Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Help the Aged

INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY

  1.  Benefit complexity has been and is increasingly a feature of the Welfare system in the UK. Historically complexity has often come about when changes to benefits are made in response to the needs of specific groups or to address perceived unfairness in the system. Such tinkering has arguably made our Welfare system more "theoretically" fair; however, the knock on effect has been to make it harder for the system to deliver on its purported aim of protecting people from poverty and hardship. The more complicated the system becomes the less people engage with it, and in particular those who are most vulnerable often become stranded from help they badly need. Although recent advancements in technology do increasingly mean that a complicated benefit system need not necessarily entail complexity for a claimant. In practice however, complexity does still very much exists on the ground with many individuals still being forced to navigate a benefits maze.

  2.  For pensioners complexity impacts perhaps most profoundly as many of the individuals who are entitled to benefits may have never claimed a benefit in their life before. As means tested benefits for pensioners have expanded Government has faced an increasing challenge of reaching people, getting them to understand their entitlement, and then getting them to claim. The fact that £4.7 billion lies unclaimed in benefits each year by pensioners is testament to the scale of the challenge; much effort has been made and progress has occurred but there is a long way to go. However, moves towards simplification in order for the system to reach more people have not been forthcoming. Universal systems which reach all have not generally been favoured due to their high cost and the fact that they have less redistributive potential. In addition, the removal of existing complexity in the system also tends to incur a cost unless Government allows some individuals to lose out so has not really occurred either.

  3.  Perhaps inevitably, any discussion of benefits complexity can quickly become rather confusing! So for purposes of clarity in this submission we will roughly divide our commentary into two main areas.

COMPLEXITY OF THE BENEFITS THEMSELVES AND THE RULES GOVERNING THEM

  4.  In 2003 the National Audit Office reported that there were "23 different potential entitlements for pensioners with 36 linkages between 16 of them". This picture has actually become more complicated since then with the replacement of the "Minimum Income Guarantee" by Pension Credit which has two elements, Guarantee Credit and Savings Credit. In addition there are a number of premiums for Pension Credit if you are a carer or you are disabled. And of course the National Audit Office's original analysis does not even include grants and means tested services which are available at a local level or indeed the benefits and rules governing whether or how people pay for social and residential care as they get older. Our submission covers the following points in this area.

    —  The complexity of Pension Credit itself and how this impacts on the effectiveness of the benefit in reducing poverty.

    —  The need for simplification of the way savings are treated across income related benefits.

    —  How the interactions between the tax system and the benefit system cause confusion and complexity for pensioners.

    —  The problems created where benefits overlap with each other to disadvantage pensioners and which require simplification.

    —  How age discrimination in disability benefits creates complexity for many pensioners and leaves them worse off than those who are disabled under the age of 65.

COMPLEXITY IN THE DELIVERY OF THE BENEFITS

  5.  Three recent high level reports have made the case for simplification and improvements to be made in benefits delivery. Sir David Varney in his recent review of public services, David Freud in his review of working age benefits and most recently Sir Michael Lyons in his recommendations on how to improve the Council Tax System through reforming delivery of Council Tax Benefit. The first of these reports gives several examples which highlight the extent to which people have to navigate a maze to access services and access benefits.

    "There are over 4,000 published numbers for HMRC, DWP and Home Office alone and 50,000 for the public sector in the BT Directory."

    "The average citizen will need to prove their identity at least 11 times a year."

    "Over 400 local authorities are delivering 670 services through 4000 types of transaction."

  6.  Our submission aims to give a broad picture of how complexity in the benefits system manifests itself in complexity for the customer on the ground. We also examine how simplification of delivery mechanisms themselves aside from the benefits could bring substantial improvements for pensioners.

    —  The need for the Pension Service capacity to be extended so that those ineligible for Pension Credit but entitled to other benefits, aren't left stranded by the system.

    —  The emerging case for automatic payment of benefits and the potential benefits in tackling pensioner poverty.

    —  The benefits of designing service delivery better around the customer, in particular the creation of a single change of circumstance service.

  7.  In our view simplification of the benefits system would enable both better poverty reduction and would allow staff on the ground working with vulnerable individuals to focus on their health and wellbeing needs rather than helping them chase benefit claims.

PART 1  COMPLEXITIES OF BENEFITS THEMSELVES

Pension Credit

  8.  Pension Credit was introduced in 2003 to replace the Minimum Income Guarantee which was undoubtedly a more simple benefit. The rationale for this change was that despite its simplicity MIG was unfair with a cliff edge for entitlement and offering no reward for anyone who had saved for their retirement. What MIG did was effectively top up an individual's income to a particular point, so if you were living on less than £78.45 a week in 2000-01 then all you had to do was claim and your income would rise to that level. So for those who had just £78.50 a week due to having saved in a private pension there was no help. In addition, even if you were below £78.45 whether you had an initial income of £20 or one of £78 you ended up with the same amount after MIG had been applied. So those for whom some income was made up of private saving were absolutely no better off for having saved, in fact they were arguably worse off as they had not enjoyed the benefits of spending that money earlier in life.

  9.  Pension Credit aimed to remedy this situation by keeping the topping up element of MIG but adding to it a new Savings Credit. This gives people extra money for having saved of up to £17.88 a week if you are single or £23.58 for couples. However, this of course does little to help women who have incomplete state pension records and whose private pensions do not necessarily take them over the level of the full basic state pension. For example a single female pensioner with a State Pension of £40 per week and a private pension of £20 a week who will only be eligible for Guarantee Credit. This means her savings will be withdrawn pound for pound.

  Help the Aged would like to see all pensioners receive savings credit regardless of whether their overall income before benefits falls above or below the level of the Basic State Pension.

  10.  Pension Credit is not an easy benefit to understand, nor is it an easy benefit to explain to people. The Help the Aged leaflet "Can you claim it?" provides a simplified version to people of how they work out their entitlement, even with care taken to simplify in every way possible this still takes 10 pages and the need for a very mathematical brain or calculator. Help the Aged receives thousands of calls from pensioners every year who have a range of questions regarding Pension Credit, many people take a lot of convincing in order to persuade them to claim. There remain problems with take-up of the benefit with up to 1.74 million not claiming. A simpler system, preferably one that protected people from poverty via the State Pension system would undoubtedly mean fewer were missing out.

  11.  Advisors on our helpline and our information team who supply leaflets to people get thousands of calls a year from people who want to understand what they are entitled to before claiming. For many, it is not enough to take it on trust from Government what they will receive, people are very fearful of being overpaid and then getting into debt. Sometimes it can take up to an hour to explain and take people through what they would get and why they would get it.

  Help the Aged believes that long term the levels of means testing do need be reduced. The Government must consider the case for providing more generous help to people under the State Pension System which has a greater chance of reaching the most needy. The ideal would be the Basic State Pension paid at the level of Guarantee Credit.

Calculation of income for benefits

  12.  There are three main income related benefits for pensioners: Pension Credit, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit. In order to claim any of these households need to provide details of their savings. How savings are treated in the calculation of income is an area of complexity and thus of confusion and consternation for pensioners.

  13.  For Pension Credit the first £6,000 of savings is disregarded. After that an income of £1 per week is assumed for every £500 of savings. So someone with £10,000 of savings, they are assumed to have an extra income of £8 a week. There is no limit on the amount of savings an individual can hold. However, for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit you cannot receive any help at all if you have more than £16,000 a year in savings. The only exception to this is if you are on the guarantee element of Pension Credit and have more than £16,000 in savings, in this case you all your Council Tax paid. This is an anomalous situation as is shown below with two hypothetical couples in band D properties.



  14.  The very existence of savings limits on certain benefits also tends to perpetuate the word of mouth myth that "if you've got any savings you can't get any help from the Government". Many older people who Help the Aged speaks to cannot understand why they are penalised for having saved and even when there are no limits why they are assumed to have income from their savings which is not usually related to the interest they actually get. Anecdotally Help the Aged has also seen indications that there are particular cultural sensitivities around providing information on savings from ethnic groups where money is considered a very private concern. However, on this point the absence of national data on take-up of benefits by ethnic group makes it hard to know the impact of this anecdotal evidence.

  15.  In his recent report Sir Michael Lyons recommended that the savings limit for Council Tax Benefit be immediately raised to £50,000 for pensioners and that longer term the treatment of savings ought to be aligned with Pension Credit. This would benefit in his view, an estimated 420,000 pensioners and would mean that Council Tax was better related to income, removing the anomalies like the example above. It is important to remember that older people are not able to rebuild savings once they have spent them. We have a national crisis in the funding of social and residential care and many individuals are holding back money to ensure that they can afford to pay for their own care. Others are holding back money so that they can ensure their home stays in an adequate state of repair. Surely these are all rational behaviours where people are planning ahead and taking personal responsibility. It is important that the Benefits system does not give people perverse incentives to spend their money in order to get benefits and then as a result become totally dependent on the State.

  Help the Aged believes that the treatment of savings for pensioners should be the same across income related benefits so that there are no arbitrary limits on savings that people can hold.

The impact of tax

  16.  Another source of confusion for people with the benefits system is the interaction with the tax system. Some benefits such as the Basic State Pension are taxable whereas other benefits such as Attendance Allowance are non taxable. So when people are applying for benefits they are asked to give their incomes net of tax. However, Tax Help for Older People believe that many pensioners include non taxable disability benefits in their general income. In a benefit application this can make the difference between receiving a benefit and not. On a yearly tax return this sort of mistake can mean paying extra tax which may go unnoticed for years, or the contrary mistake of paying too little then facing a large bill.

  17.  The problem is that it is very hard for people to know which components of their income are taxable without being benefits experts! It would greatly help is if people were given better information when the benefit is first paid to them of whether it is taxable or not. In addition given people yearly breakdowns of the income they receive from Government into taxable and non-taxable components could also help.

  Help the Aged would like to see Government do far more to ensure that individuals are not confused about which elements of their incomes are taxable to prevent people from being underpaid in benefits and overpaying in tax.

Overlaps between benefits

  18.  Perhaps the biggest area of complaint regarding the benefit system that older people contact Help the Aged about are the overlaps between benefits, specifically how receipt of one benefit reduces the amount of another benefit someone gets or disqualifies them from getting that benefit altogether. There are several examples of this we would like to highlight to the Committee.

Carer's Allowance and the Basic State Pension

  19.  Both Carer's Allowance and the Basic State Pension are considered to be income replacement benefits. Under current rules this means that it is not possible for people to receive both of these at the same time. Many angry and frustrated individuals contact us each year as they start to receive the Basic State Pension, and find out that they can no longer receive Carer's Allowance. In particular people cannot understand the categorisation of the Basic State Pension as a benefit. This does not fit with their understanding of the Basic State Pension as something they have contributed towards all their lives through paying National Insurance, and thus believe the have earned the right to receive.

  20.  This "cutting off" of Carer's Allowance when people start receiving the Basic State Pension is unfair to older people. Many continue to provide the same if not more hours of care but get no credit for this. In addition, many more people only start to care once they are older and receiving the Basic State Pension. The people we speak to feel that they do not get recognition for their role as carers. For working age carers there has been progress, the Pension Reform process will see the State Pension System give equal credit to people for full time caring as is given for working. But if working and caring are considered to carry equal value in our welfare system then if someone continues to get paid to work when they receive the Basic State Pension shouldn't they also continue to get paid for their caring role?

  Help the Aged believes that receipt of the Basic State Pension should not prevent an individual from receiving Carer's Allowance.

  21.  Just to add some more complexity into the picture the overlapping benefit rule preventing people from claiming Carer's Allowance doesn't necessarily mean that an individual cannot get any credit at all for caring! If they are eligible for Pension Credit they can get a premium added to it for caring. However, in order to get this premium they must first apply for Carer's Allowance and be turned down so that they can be said to have "an underlying entitlement". This system is little short of ridiculous and it seems that it will be reviewed during the course of the Government's wide ranging consultation on Carer's issues.

  Help the Aged would like to see the rules governing the Pension Credit Carer's Premium simplified so that people can easily be awarded this without having to prove "underlying entitlement".

Council Tax Benefit and Housing Benefit—the interaction with Pension Credit

  22.  If you are receiving the Savings Credit element of Pension Credit this is counted as income in the calculation of Council Tax Benefit and Housing Benefit entitlement. This becomes a problem when someone is already receiving Council Tax Benefit and/or Housing Benefit and then makes an application for and receives Savings Credit. The individual or household will see the amount of Council Tax Benefit and/or Housing Benefit they receive immediately reduced. For every extra £1 of savings credit (ie extra income) you will get 85p less in CTB and HB. The standard Government response to this problem is that individuals will always be better off. This may be true but older people we speak to find the operation of this rule most unfair and it tends to put them off the benefits system as a whole. In some cases the confusion caused will lead people to refuse Pension Credit.

  23.  This particular issue can often lead to a flurry of letters arriving through an older person's letterbox trying to explain to them what has happened. In some cases older people will have to pay back Council Tax Benefit and Housing Benefit that they have already received after being given Pension Credit. This is both distressing and upsets the finely balanced weekly budgeting that many older people have in place to manage on low income. We regularly hear of cases where individuals end up being less than £1 per week better off after going through a raft of complex procedures. Perhaps understandably this leaves people angry and frustrated.

  24.  Help the Aged believes that the Savings Credit element of Pension Credit should not be considered as income in the calculation of Council Tax Benefit and Housing Benefit to avoid this confusing overlap.

The 25p age addition and Pension Credit

  25.  The addition of 25p to the Basic State Pension at the age of 85 was met with a hostile reception when it was introduced as the sum was felt to be so derisory. But for on Pension Credit the sum becomes more derisory as this new amount of money is assessed in the calculation of entitlement. So in fact older people on Pension Credit only receive an extra 15p when they reach 85.  Whilst only being a small issue in monetary terms several pensioners have contacted on this point feeling that the operation of this rule is an insult.

  26.  It is important to remember that it is small issues such as these which put people off the Benefits system as a whole. Word of mouth can be quick to spread tales of these quirks in the system.

  Help the Aged believes that the 25p extra that people receive at the age of 85 should remain 25p and should not be reduced through the operation of Pension Credit.

Age discrimination in Disability Benefits

  27.  Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is a non-means-tested benefit for disabled people with care or mobility needs. People who claim DLA before their 65th birthday can continue to receive it after the age of 65. However, people whose disability arises at or after the age of 65 (or who don't claim help until after 65) can only claim the much more limited Attendance Allowance (AA). The benefits resemble each other in some ways and are administered very similarly, but there are a number of crucial differences between AA and DLA:

    —  There is no mobility component to AA, meaning those aged 65 and over cannot receive help with mobility costs, worth up to £42.30 a week.

    —  AA has no equivalent of the lower rate care component of DLA, which is worth £16.05 a week. This means older people have to have greater needs than younger people in order to receive help with care costs.

    —  AA claimants need to have to wait three months longer than DLA claimants before they can receive any benefit.

  28.  This age cut off between the two disability benefits is not only confusing for people but is also age discriminatory as older people receive less help and care than younger people with the same conditions. The most anomalous situation would be two individuals having car accidents either side of the age boundary. More common are the examples we hear from people of conditions that they contracted before 65 which have then worsened after that age; this particularly affects those who had childhood polio. One particular source of complexity is for those who have DLA at the age of 65 but whose condition then worsens as it is not them possible for them to get higher rates of DLA they have to instead apply for Attendance Allowance.

  29.  The financial impact for people of becoming disabled after the age of 65 can be devastating. Many families suffer considerable hardship in order to afford electric scooters or adapted cars so that they can get around.

  Help the Aged would like to see Attendance Allowance fully aligned with Disability Living Allowance so that people receive the same support with their disability regardless of their age.

PART 2  COMPLEXITY IN DELIVERY OF BENEFITS

  30.  Currently £4.7 billion each year goes unclaimed just in Pension Credit, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit by pensioners. This amount stands as a testament to the challenge of getting older people to engage with a complicated system. It is not the only reason that individuals don't claim but we do know that many people are put off by the application processes they have to go through in order to get benefits. If they were to fill in paper applications for each of the main income related benefits and one disability benefit an individual would be completing at least 69 pages of forms and reading 34 pages of notes. They would also be required to provide a variety of information to verify their identity and savings amongst other things.

The Pension Service

  31.  In reality this situation no longer needs to be the case for all pensioners. The establishment of the Pension Service has seen a telephone claim service set up which has progressed to the point where now older people entitled to Pension Credit can claim Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit at the same time. In addition, people eligible for Pension Credit do not have to provide evidence of savings if they declare they have under £6,000 and do not have to sign a paper for their Pension Credit. At the same time the Local Pension Service is offering home visits to pensioners. During these the individual or couple will be taken through all the benefits they could claim, including disability benefits. They can also provide their evidence of savings and identity to the visiting officer. It is extremely positive that the Pension Service has made such strong moves towards creating a holistic service. But remains a long way to go, in particular for those who are not eligible for Pension Credit but who are eligible for other benefits. At the moment these individuals fall through the cracks in the benefits delivery process. Those who find their way to benefits but not through the Government's preferred channels can also find themselves involved in more complicated procedures, as can those whose circumstances are not simple, for example carers. There are a number of ways in which the Pension Service could improve and extend its service to ensure that it did even better in delivering benefits to pensioners.

Extending Pension Service Capacity

  32.  In November 2005 the Pension Credit Application Line (PCAL) increased the functions it could perform from just helping people claim Pension Credit, to helping them access Council Tax Benefit (CTB) and Housing Benefit (HB). It was recognised by policy makers that up to this point pensioners who needed to claim a full range of means tested benefits were being asked to give detailed personal information to multiple agencies on multiple occasions. The process was complicated and was preventing people from getting all the income assistance to which they might be entitled. PCAL staff were already taking nearly all of the relevant information needed for someone to claim CTB and HB but the information was not being used towards these claims. It was agreed between the Pension Service and Local Authorities that data collected by the former could be used towards people's CTB and HB claims. Applicants would simply be issued with a pre-populated three page form to sign and send to their local authorities.

  33.  However, at the moment these arrangements are only in place for older people who are identified during the call as entitled to Pension Credit. Those who give all their information to call centre staff but who are not eligible for the credit are simply sent a blank 28 page form. This is a huge missed opportunity to use the information they have taken the time to give over the phone. A very small step towards improving the systems for claiming Council Tax Benefit (CTB) would be to allow all pensioners to claim both CTB and Housing Benefit (HB) over the phone if they choose to. The advertising produced by the Pension Service which uses the strap line "one number, three benefits" already implies that this is the case. Help the Aged believes the current two-tier service between those who get Pension Credit and those who don't should not continue. In his recent report Sir Michael Lyons recommended that this situation be remedied and we urge the Committee to make the same recommendation. The Pension Service is planning further reforms to their systems which would be to do away with the three page form altogether. Research revealed that around half of the three page forms were not being returned to local authorities. This highlights the extent of inertia which exists amongst older people and proves just how simple we need to make the claiming process in order for people to get their benefits. We would like to see this process available for all pensioners.

  Help the Aged thinks a real improvement in service could be achieved if the Pension Service received the investment it needs in order to offer Pension Credit, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit to all pensioners over the phone rather than just offering these three benefits to those eligible for Pension Credit.

Automatic payment of Benefits

  34.  The improvements suggested so far are all ones which could be carried out quickly. However, they leave intact a system which forces individuals to make proactive claims to the benefits system. In this scenario take-up might improve but is unlikely to leap up to near 90% or above. In order to achieve truly high levels of take-up the system needs to be designed in order to get around all the known reasons for non take-up. Indeed, most recent figures from the Pension Service show a stalling in take-up rates. It is possible to opt for a more universal system to get around but there is also a very new option currently being scoped out within Government which Help the Aged believes could offer real potential to improve take-up of benefits in the long term. A system of automatic payment of benefits would simplify the front end of benefits delivery effectively meaning that claimants would be shielded from much of the complexity. Only radical change like this will ensure that complexity in the system does not mean people missing out on the help they need.

  35.  An automatic system for paying benefits is not "pie in the sky" the concept has been proved by a joint team of central and local Government officials working at the Pension Service Solution Centre in Glasgow looking specifically at Council Tax Benefit (CTB). Further scoping work is now taking place within Government but Help the Aged believes that this work is not being driven forward fast enough and with enough high level backing. If successful the methods of paying CTB could then be applied to other benefits. The work also fits well with the Government's agenda of transforming services using technology, to make them better for the user. The system would take the onus off the individual to behave as an active citizen when claiming benefits. Instead people would be proactively informed of their entitlements without having to lift a finger. This would reach people who hadn't heard about benefits, those who hadn't got around to making an application and even those who had thought benefits weren't for them. For people who are very hard to reach because they are particularly isolated or perhaps face language or cultural barriers in accessing benefits this service could have a huge impact.

How it would work

  36.  Central to the solution of paying people Council Tax Benefit automatically would be the use of predictive analytics. To begin with, data on individuals' incomes would need to be compiled from data Government already holds. Then, for those who fell into the bracket of being potentially eligible for benefits, data would need to be compiled on their savings. HMRC and the Treasury receive year end returns from banks and building societies on the amounts of interest paid on individual's accounts. It would be necessary to use these returns in order to reverse generate a savings figure for each person based on a standard rate of interest. The savings figure could then be matched to the income allowing an assessment to be made of whether the person would be eligible for Council Tax Benefit. This profile could then be passed to local authorities to process. There a number of ways the application could then be taken forward ranging from light touch to asking people for a full range of proof to back up the data profile. The approach taken would depend on how Government and local authorities wish to handle risk.

  37.  The local authority could send the yearly council tax bill to the individual but enclose a form telling the person how much Council Tax Benefit they are entitled to and on what basis this assessment has been made. The individual would be asked to contact the local authority only if any of the information was incorrect otherwise CTB would be paid automatically. This puts the onus on the individual to come clean if they have more savings than stated or indeed, if they have less. A slightly more active approach would be to ask for a signature, or at the other end, individuals could be asked for full proof of savings, income and identity.

  38.  Government and local authorities could choose to treat individuals different according to their level of savings. For instance simply accepting without proof when someone had less than £6,000 in savings on the data profile. Apply the option A or B for individuals where it appeared they had less than £6,000 savings but placing more stringent requirements on those with higher savings. It is most important that the system is easy for the average honest person. Too often the benefits system has put in place multiple hurdles to keep people out and this has been at the expense of the most needy who then fail to jump the hurdles to make a claim. In his report on the future of Local Government Sir Michael Lyons recommended that work to pay Council Tax Benefit (CTB) automatically "must now be pursued further and implemented as rapidly as possible". He also stressed that low take-up was "a systemic as well as a local issue, and as such requires a structural change in the way rebates (referring to a renamed CTB) are administered". We hope that Government will accept Sir Michael's carefully considered recommendations.

  Help the Aged believes that work to pay benefits automatically must be driven forward urgently to tackle the problem of low take up. Without action we fear that levels of pensioner poverty will remain static at around 2.2 million which in our view is not an acceptable position.

The Varney Review

  39.  In his review of how public services are delivered David Varney uncovered a raft of problems most to do with poor joining up across Government and Agencies. For instance, he found that over £6 billion had been invested in IT projects since 2002 across Government yet he found relatively little evidence that this money had been used to create seamless services. Rather it had been spent across departments according to their individual priorities with not nearly enough thought given to the customer. His analysis suggested that: "Government could release efficiency savings by reducing both complexity for the citizen and front-line workers and duplication of processes, systems and technologies for Government." At Help the Aged we support the case David Varney made for improving delivery of services including benefits. Simplification of benefits themselves is very important, but it is arguably more important to simplify the ways in which people receive benefits. But our rationale is not purely a business case; the benefits discussed in this submission have been designed to tackle the worst effects of pensioner poverty and without them people will be left struggling.

  40.  Sir David outlined in detail how complicated patterns of service delivery impacts on people.

    "It is often the most vulnerable citizens who have to do the most joining up between the public service islands and much of it could be avoided with more collaborative service delivery."

    "The citizen who needs multiple services is left to join up the various islands of service to meet his or her needs. As departments do not appear to accept each other's identification of the citizen, the citizen has to validate his or her identity at each service."

  41.  Sir David made one major recommendation towards improving the situation for citizens across age groups. That the Government create a single change of circumstances service by 2010 so that people can notify Government once of a birth, change of address or bereavement and that this information will then be shared across the relevant agencies and departments. This was partly motivated by a case study example of a bereavement where the family spent 180 days and had 44 separate contacts with Government trying to sort out arrangements. After the 180 days issues around the passport and housing benefit still hadn't been resolved. He also made a range of other recommendations and suggestions around the need for services to be transformed to meet customer needs, and for customers to be involved in the design of future services. Help the Aged fully supports theses recommendations and in particular we believe the change of circumstance service could provide real benefits for pensioners especially at the difficult time after bereavement. At the moment many older people struggle to sort out the range of issues they are faced with after a death and this only adds to the emotional difficulties they experience at this time. The new service Varney proposes could mean that more positive assistance could be provided to people at this time rather than them struggling to navigate the system.

  Help the Aged backs Sir David Varney's calls for a single change of circumstances service across Government. In addition we hope that further steps will be taken to transform other existing services to meet the needs of the customer as is starting to occur under the "transformational government" process.

CONCLUSION

  42.  To conclude we have outlined a variety of examples of benefit complexity which we suggest ought to be simplified. In our view, the simpler the system is made, the more people it will reach and that surely this should be the primary aim of our Welfare system. Currently complexity means that many of the most vulnerable older people are left stranded from help they badly need and the same probably holds true for other age groups. Aside from reducing poverty further, a simpler system would also leave staff on the ground working in the public sector and voluntary sector, more time to do positive and preventative work with older people. Rather than chasing a Pension Credit Premium for a carer the time could be used to give a carer respite. Schemes such as the new Government Link Age Plus pilots could also benefit from a simpler benefits system. Staff would have to spend less time helping people locally to claim benefits. Instead they would have more time to spend on joining up health, leisure and housing services for older people. For example helping someone access podiatry services rather than helping them get Pension Credit. A simpler benefits system will also make it easier for Government to create a generic financial advice service in relation to the introduction of Personal Accounts an area which we have not even started to cover in this submission.

  43.  Simplification of the Benefits system is not easy and it is not always cheap either. In order for simplification to occur high level backing from Ministers is needed. Officials within DWP and the Pension Service have done a lot of positive work looking at the potential for simplification, particularly of delivery processes. Three major reviews from Varney, Lyons and Freud have also made the case for simplification of service delivery. Help the Aged believes that this case has now been made and that there is a mounting need for real action to drive forward developments in this area. Standing still is not an option, 2.2 million pensioners remain in poverty today and simplification of the benefits system in administration and delivery is one of the best hopes for improving this situation. We hope that the DWP select committee will make firm recommendations to Government that can then be acted on in the Comprehensive Spending Review and taken forward over the next three years.

REFERENCES  Sir David Varney—Service Transformation: A better deal for citizens and business, a better deal for the taxpayer, December 2006.

  Lyons Inquiry into Local Government—Place shaping: a shared ambition for the future of local government, March 2006.

  DWP/ONS—Households Below Average Income 2004-05 and 2005-06

  DWP/ONS—Income Related Benefits Estimates of Take-up in 2004-05, published 2006.

  DWP/ONS—Pension Credit Estimates of Take-up in 2005-06—March 2007-04-05.

  National Audit Office—Tackling pensioner poverty: Encouraging take-up of entitlements, November 2002.

  National Audit Office—Progress in tackling pensioner: Encouraging take-up of entitlements, July 2006.

  David Freud—Reducing dependency, increasing opportunity: options for the future of welfare to work published 2007.

5 April 2007





 
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