More than £5million could have been missed out on last winter by people in later life who are eligible for the Warm Home Discount scheme, according to analysis by Independent Age.
The charity has found that more than 38,000 older people across Wales potentially missed out on a £140 discount on their energy bills, because they are eligible for, but not receiving the Guaranteed Credit element of Pension Credit.
These figures are an indication of the wider problem with Pension Credit uptake, which has not risen above 64% for around a decade – the worst uptake of any income-related benefit.
Across Pension Credit as a whole, which is a reserved benefit administered by the Westminster government, the charity estimates up to 1 million people in the UK are missing out on support they are entitled to.
The charity has been calling on the UK government to create an action plan to increase uptake since July 2019, and says it is now more urgent than ever.
Deborah Alsina MBE, Chief Executive of Independent Age, said:
“Sadly these Warm Home Discount figures are another example of how much people in Wales are missing out on life-changing entitlements because they are simply not aware of how Pension Credit can help them.
“In the depths of a cold winter, a well heated home is vital to good health, especially when people are having to spend more time at home due to the pandemic.
“We hear all too often from people in later life who have to choose between eating and heating their homes. If more people were aware of Pension Credit, it has the potential to help them afford the basics in life again.”
Previous research commissioned by Independent Age found that maximising Pension Credit uptake could lift roughly 3 in 10 pensioners out of poverty and reduce the number living in severe poverty by half across Britain.
The £140 Warm Home Discount is just one of the many benefits that Pension Credit can open up entitlement to. It also acts as a gateway to a free TV licence, free NHS prescriptions, council tax support, free eye tests and many others.
Combined, this could be worth around £7,0002 per year for an individual.
Anisah, 86, has seen a positive impact on her life since receiving Pension Credit.
“I officially retired as a nurse at the age of 56 because I had health problems. I really don’t know why I got a lower pension, but life was very hard. I bought the cheapest of whatever was available. Instead of putting on the heating, I’d put more clothes on so I could have another cup of tea or something to eat.
“Pension Credit really changed my life for the better. It meant I could eat better food, be healthier and I could be warmer. I got other benefits too, like help with my glasses and dental treatment. I started to live again. I expect there are many people today who don’t know about Pension Credit. The government needs to tell us oldies what is available and what they are prepared to do for us.”
In December 2020, the UK government worked with energy suppliers to automatically apply the Warm Home Discount to energy bills for those already in receipt of the Guaranteed Element of Pension Credit3, calling it a ‘Winter Windfall’.
While this was celebrated as a positive move by the UK government, the charity says this has only served to highlight the inequality for those not aware of the benefit.
Deborah Alsina continued:
“The injustice of Pension Credit not reaching those entitled to it has been an issue across multiple different Westminster governments – it cannot continue.
“The UK government must urgently create an action plan that includes awareness campaigns, a full communications strategy, and new, high quality, up-to-date research into who is not claiming Pension Credit and why.
“By working together to identify and overcome any barriers, we are confident we can improve uptake and ultimately, improve the lives of the up to 1 million people in later life who are facing unnecessary financial struggles.”