Old folk set for happy new year

SHAUN LOWTHORPE Thousands of pensioners could be in line for a new year income boost thanks to a pioneering new partnership between central and local government.

SHAUN LOWTHORPE

Thousands of pensioners could be in line for a new year income boost thanks to a pioneering new partnership between central and local government.

Norfolk County Council has teamed up with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) Pension Service to help the elderly get the benefits they are entitled to in a scheme aimed at boosting living standards.

The move comes as proposals for a new Older People's Partnership are pushed forward in Norfolk to give older people a greater voice in the shaping and delivery of public services.

Nationally, government figures show that a staggering £4.1bn is failing to reach the pockets of pensioners each year, including hundreds of thousands of pounds in Norfolk.

As part of the “fair access to benefits” scheme, teams of council staff will be trained to carry out benefit assessments on behalf of the DWP, whose employees will also learn how to advise the elderly on the types of care services they can access. They will work as part of a joint team.

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While there could be a cut in red tape and form-filling paperwork for pensioners if they agree to allow the two teams to share information.

A pilot scheme began in the east of the county last month and the initiative is now set to be rolled out across the rest of Norfolk by next June.

Supporters believe that pointing pensioners in the right direction will also save council taxpayers £400,000 a year and could uncover examples of older people paying for council services they should not be, or facing charges which could be

offset by their benefit payments.

Chris Mowle, the council's cabinet member for adult social care, said the new scheme would have far-reaching advantages.

“It's a win-win,” he said. “It's a rare common sense thing that's come from the government. They are trying to maximise the income elderly people get, and we are trying to do that as well.

“It's putting more income into people's pockets. The service user gains and we do. And the more people we have claiming their benefits, the higher the grant we receive. We are talking about a saving of £400,000. That's not to be sniffed at. People will be getting better advice on the benefits they could be claiming and at the same time it could mean more income for adult social services so that we can help more people in different ways.”

Philip Yull, from the Pension Service said: “We are working towards a joint team which will provide a welcome service to older people and ensure our customers can access information on benefits and services through visits. This will make it easier for our customers and provide them with a single point of contact for all of their benefit and services enquiries.”

Rex Humphrey, chief executive of Age Concern Norfolk, welcomed the initiative but urged pensioners to take up advice already on offer.

“There's a major failure of people to claim benefits they are entitled to,” he said.

“There is serious under-claiming. We are talking hundreds of thousands of pounds. It's things like council tax benefit, attendance allowance, and pension credit, plus people who have previously been turned down who may now be entitled.

“The idea is a good one but lots of people still need to know that they can come to Age Concern and others to get advice,” he added.

The exact structure of the new organisation is still to be worked out, but the aim is improve the co-ordination between different public bodies such as councils, social services and health.

“Age Concern is keen to see older people's issues have a stronger voice in the county and anything that raises the importance of older people's issues is worth supporting,” he said.