Post office cuts hit benefit take-up

SHAUN LOWTHORPE Cutbacks in rural services such as post offices, shops, and GP surgeries may be behind the failure of people to claim pension credit.


Cutbacks in rural services such as post offices, shops, and GP surgeries may be behind the failure of people to claim pension credit.

That is one of the conclusions of a new report highlighting how villagers do not claim the full amount of benefits they are entitled to.

Pension credit is an entitlement for people aged 60 or over living in Great Britain. Pension credit guarantees everyone aged 60 and over an income of at least £119.05 a week for someone who is single or £181.70 for somebody with a partner.

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In Norfolk the county council has already teamed up with the Department for Work and Pensions to improve take up.

But a report by the Commission for Rural Communities (CRC) estimates that nationally 250,000 pensioners in rural areas are failing to claim the amount pension credit they are entitled to.

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Part of the problem could be that villages increasingly lack a support network where they can learn about what help is available, the report said, though more research was needed to pinpoint exactly why fewer country dwellers claimed.

It said that there were three possible explanations for the lower take up, isolation reinforced by the decline in rural services, a greater sense of independence, among villagers, and an unwillingness to rely on state hand outs.

Take up is lower in rural areas with 42pc of eligible pensioners classed as non-recipients of pension credit compared with 35pc in urban areas.

In villages and hamlets and isolated dwellings the difference is even more pronounced with 54pc of eligible pensioners categorised as non-recipients of pension credit.

Graham Russell Director of Practice at the Commission for Rural Communities said: “The situation with pensioners living in hamlets and isolated dwellings being much less likely to claim their entitlement to pension credit is extremely concerning, especially as the rural population is ageing faster than the urban population. Because of where they live pensioners in rural areas can be more isolated from sources of information and advice. Also our research shows that they tend to be more independent or more anxious about any stigma associated with receiving pension credit.”

Increased take-up of benefits could reduce pensioner poverty dramatically, since the additional spending would, by definition, go almost exclusively to the poorest pensioners. Pensioners are entitled to claim this allowance; it is imperative that no one who is in genuine need misses out, no matter where they live.”

Anna Pearson from Help the Aged said: “It is very worrying that in many rural areas, particularly those areas which are most isolated, that a high proportion of pensioners are missing out on benefits that they are entitled to.

“Help the Aged believes that it is vital that the Government provides funding for face-to-face benefits advice projects in rural areas to increase take-up. In addition, urgent attention needs to be given to introducing a system of paying benefits to people automatically. This would avoid the problem of physically finding entitled pensioners.”

The findings are part of ongoing work by the CRC to tackle specific aspects of rural disadvantage.

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