Pensioners urged to avoid poverty trap

Pensioners in East Anglia are needlessly caught in the poverty trap after failing to claim their share of billions of pounds of benefits after a report warned that millions across the country were missing out.

Pensioners in East Anglia are needlessly caught in the poverty trap after failing to claim their share of billions of pounds of benefits.

Last night, Age Concern Norfolk stressed how important it was that pensioners check their eligibility for the cash, after revealing they had helped a 64-year-old man struggling to survive on £25 a week from a personal pension and handouts from his family overseas because he was unaware that he could claim any government support.

With the charity's help, he boosted his income by £119 a week and received more than £5,000 in unclaimed benefits.

In Norfolk, 55,120 people claimed pension credit last year, but there are fears that thousands more are missing out.

In the past two years, Age Concern's outreach workers made 1,882 home visits to help older people see if someone was entitled to extra benefits.

Of those, 1,447 people received extra help - with 588 getting pension credit for the first time or an increase in their current amounts.

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Rex Humphrey, Age Concern's chief executive, said it was vital that people were aware of their entitlements.

"We know there is a poor take-up on pension credit. Substantial numbers of people do not understand that they are able to claim pension credit," he said. "We would urge people to take the benefit."

Pension Credit is an entitlement for people aged 60 and over which tops up weekly income to a guaranteed minimum level.

Currently single people can claim £119.05 and couples £181.70.

Last year the DWP and Norfolk County Council launched a pioneering partnership to help direct people to the right benefits.

But the Commons public accounts committee said that the department for work and pensions (DWP) had failed to meet its target to pay the credit - introduced by Mr Brown in 2003 - to 3m households by 2006.

It was estimated that in 2004-05 up to 1.6m people are losing out on chancellor Gordon Brown's pension credits, even though they are entitled to the money - leaving between £1.5 and £2.1bn lying unclaimed in the Treasury's coffers.

The committee said that take up rates were lowest in rural areas and more affluent areas and among older pensioners and those from ethnic minorities.

Committee chairman Edward Leigh said that with many pensioners facing real financial hardship, the DWP needed to do more to encourage people to claim the money they were entitled to.

"Billions of pounds are still lying unclaimed in the Treasury. A far better place for them would be in pensioners' pockets," he said. "The truth is that the department's approaches to encourage take-up of benefits are suffering from the law of diminishing returns.

"Many pensioners suffer from privation and new and imaginative thinking is needed to encourage them to claim the benefits which can make a big difference to their quality of life.'

Andrew Marzolini, pension service local service manager for Norfolk said the partnership was helping to tackle the issue.

"We have seen an increase in the number of referrals coming through from the local authority to the Pension Service local service team in Norfolk," he said. "We remain determined to offer the help and support that is needed to ensure that pensioners take up the benefits they are entitled to".

A DWP spokesman welcomed the report's findings and said it indicated that "considerable progress" had been made on take up.

"Tackling pensioner poverty has been our first priority," he said. "Since 1996/97 more than two million pensioners have been lifted out of absolute poverty, and more than one million out of relative poverty.

"As the committee recognises, Pension Credit is easier to claim and is benefiting one million more pensioners than its predecessor, the Minimum Income Guarantee.

"However, we are not complacent and will continue to try to reach those who currently aren't claiming their entitlement. We will consider PAC's recommendations carefully and provide a full response in due course."

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