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The Department of Work and Pensions has put back harsh plans to change the rules for new claimants for pension credit from next June to sometime next year.
The decision not to implement savings that could lead to tens of thousands of elderly people having to live on half the money paid out by pensioner credit is not motivated by a change of heart on a heartless measure.
It is because of incompetence and failure by the ministry itself to roll out another major benefit called universal credit – which replaces a whole series of benefits – on time. This was supposed to be nationwide by June this year. But the civil servants who planned it failed in their job – despite collecting bonuses worth £20,000 on top of six figure salaries for introducing the new benefit. You can read all about it in my blog last year here.
So now instead the benefit will not be rolled out across the country until the end of December 2018. The proposed timetable is here– and you can see which local area changes when.
Of course the department has not announced the delay to the new pension credit cuts until I contacted them to check the date. Rather like they forgot tell 3.9 million women pensioners about the rise in the pension age until some 14 years later.
A spokesman told me:
“The timetable for the introduction of any policy changes will be determined by the roll out of universal credit – this change will not now be implemented this year.”
The measure as I reported earlier is particularly harsh if there is a big age difference between pensioner couples – with one say years younger than the other.
Previously the law said when the oldest person in a relationship reached pension age they qualified for pension credit. Now it is being changed to the youngest person in the relationship reaching pension age. This means if there were a 10 year difference – the oldest person could get no pension credit payment until they were 76 – ten years after the raised retirement age. On person has told me of a 17 year difference – meaning one of them would wait until they were 83.
What is as shocking is the department’s disclosure to me on how the new system is planning to work. When it comes in they are proposing both people in a couple apply for universal credit when there is an age difference between the two- and only one is over 65. The change is devastating.
If you are on pension credit these are the rates (per week) for 2017 – 18 and the proposed rate for 2018-19
Standard minimum guarantee
single £159.35 rising to £163.00
couple £243.25 rising to £248.80
Additional amount for severe disability
single £62.45 rising to£64.30
couple (one qualifies) £62.45 rising to £64.30
couple (both qualify) £124.90 rising to £28.60
But when you switch to Universal Credit these are the rates for 2018-19 per month:
|Single claimant 25 and over||£317.82|
|Joint claimants, either/both 25 and over||£498.89|
This means a couple instead of receiving £995.20 for 4 weeks would see their income halved to £498.89 a month until both of them were over, by then, 66.
Furthermore the younger person in the marriage will be subject to benefit sanctions if they fail to continually seek work. This would cut their benefit compared to pension credit by two thirds to just £313.82 a month.
Notice there are no new rates for universal credit for 2018-19 as the benefit is frozen unlike pensioner credit which rises in line with pensions. This in theory could mean the people deprived of pension credit could be forced to live on a frozen benefit for years and see their living standards fall every year.
The DWP is being generous enough to say they would not force a person over 65 to seek work and sanction them if they don’t succeed. Presumably even Mr Opperman, the pensions minister, would not want to be seen trying to force a 77 year old into a job while he or she waits for pension credit.
Frankly this is an appalling situation and I hope Backto60 people take this up as well as demanding their pension and try and put pressure on MPs to tell the government not to go ahead next year. This is a real and sustained attack on the poorest pensioners in the country and ministers should be ashamed of thinking of implementing it.