About 850,000 households are believed to be missing out on vital Pension Credit support, at a time when the cost-of-living crisis is hitting people on low or fixed incomes particularly hard.
While more than 1.4 million pensioners are receiving Pension Credit, many are not claiming this extra financial help that can also be a gateway to other benefits.
An estimated £1.7 billion in the benefit is being left unclaimed, according to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which was holding its second annual Pension Credit “day of action” as part of an awareness-raising drive.
The DWP said it will be providing leaflets for local communities, while businesses can also spread the word to their customers.
State pension recipients will continue to receive reminders about Pension Credit in the post.
Pension Credit is designed to help with daily living costs for people over state pension age and on a low income.
It tops up a person’s income to a minimum of £182.60 per week for single pensioners and to £278.70 for couples.
It can be claimed by phone and online. An online Pension Credit calculator can help pensioners check if they are likely to be eligible and get an estimate of what they may receive.
People can go to gov.uk/pension-credit or call 0800 99 1234 for more information.
The campaign reminds people that even a small award can provide access to a wide range of other benefits – such as help with housing costs, council tax or heating bills. For those over 75, this includes continued entitlement to a free TV licence.
Minister for pensions Guy Opperman said: “We recognise the challenges some pensioners will be facing with the cost of living which is why promoting Pension Credit is a priority.
“We’re calling on everyone with retired family, friends and loved ones to check in with them and see if they can get this extra financial support, which could make a huge difference to people’s everyday lives.”
Martin Lewis, founder and chair of MoneySavingExpert.com, said: “Amidst the cost-of-living crisis, it’s a national tragedy that getting on for a million pensioners are missing out on a major income boost.
“My simple rule of thumb is if you (or someone you know) are aged 66 or older, and have total income of under roughly £200 a week, get online or call the Pension Credit claim line to see if you’re due a payment that can be as much as £3,300 a year.
“I’m not saying everyone will get it, but many will, and it only takes a few minutes to find out. So don’t stall, just call.
“And not only is this serious money, it’s also often a gateway entitlement that means you’re due a range of other support, such as council tax reductions, the £650 extra energy funding help, warm home discount, housing benefit, dental and optical treatments and, for the over-75s, a free TV licence.”
Rich Mackenzie, DWP visiting officer, said: “I would appeal to anyone who comes into contact with pensioners to ask how much they know about Pension Credit. It could be something that helps, and in the current financial climate, there’s no doubt that more people will experience hardship.”
Dame Clare Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Pension Credit can be a really important boost for older people who are struggling with a low income. Citizens Advice can help you to understand if you might be eligible and advise you on how to make a claim.”
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “Any older person on a low or modest income who is struggling with their bills or wants to find out more about extra income that might be available, can also contact Age UK for support to check their full entitlements and see if they’re one of the many who are missing out.
“People can call Age UK’s Advice Line on freephone 0800 169 65 65, contact their local Age UK office or visit www.ageuk.org.uk.”
Councillor Andrew Western, chair of the Local Government Association’s resources board, said: “Increasing Pension Credit uptake will definitely help and open up avenues to other benefits, such as council tax relief and should be part of a wider, longer-term approach to making sure everyone has a decent standard of living.”
Former pensions minister Sir Steve Webb, who is now a partner at consultants LCP (Lane Clark & Peacock), said: “Whilst awareness-raising campaigns are welcome, the best way to tackle non take-up at scale is for government to use the data it is already holding on older people and their incomes.
“Large numbers of pensioners are already ‘in the system’ and claim things like help with council tax or rent, but do not automatically get assessed for pension credit. If we are to tackle this problem at its root, we need to take systematic action and not just rely on one-off publicity blitzes, no matter how well intentioned.”