Memorandum submitted by the National Pensioners
Convention (PC 08)
1. The Pension Credit: an old idea revived
The main change proposed is a system of disregardsthe
'savings credit'. Disregards were important in the past but their
value was not maintained.
We welcome the decision to retain the capital
disregard but propose that the assumed rate of interest on capital
above that level should be reduced to 5.2%.
2. Needless confusion
Presenting the `savings credit' as a separate
benefit makes the proposals needlessly complicated. We propose
a major simplification of the Bill.
3. The role of the credit in the Government's
The Pension Credit represents a further massive
increase in means-testing.
4. Uprating the Pension Credit
To limit the cost, the Government may reduce
the 60% `reward' or raise the savings credit threshold above the
Basic Pension. Instead, both the Basic Pension and the savings
credit threshold should be raised in line with earnings.
5. Incentives to save
Once in operation, the credit may be perceived
as a 40% tax. Financial advisers and pension providers will have
a duty to inform people of its effects. On balance, the effect
on incentives to save is likely to be negative.
6. Making the right decisions about pension
Retirement incomes are already subject to uncertainties
about the uprating of the Basic Pension, the conversion of the
State Second Pension into a flat-rate scheme and the value of
money-purchase pensions. To these uncertainties must now be added
the uprating of the Pension Credit. Planning for retirement will
be even more hazardous and many will decide to spend their money
7. The impact of the Pension Credit on pensioner
For the 1.2 million pensioners gaining from
improvements to the minimum guarantee, the Credit will undoubtedly
reduce poverty, though a straight increase in the MIG would do
so more effectively. Of those above the MIG, many are poor, but
they would benefit fully from an increase in the Basic Pension.
Most beneficiaries will be women but, as their
occupational pensions are smaller than men's, they will benefit
less. Women aged 60-64 should not be excluded.
There should be a separate earnings disregard,
sufficient to allow at least half a day's work per week without
loss of benefit.
8. Likely levels of take-up
Despite the measures proposed to improve take-up,
with more than twice as many pensioners qualifying, the number
of non-claimants is likely to increase.
The Pension Credit is an attempt to counteract
the disincentive effect of meanstesting on saving for retirement.
While there is a case for increasing disregards, we would prefer
measures to raise pensioners' incomes above the level at which
means-tested supplements are necessary.
1. The Pension Credit: an old idea revived
1.1 From 2003, Income Support for people
aged 60 or over, now known as the Minimum Income Guarantee (MIG)
will be given yet another new title: `Pension Credit'. For those
aged 65 and over, the change of name will be accompanied by an
important change in the method of calculation: a proportion of
certain types of income above a given level will be ignored in
assessing benefit entitlement. The White Paper (The Pension
Credit: the Government's proposals) describes this as `a fundamental
reform to the welfare systemfor the first time, saving
will be rewarded instead of being penalised.' In a similar vein,
Jeff Rooker, the then Pensions Minister, claimed in reply to a
Parliamentary Question on 5 March 2001: `It does not pay to save
in this country, and it never has since 1948. The Pension Credit
will reverse that.'
1.2 These claims are misleading. `Disregards'limited
amounts of income or capital which people are allowed to have
without any reduction in the means-tested payments made to themhave
a long history and were an important feature of the 1948 National
Assistance Regulations. Few of the National Assistance Board's
pensioner clients had substantial amounts of earnings, occupational
pension or capital but, for those who did, the 1948 disregards
were by today's standards surprisingly generous. The minimum income
received by a single pensioner householder from the NAB in 1948
was 24s. a week; but up to 20s. of earnings and up to 10s.6d.
of superannuation payments (ie occupational pensions) were disregarded.
A pensioner receiving both part-time earnings and an occupational
pension could, therefore, have up to 30s.6d. of weekly income
from these sources in addition to the 24s. minimum.
1.3 Over the past half century, maintaining this
system of protection of income from occupational pensions and
other sources has not been seen as a priority. When benefits were
uprated, the disregards generally remained, at best, unchanged.
The occupational pension disregard, after various modifications,
was actually abolished in 1980, since when the receipt of an occupational
pension has resulted in a pound for pound reduction in Income
Support. The amount that pensioners can earn without loss of Income
Support is now ludicrously small: in the vast majority of cases
only £5 a week (or £10 of the combined earnings of a
couple). It is true that the capital disregard, raised to £6,000
in April 2001, now compares favourably with the £50 disregarded
under the 1948 regulations (raising the £50 limit in line
with the minimum income level would have resulted in a capital
disregard of £4,167 in 2003), and we welcome the Government's
decision to retain the disregard; but we note that, although the
rate of interest used to calculate the assumed income from savings
above the £6,000 limit is to be reduced in 2003 from 20.8%
p.a. to 10.4%, it will still be twice as high as in 1948. In our
response to the November 2000 consultation paper on the Pension
Credit, we suggested that the assumed rate of interest should
be 5.2% (£1 a week for each additional £1,000 of capital),
which would be much nearer to the real interest rate.
2. Needless confusion
2.1 The Pension Credit is, therefore, not
a radical innovation but a revival of a long-standing and relatively
simple feature of minimum income legislation: that certain amounts
of income and capital are disregarded, wholly or partially, in
the means test. Unfortunately, the Government has chosen to present
the proposed system of disregards not as an integral part of the
calculation of entitlement to Income Support, but as a separate
benefit: the `savings credit' payable as a `reward for savings'.
Whatever the presentational advantages of this approach may be,
it has the major drawback of making the proposals needlessly complicated
and confusing. Anyone who has made the attempt will know how difficult
it is to explain why (as shown in the tables in Annex A of the
White Paper) the savings credit for a single pensioner increases
by 60p for each £1 of income between £77 and £100
and reduces by 40p for every £1 of income over £100.
2.2 If Annex A is mystifying, clause 3 of
the State Pension Credit Bill, which sets out in 8 bewildering
subsections the way in which the savings credit is to be calculated,
is almost incomprehensible. Our attempt to understand it has led
us to conclude that, as drafted, it not only rewards pensions
and other income from savings (`qualifying income' as defined
by regulations under clause 3(6)) but also income above (but not
below) the MIG level derived from other sources, which does not
seem to be the Government's intention. Assuming that the intention
is to reward only `qualifying income', this result could be achieved
by deleting the whole of clause 3 and adding the following 2 subsections
to clause 2 which deals with the calculation of the `guarantee
(8A) For the purposes of this section,
if the claimant has attained the age of 65 or is a member of a
married or unmarried couple the other member of which has attained
that age, there shall be disregarded in the calculation or estimation
of the claimant's income a prescribed percentage of the amount,
if any, by which his qualifying income exceeds a prescribed amount
(the savings disregard threshold).
(8B) Regulations may make provision
as to income which is, and income which is not, to be treated
as qualifying income for the purposes of subsection (8A).
Since there would no longer be a separate
savings credit, the term `guarantee credit' could also be dropped.
There would simply be one benefit, the Pension Credit, which would
replace the MIG.
2.3 In suggesting this major simplification
of the Bill, we do not wish to imply that no other changes are
needed. We believe, however, that serious discussion of the merits
and defects of the Government's proposals would be greatly aided
if they were presented in a more straightforward way. We hope
that clause 3 will have been removed before the Bill reaches the
House of Commons.
<jf35>In the following sections of this submission,
we address most of the issues listed in the Committee's press
notice of 7 December 2001.
3. The role of the new Credit in the Government's
overall pensions strategy
3.1 The November 2001 White Paper, The
Pension Credit: the Government's proposals, presents the Pension
Credit as the third stage of the Government's pension reforms,
the first two stages being (1) the Minimum Income Guarantee (MIG)
and other measures to provide more money mainly for the poorest
pensioners and (2) `long term reforms that will help prevent poverty
from arising in the future', including the State Second Pension
and stakeholder pensions.
3.2 By relying on the MIG, rather than pensions,
as the main source of additional resources for today's pensioners,
the Government has accepted the inevitable consequence that means-testing
will play an increasing role, at least in the short term. Even
in the longer term, with the Basic State Pension normally rising
in line with prices while the MIG rises in line with earnings,
there are likely to be very large numbers of pensioners whose
incomes (including the State Second Pension and stakeholder pensions)
are around or below MIG level.
3.3 The attraction of means-testing, for
the Government, is that, even when the high costs of administration
are taken into account, it is much cheaper than across-the-board
increases in benefits. But means tests, especially when applied
to pensioners, have a number of drawbacks:
(1) They discourage people from
making their own provision for retirement - the more you save,
the less you get from the state.
(2) People who do save for their
retirement resent the fact that they are little better off than
those who do not.
(3) No Government has found an
effective long-term solution to the problem of low take-up of
means-tested benefits - not even the present Government, which
has carried out a massive take-up campaign for the MIG with disappointing
For these reasons, the National Pensioners Convention
has consistently called for improvements in state pensions, including
the restoration of the earnings link, in order to reduce dependence
on means-testing. The Pension Credit will provide welcome increases
in the incomes of those benefiting from it, but it also represents
a massive increase in the scope of means testing and, for the
reasons explained, we are not convinced that it will achieve its
fundamental aim, to mitigate the disincentive effects of the means
4. Uprating the Pension Credit
4.1 The Government's intentions regarding
the future shape and size of the Pension Credit are far from clear.
The White Paper confirms that the minimum income level (now known
as the MIG but renamed `standard minimum guarantee' in clause
2 of the Bill) will rise in line with earnings during this Parliament.
There is nothing in either the White Paper or the Bill to suggest
that this policy will be pursued beyond the end of this Parliament,
but it seems reasonable to assume that that is the present Government's
4.2 How the savings credit will be adjusted
in future years is much less clear. The White Paper says (on page
5): `The savings credit will give pensioners 60 pence for every
£1 of income they have from second pensions, savings and
so on above the level of the Basic State Pension up to a maximum.'
The implication, one might reasonably assume, is that the Basic
Pension level will remain the starting point for the credit, so
that if, for example, the pension were to rise from £77 a
week in 2003 to £80 in 2004, the savings credit would then
be a percentage of a pensioner's income over £80.
The Bill, however, leaves the `savings credit
threshold' to be prescribed, and subsequently amended, by regulations.
It could be either higher or lower than the Basic Pension.
4.3 Similarly, while it is clear that the
credit will initially be 60% of income from pensions and savings
above the threshold, the Bill simply refers to `a prescribed percentage'
and we cannot assume that the prescribed percentage will always
be 60%. Indeed, the November 2000 consultation paper referred
(on page 19) to `an initial rate of a 60p reward for every pound
of savings income', implying that the rate might change later.
4.4 These uncertainties are not simply a
matter of the Government leaving itself room for manoeuvre. The
fact is that, if the minimum guarantee rises in line with earnings
while the savings credit threshold remains tied to the Basic Pension
and rises in line with prices, the band of income on which the
credit is based will steadily widen; the value (and the cost)
of the credit will increase; and the level of income at which
the credit expires (initially £134.50 for a single person)
will rise faster than either prices or earnings, greatly increasing
the number of beneficiaries. The National Pensioners Convention's
response to the consultation paper gave an example of what might
happen within a few years:
When the scheme starts in 2003, the
maximum savings credit for a single pensioner will be £13.80
per week60% of income between the Basic Pension of £77
and the MIG rate of £100and the level of income at
which entitlement to the savings credit ceases will be £134.50.
Now suppose that between 2003 and 2010 the Basic Pension rises
by 20% in line with prices, to £92.40 a week, while the MIG
rises by 40% in line with earnings, to £140 a week. The maximum
savings credit, payable where original income is equal to the
MIG, will have risen from £13.80 in 2003-04 to £28.56
in 201011an increase of 107%. The level of income
up to which a single pensioner qualifies for the savings credit
will have risen from £134.50 in 200304 to £211.40an
increase of 57%. And this, in turn, means that still more pensioners
will qualify for the savings credit and will thus be subject to
a 40% tax on a steadily growing proportion of their total income.
(The Pension Credit, NPC, 2001, pp. 20-21)
4.5 It is most unlikely that the Government
intends the savings credit to expand in this way. Ways in which
it could be prevented include a gradual reduction in the 60p `reward'
or disconnecting the threshold from the Basic Pension so that
only part of the income above the level of the Basic Pension would
qualify for the credit. By far the simplest and most satisfactory
solution would be to raise both the Basic Pension and the savings
credit threshold in line with average earnings, so that the basic
shape and dimensions of the scheme would be preserved automatically
without the need for any other adjustment, but the Government
clearly does not intend to adopt that solution. Indeed, so far,
the Government has not even acknowledged that there is a problem.
We hope that the Select Committee will explore this crucial aspect
of the proposals in depth.
5. Incentives to save
5.1 We have already noted the disincentive
effect of means-testing on decisions about saving for retirement.
<jf35>Why save, people ask, if the result will
be a reduction in benefit entitlement? The Government has listened
to this argument, and to the complaints of those who have saved
but feel they are little or no better off as a result. The Pension
Credit attempts to solve the problem by offering a reward for
saving. `The more you save, the bigger your reward' is the sales
pitch. Unfortunately, the credit seems as likely to reduce the
incentive to save as to increase it.
5.2 To describe the credit as a reward for
saving is, as we have already suggested, both misleading and confusing.
It is true that when the scheme starts in 2003 some 5 million
pensioners will receive an additional weekly income which, in
a few cases, could be as much as £13.80. Even at that stage,
however, the reality for many of those concerned will be far removed
from the promise of a 60p reward for every pound of savings income.
To take two random examples from Annex A of the White Paper, a
single pensioner with income from savings or second pension of
£30 a week will get a savings credit of £11a
`reward' of only 37p in the pound; and the reward for a single
pensioner with £50 weekly income from savings or second pension
will be £3, or 6p in the pound. At the lower end of the income
scale there will be people who do not qualify for a full Basic
Pension and whose other income is, at most, only enough to bring
them up to the £77 threshold: they will get no reward at
all for their savings.
5.3 Once the scheme is in operation, the
term `reward' will become even less appropriate. A man retiring
at 65 in 2003-04 with only the Basic Pension will be entitled
to a Pension Credit of £23 to bring him up to the £100
minimum guarantee level. If he has an occupational pension of
£20, his Pension Credit will be £8 a week less£15
instead of £23. Thus, by saving for a 20 occupational pension,
he will have increased his total income by only £12 compared
with the man who saved nothing. It is true that, under the present
Income Support rules, he would not have gained a penny from his
occupational pension, so he will indeed be £12 a week better
off than if the Pension Credit had not been introduced. Nevertheless,
he is likely to feel that, as a result of the means test, his
occupational pension is subject to a 40% tax.
5.4 A 40% tax is of course less objectionable
than the 100% tax that recipients of occupational pensions suffer
under the present rules; but the Pension Credit will not simply
reduce the tax rate from 100% to 40%it will extend this
form of taxation to some 3 million additional pensioner households.
This fact is crucially important for people of working age. Until
now, most people of middle age or younger could assume that, by
paying regularly into a good second pension scheme for the rest
of their working life, they would stand a good chance of retiring
with an income above the means-tested minimum. In future, with
the means test extending further up the income scale, a much bigger
pension will be needed to avoid it. People of working age, deciding
how much to save for their retirement, will need to take into
account the very real possibility - for many a strong probability
- of any additional retirement income being taxed at 40%. Moreover,
as we have seen, there is a serious risk of the 40% tax rate being
increased as the cost of the Pension Credit rises; and if that
does not happen, the level of income up to which the tax will
operate is likely to rise substantially, bringing still more pensioners
into its scope.
5.5 It is tempting to assume that only a
small minority of financially well-informed people will be aware
of these facts and that the disincentive effect on saving will
therefore be small. It seems to us, however, that financial advisers
and providers of pension schemes will have a duty to inform people
about such a major factor affecting the outcome of their investment
decisions. Even if that were not so, it would be difficult to
justify a policy which rested on the assumption that most of those
affected by it would be deliberately kept in ignorance of its
implications for their future wellbeing.
5.6 We conclude, therefore, that the effect
of the Pension Credit on incentives to save is, on balance, more
likely to be negative than positive. We do not believe that tinkering
with the scheme will solve this problem. The only solution is
to adopt policies which will reduce, rather than increase, the
scope of means-testing - which is one more reason for pressing
the Government to raise the Basic State Pension, as soon as possible,
to the level of the means-tested minimum.
6. Making the right decisions about pension
6.1 One of the most worrying recent trends
in pension provision, both state and private, is the increasing
unpredictability of retirement incomes. There must always be a
degree of uncertainty about the value of pensions payable in the
distant future, but it should be a central aim of pensions policy
to reduce that uncertainty to a minimum. This aim seemed to have
been achieved to a remarkable extent with the 1975 legislation
which linked the Basic State Pension to average earnings, introduced
the earnings-related component of the state pension (SERPS), and
offered guaranteed minimum benefits for members of contracted-out
occupational pension schemes.
6.2 The situation has changed radically
since then. The Basic Pension has become a political football:
the earnings link has been repealed and none of the major political
parties is committed to restoring it, but all of them are prepared
to consider increases in excess of the rate of inflation, at least
when a general election is approaching. Thus, while the present
Government continues to insist that the pension should normally
rise only in line with prices, the 2001 uprating was, and the
2002 uprating will be, more than would have been justified by
price rises alone. To add to the uncertainty, the Chancellor of
the Exchequer, in his pre-Budget report, announced that the pension
would in future rise by 2.5% in any year when the inflation rate
was lower than this. It is impossible to make even an intelligent
guess as to the long-term effect of that pledge or whether future
governments will honour it. The future value of the Basic Pension,
either in real terms or as a percentage of average earnings, is
therefore totally unpredictable. All that can be said is that
it will be worth whatever the Government of the day may decide
- which is not much help to people who are now having to decide
how much to save for their retirement.
6.3 SERPS is about to be replaced by the
State Second Pension, whose future value is even more uncertain.
Initially, it will inherit nearly all the existing features of
SERPS, except that it will give a much better return to contributors
with very low earnings. But the Government's stated intention
is to transform it gradually into a flat-rate pension scheme,
starting with younger contributors in about 2006-07. The December
1998 Green Paper, A new contract for welfare: partnership in
pensions, however, said, and Ministers have subsequently confirmed,
that this change would occur only when stakeholder pension schemes
were firmly established. It is not yet clear how successful stakeholder
schemes will be in reaching the market at which they are aimedthose
earning less than about £20,000 p.a. and not covered by occupational
pension schemes. It remains uncertain, therefore, whether stage
two of the State Second Pension, when it ceases to be earnings-related,
will take place in 2006-07, later than that or not at all.
6.4 Another major source of uncertainty
is the growing prevalence of money-purchase pension schemes, where
the value of the pension depends on long-term investment yields
and both long- and short-term fluctuations in annuity rates. Few
people realise just how vulnerable these schemes are to changes
in both the real economy and financial markets, but a few well-publicised
failures could soon undermine confidence in them.
6.5 To these multiple uncertainties must
now be added the major uncertainties we have noted above regarding
the uprating of the Pension Credit. It is impossible to predict
either the levels of retirement income likely to be affected by
the credit or the rate at which it will be reduced as income rises.
Planning for retirement will become even more hazardous and many
people are likely to conclude that it is more sensible to spend
their money while they are young and let the future take care
7. The impact of the Pension Credit on pensioner
7.1 Poverty reduction is not the sole, or
even the main, aim of the Pension Credit. Nevertheless, it will,
initially at least, provide a relatively small but welcome increase
in the incomes of some 5 million pensioners. Of these, the White
Paper (page 7) says that 1.2 million will gain from the improvements
to the guarantee - ie they will have incomes below the new minimum
guarantee levels of about £100 for a single person and £154
for a couple. The effect of the credit will be to raise their
incomes above the MIG, thus undoubtedly reducing pensioner poverty.
Even among this group, however, if reduction of poverty were the
sole aim, a straight increase in the MIG would be more effective,
giving equal amounts to all those on the minimum, rather than
discriminating in favour of those with income from savings or
7.2 The majority of those benefiting from
the credit will be pensioners with incomes above the MIG level
who will qualify for the savings credit. By any reasonable definition,
many if not most of them could be described as poor but, unlike
those on the MIG, they would benefit fully from an increase in
the Basic State Pension and could therefore be helped without
extending the complexities and disincentive effects of means-testing
to half the pensioner population.
7.3 The White Paper (page 6) stresses the
advantages of the Pension Credit for women, who tend to have smaller
occupational pensions than men and are `at greater risk from the
relative decline in their pension income over their retirement
because they tend to live longer than men. Two-thirds of those
entitled to the Pension Credit will be women and half of these
women will be aged 75 and over.' It is certainly true that most
poor pensioners are women, but many of the poorest women pensioners
will gain little from the Pension Credit. The fact that they tend
to have smaller occupational pensions means that the savings credit
will be of less value to them.
<jf35>Moreover, the relative decline in their
pension income (including, it should be noted, the Basic State
Pension) as they get older will result in a similar relative decline
in the value of their savings credit.
7.4 The most glaring gap in the Government's
proposals, so far as women are concerned, is the fact that, although
the state pension age for women is still 60 and will remain so
until 2010, rising to 65 between 2010 and 2020, the savings credit
will not be available to those aged 60-64. The White Paper (page
6) says: `In order to comply with our legal obligations on equal
treatment, the guarantee element will be payable to both men and
women at age 60, and the savings credit element will be payable
to both men and women at age 65.' The November 2000 consultation
paper said nothing about this difference in starting ages, giving
the impression that all pensioners with incomes at the appropriate
levels would benefit from both parts of the credit. The Government,
it seems, has now decided that men under 65 should not receive
the savings credit and, therefore, nor should women. Presumably
the reason for that decision is that most men under 65 are not
pensioners; but the fact is that many men have to retire at 60
or earlier on relatively small occupational pensions, on which
they have to manage until they are 65. We do not see why they
should be denied the benefit of the savings credit. Whatever the
reasons for excluding men aged 60-64, however, it is plainly absurd
to tell a woman claiming her state pension and Pension Credit
at 60 that she will have to wait five years to receive the promised
reward for her savings. Unless this anomaly is removed, the Pension
Credit will do nothing to reduce poverty among single women pensioners
7.5 One way in which pensioners may be able
to supplement their pension income through their own efforts is
through part-time employment. It should not be necessary for them
to do so, but nor should they be discouraged from taking part-time
work when the opportunity arises, as it may increasingly in the
years ahead. We have noted that, under the 1948 regulations, pensioners
could almost double their income through part-time earnings without
any reduction of national assistance payments, while today's pensioners
can earn only £5 a week (or £10 for a couple) without
every additional £1 of earnings being deducted from their
Income Support. One of the most attractive features of the Pension
Credit, as presented in the November 2000 consultation paper,
was that earnings were to qualify for the 60% disregard. Thus,
the first example of how the credit would work, on page 19, was
that of a man aged 70 whose income consisted of the £77 Basic
Pension and £20 part-time earnings, £12 of which would
be disregarded instead of only £5. But the Government seems
to have had second thoughts about this proposal. The Explanatory
Notes on the Bill state the Government's intention that `qualifying
income' (to be defined by regulations under clause 3(6) of the
Bill) should, broadly, be income arising from national insurance
contributions (eg retirement pension) and the claimant's own retirement
provision (eg occupational or personal pension or income from
capital). Earnings, it appears, will not be included. The White
Paper merely notes the existence of `small earnings disregards
in the Minimum Income Guarantee' and adds: `We are continuing
to consider the treatment of earnings in the Pension Credit.'
7.6 The present £5 earnings disregard
is plainly much too small to constitute an incentive to seek or
accept part-time employment. Rather than including earnings in
the types of income qualifying for the 60% disregard, it would
be simpler and more effective to retain a separate earnings disregard
but raise it to a level (say £40) which, in most cases, would
allow at least half a day's work per week without any loss of
benefit. In this way, part-time earnings could have a significant
impact on pensioner poverty, if only in a minority of cases.
8. Claiming and assessing entitlement; likely
levels of take-up
8.1 The National Pensioners Convention remains
convinced that the policy of relying increasingly on means-tested
benefits to meet the needs of pensioners is misguided. Regardless
of the numbers involved, however, it is obviously right that everything
possible should be done to ensure that those entitled to such
benefits receive them. We therefore welcome the emphasis placed
on this aspect of the Pension Credit.
8.2 Past attempts to promote the take-up
of means-tested benefits have produced disappointing results.
The most recentthe campaign to encourage take-up of the
MIGis said to have resulted in `over 120,000 more pensioners
receiving an extra £20 a week' (10 December 2001, Official
Report, column 600W). But official take-up statistics suggest
that the number of entitled non-claimants before the campaign
started may have been around 500,000. Past experience suggests,
also, that campaigns of this kind tend to produce only short-term
8.3 The consultation paper on the Pension
Credit set out the Government's long-term aim: `to take tax and
benefit integration further, in particular: to make receipt of
the Credit more automatic; to take steps to reduce overlap between
the two systems; and ultimately to merge support for older people
through the Credit and the tax system to create a seamless and
integrated system of support.' The White Paper takes up the same
theme: `The aim is to move progressively towards a system where
pensioners can automatically receive all of their entitlements.'
The present situation, however, falls far short of that ideal.
Before they can receive Income Support, pensioners have to be
persuaded to make a claim, providing full information about their
financial situation, and the same procedure will apply to the
Pension Credit. The length and complexity of the Income Support
claim form is known to have discouraged claims in the past. The
recent introduction of a new and shorter form should encourage
more claims; but the amount of information required remains essentially
the same. The development of the telephone claims service may
have a bigger impact, but many people who have difficulty with
form-filling may find it equally difficult to provide detailed
financial information on the telephone.
8.4 The proposal to award the Pension Credit
for periods of five years will provide greater stability once
the initial award has been made, but will not in itself increase
the rate of take-up.
8.5 We doubt, therefore, whether the measures
set out in the White Paper will raise the take-up rate for the
Pension Credit to anywhere near 100%. It seems more probable that,
with more than twice as many pensioners qualifying, the number
of non-claimants will increase substantially. It would certainly
be unwise to assume that the take-up problem is about to be solved.
9.1 The Government's pensions strategy relies
heavily on means-tested benefits to fill the gaps in state and
private pension provision. The Pension Credit is an attempt to
counteract the resulting disincentive effect on saving for retirement.
The method used to achieve this aim is relatively simple: a big
increase in the amounts of income and capital disregarded for
the purposes of the means test. It has been made to appear far
more complex by the decision to present the resulting increase
in benefit entitlement as a separate benefit: the savings credit.
9.2 While the immediate effect of the proposed
disregard of 60% of pension and savings income above the Basic
Pension level will be equivalent to a reduction of the tax rate
on such income from 100% to 40%, the number of people affected
will be hugely increased. People of working age will have to take
this into account in planning for their retirement, and pension
scheme providers and advisers will have to ensure that their customers
are informed of the implications.
9.3 There are major uncertainties regarding
future uprating of the Pension Credit, which, added to existing
uncertainties about the future value of the Basic Pension, the
State Second Pension and money-purchase pension schemes, will
make pension planning extremely hazardous. Many young people may
conclude that it is better to spend their money than to save it
for such an uncertain future.
9.4 While there is clearly a case for an
increase in disregards (including earnings disregards), we would
prefer to see the problems arising from means-testing tackled
in a more radical way, by measures to raise pensioners' incomes
above the level at which means-tested supplements are necessary.