Wednesday, 14 March 2012
Planning for retirement can be a nightmare and many opt for the first option offered because they believe financial 'experts' should know the most suitable products available.
Like many women in my age group, I gave little thought to the day when I reached the official age for retirement from full-time work and concerned myself with supporting my family. What little spare cash I had available was consumed by childcare costs, so I was older when I finally realised a private pension, no matter how small, was a sensible idea. I was wrong. Gordon Brown robbed me of my 'rainy-day' pension and it hardly pays for a hair cut once every six weeks.
There are 1.8 million people in later life living in poverty. Michelle Mitchell, charity director general of Age UK says: "Claiming pension credit can make a huge difference to someone's income and quality of life. The government needs to start an awareness programme and move more towards a system where the DWP pays entitlements rather than an individual having to work their way through the benefits maze."
An awareness programme wouldn't encourage today's pensioners to claim what many see as 'charity' and should they be persuaded to make a claim, thousands give up when faced with the paperwork involved because they consider the means test system an invasion of privacy.
A good friend of mine tried the process a few years ago. Firstly she completed the DWP's online pension credit assessment which said she may be entitled to some help, so duly encouraged she sent for the paperwork and returned it completed. After four months she telephone to ask why she hadn't had any response only to be told she wasn't entitled to anything because her income was £1.12p a week over the qualifying amount. When she asked if she could receive the adjudication and reasons in writing she was told, in a less than pleasant manner, that 'it didn't work like that' and she could re-apply in 12 months. She hasn't. The thought of going through the process again is too daunting. Instead she sold her car and used the profit to help with every day bills.
Last autumn she was dreading the onset of winter and the prospect of ever-higher utility bills, but fortunately the winter here this year has been unusually mild, so she will manage to keep her head above water.
Heating bills are a pensioner's greatest worry and nobody should have to go without warmth in a country which professes to be caring.
I've no suggestions as to how government can make benefit entitlements less humiliating, but there is a new website which I'm told is 'user friendly', so if you know of anyone who may qualify for financial help point them towards it. Even better, if it's at all possible, give them help if necessary and don't forget - this website is not a replacement for the official paperwork. They may well need help with that too.
It's reported billions of pounds of benefits go unclaimed each year, according to figures from the DWP. Pensioners are one of the largest groups failing to claim. If the DWP knows that surely they must know who is entitled to them or are the figures purely guess work?