Reducing backdating for pensioners and Alice in Wonderland

Published on 7 December 2007

'When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less' said Humpty Dumpty. This is a useful quote to remember, especially when reading press releases from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The DWP announced earlier this week that from next year it proposes that those aged 60 and over will only get 3 months’ backdating of benefits rather than 12 as of now. This was claimed to be 'less intrusive' for pensioners.

Pensioners whom we come across in our daily work would be pleased to be intruded upon if it gave them 9 months’ extra pension credit, housing benefit and council tax benefit. But clearly the DWP has been doing some extensive research as the Minister claimed:

'…………..we know that some pensioners don’t like being asked for information about their incomes and personal circumstances.

A shorter back-dating period for Pension Credit will significantly cut the amount of personal information we need to request – and speed up claims.'

Backdating is an important safeguard for pensioners at a complex time of their lives. There is extensive evidence that pensioners are confused by government messages as to what it is they are entitled to. Take-up rates are poor. When people do eventually find out in future, they are going to be denied what is rightfully theirs.

This provision clearly is a cost-cutting exercise that has been dressed up as a customer benefit.

We have, of course, been here before. Back in the year 2000, one Alistair Darling, then a DWP Minister, proposed a reduction from 12 months to 3 months (in relation to housing benefit and council tax benefit) 'to instil in claimants a sense of rights and responsibility by encouraging them to claim on time'.

This was strongly opposed by the Social Security Advisory Committee who pointed out multiple reasons as to why this should not go ahead, including the poor awareness of entitlement and poor administration of benefits by local authorities.

Things have not greatly improved in 2007 and indeed with the added complexity of poor liaison between HMRC and the DWP there is now even more reason to keep the 12 months rule.

The proposals were dropped in 2000 and they should be dropped now.

(07-12-2007)

Contact Name: John Andrews Tel: 0844 579 6700 Fax 0844 579 6701)