The pounds 1.7bn that's still going begging

Unclaimed benefits mean some older people are losing half their income, writes Nic Cicutti
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The Independent Culture
Hundreds of thousands of pensioners may be entitled to up to pounds 1.7bn in unclaimed benefits which could in some cases double the retirement income they receive, according to Age Concern, the campaign group. Pensioners are the biggest group missing out on state benefits - despite the poorest 20 per cent of single older people living on an average of just pounds 68.40 a week.

Government research shows that pensioners often do not claim for the many state benefits they are entitled to, including income support, housing benefit and council tax benefit.

Research from Age Concern also shows that up to 60 per cent of disabled pensioners are failing to claim for attendance allowance worth either pounds 51.30 or pounds 34.30 a week, depending on the severity of their condition, which could make a significant difference to their overall earnings.

Age Concern gives the example of a severely disabled 70-year-old pensioner, living on a weekly income of pounds 70.45, consisting of pounds 64.70 in state pension plus pounds 5.75 income support. This person might be entitled to an extra pounds 96.90 a week - made up of pounds 51.30 a week attendance allowance and pounds 45.70 extra income support, which includes severe disability premium. Some 69 per cent of pensioners rely on state benefits for at least half their income and 48 per cent receive at least three-quarters of their income from state benefits.

The poorest 20 per cent of single pensioners had a net yearly income of pounds 3,557 in 1995-96, a fifth of average earnings in the general population at the time.

Age Concern believes pensioners do not claim benefits for a variety of reasons, including confusion at the potentially complicated procedures for applying, a feeling that a stigma may be attached to claiming, and a lack of awareness as to eligibility.

Age Concern has published a new issue of Your Rights 1988-89, the guide to all available benefits and how to claim them. The 152-page guide, costing pounds 3.99, is available from local Age Concern groups and bookshops, or by calling freephone number 0800 009966 between 7am and 7pm from this Friday (3 April) to 9 April.