Fuel payment means-testing 'double blow' for pensioners
Means-testing the Winter Fuel Payment would be a “double whammy”– threatening the lives of some of the poorest pensioners, community watchdogs have warned.
Their response came after former Care Services Minister Paul Burstow said the majority of pensioners should see their winter fuel allowance cut to help fund a reformed system of care for the elderly.
Pensioners’ forum founder Ken Lacey, 85, of Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, dubbed the proposal “appalling”– another threat to people already on limited incomes.
Mr Burstow, a Liberal Democrat MP, said targeting the allowance for all but the poorest of pensioners would help pay for a fairer system of state support for old age care. He said the move would help meet the cost of implementing the findings of the Dilnot Commission, which proposed capping the amount individuals have to pay for care during their lifetime.
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In a report by the Centre Forum think-tank, Mr Burstow suggested setting the cap at £60,000, higher than the £35,000 proposed by the Dilnot Commission, saving the taxpayer up to £1.5 billion a year.
But identifying who would qualify for a means-tested Winter Fuel Payment could be difficult. If receipt of Pension Credit was used as a test of need millions of vulnerable old folk could fall through the net.
That is because they do not claim, often through ignorance or a false sense of dignity. The Department for Work and Pensions’ own website states that it is estimated that in 2009-2010 the number of people entitled to claim Pension Credit but not doing so was between 1.21 million and 1.58 million. The total amount of Pension Credit unclaimed was between £1.94 billion and £2.80 billion.
Yesterday, Prime Minister David Cameron rejected Mr Burstow’s proposal, insisting he would stick to an election pledge not to cut state help for pensioners.
Michelle Mitchell, charity director general of Age UK said that implementing the Dilnot recommendations and introducing a lifetime cap on the amount any individual has to pay for their care and support “would lift one of the great fears of becoming older.”
But she added: “Despite 1.7 million pensioners living in poverty, around a third of those entitled to Pension Credit are not claiming it. Older people are more likely than any other group to miss out on benefits cash, because they don’t know that they are entitled, are worried about the complexity of the process or are embarrassed about claiming.”
She encouraged people to call Age UK Advice for free on 0800 169 6565 or arrange a benefits check via their local Age UK.
Mr Lacey, a former North Somerset councillor said: “There are 26,000 old-age pensioners who die through cold-related illnesses each year and you have the situation of fuel prices going through the roof and people saying they cannot put their heating on because they are afraid of the bills.”