I was speaking to a man recently who is 70 and who doesn’t get the full basic state pension.
We began talking about the ways to maximise his income as he would be eligible and entitled to receive Pension Credit, which essentially tops up the state pension to the full basic amount.
It’s designed for the poorest pensioners and opens the door to a range of further entitlements to help lift them out of poverty and have a decent standard of living.
He then started telling me about his partner, who is 61 and works as a carer. He was very proud of the work she was doing.
“Ah,” I said. “Well, you had better get your claim in soon because if you don’t do it by 15 May you won’t be entitled to it until she reaches her state pension age.”
“How unfair,” he told me.
I absolutely agree. This change will have a devastating impact on the lives of some of the poorest pensioners living in Scotland. A sneaky move hitting the poorest hard.
Back in January, the UK Government announced changes to Pension Credit for couples of mixed age, where one is of pension age and the other of working age, on the same day as their first Brexit meaningful vote.
With a distracted media and House of Commons, this announcement would otherwise have gone unnoticed if not for a range of eagle-eyed charities, Age Scotland amongst them. To make matters worse, the UK Government were not able to identify how many people this would affect until a month later. It beggars belief that this was announced under the cover of darkness with no consideration of its impact.
This retrograde move will mean that thousands of the poorest pensioners in Scotland who have a younger partner could miss out on up to £7000 of pension credit support a year until they are both in receipt of the state pension.
Furthermore, these people will also miss out on extra entitlements such as housing benefit, council tax reduction, cold weather payment and support for dental and eyecare costs. They may not be entitled to the warm home discount either. That initial £7000 in support effectively doubles when you consider the value of the passported entitlements which would otherwise be out of reach.
Pension Credit is already an under claimed entitlement. Forty per cent of those eligible to claim it do not do so. In fact, claimant rates have actually fallen among those who are aged 75 and over.
There are a variety of reasons why people do not claim the benefits they are entitled to, such as lack of knowledge, stigma, incorrect assumptions about eligibility, inaccessibility of the application process, the stress of making a claim, and not knowing where to find advice and support to do so.
Around one in six pensioners living in Scotland are in poverty. The Scottish Government’s own figures quantify this at around 170,000 each year.
Our own research showed that many older people struggle with paying the bills with four in ten people over the age of 50 reporting that they feel financially squeezed or are struggling.
We believe this new policy will push more older people into poverty and have the unintended consequence that people would be better off living apart from the partner than together under the same roof. That is depressing and a scandal.
It is vital that as a country we do everything we can to lift people of all ages out of poverty and ensure that incomes are maximised. It is unacceptable that so many older people live below the poverty line with no clear way out.
The impact this has on their physical and mental health, among other things, is considerable and leads to lower life expectancy.
The Age Scotland Helpline offers free benefit and entitlement checks to older people in Scotland to help achieve this. Last year we helped to identify around £600,000 of extra money for those who called us and we are on course to exceed that this year.
In the first instance it is vital that we get everyone who is entitled to Pension Credit signed up before 15 May.
Secondly, the UK Government and members of parliament must move to reverse this decision by all means necessary before thousands of the poorest in our society are put into poverty as a result of their age and who they love.
If you need advice, Age Scotland’s free helpline is available on 0800 12 44 222.
Brian Sloan, chief executive, Age Scotland.