Communities Together Senior Voice network expressed dismay in hearing about the changes to pension credits in a recent meeting. They shared concerns about many couples with age gaps who could really struggle financially in the wake of these changes. In particular, members felt that this is an age group who have already faced unexpected changes to their pension with the rise in retirement age for women, and that for couples this could represent a double burden of unexpected change to their finances upon retirement.”
Ken Crawford, a member of the Devon Senior Voice Strategy Group added: “This is yet another barrier to pensioners claiming all their benefit entitlement. Already the DWP acknowledges that 40% of Pension Credit and other benefits are unclaimed each year totalling ‘£12 billion country wide, with £180 million unclaimed in Devon’.”
The Benefits for Older People course is being delivered by Citizens Advice Devon in partnership with Devon Communities Together’s Devon Community Learning Academy on 29th March 2019 from 10:00-16:00 in Exeter. It is open to any individual or organisation that wishes to understand more about the changes to the benefits system and how they can support older people through them. Full booking details may be found online at www.eventbrite.co.uk. Bookings may also be made by calling 01392 248919 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.