SDLP Communities Spokesperson Mark H Durkan has reiterated calls for a dedicated pensioner outreach service to ensure they are receiving all the benefits they are entitled to.
Mr Durkan was speaking after experimental statistics on the uptake of Pension Credit released by the Department for Communities showed that as of October 2020, there were 30,900 potentially entitled pensioner households missing out on the payment.
In total, that accounts to an estimated £1.2 million per week being lost in unclaimed benefits for those of pension age.
Foyle MLA Mr Durkan commented:
“It is deeply concerning that millions of pounds worth of unclaimed Pension Credit is being lost on a weekly basis across the North. The older demographic are among the most vulnerable and likely to suffer as a result of the cost of living crisis and it’s frustrating that almost 31,000 households here, the majority of whom are pensioner couples, are missing out on vital money to which they are entitled.
“I’ve appealed to the Communities Minister, Deirdre Hargey to establish a specific outreach provision to improve the uptake of benefits among those of pensionable age. These figures are testament to the clear need for such a service. Another cause for concern is the significant decrease in the number of Pension Credit claimants from 77,030 in February 2017 to 61,490 in February 2022. While I appreciate there are a number of factors which could result in the reduction of claims, this evidently requires further analysis.
“I eagerly await the findings from the department's report on barriers to Pension Credit uptake due in the Autumn and hope on the basis of those updated findings, options can be explored for example; the establishment of a pension benefits taskforce.
“While I welcome there has been some movement with regards support for pensioners including the additional £300 heating payment and the recently announced inflation based increase in state pension, this piecemeal approach will have little impact. These families cannot afford to wait for welfare payments to play catch up with the soaring cost of living. Intervention is needed now.
“For too long pensioners have been treated with flagrant disregard by government, left without the support and dignity they deserve to enjoy their golden years in relative comfort. They should not be facing a battle to keep their homes warm and food on the table. The government has a responsibility to do everything in their power to make sure older people are not missing out on vital additional income and are receiving their full entitlements. I would encourage anyone who needs any assistance making a claim to contact their local SDLP MLA constituency office for further assistance.”