Claiming benefits and allowances for older people and their carers
Older people in the UK can claim a wide variety of benefits to help finance their everyday lives. Some are well-known and easy-ish to claim. Many are not.
Here are the key allowances that they or their supporter may be able to claim. Where the process is complex, we’ve added links for you to investigate further.
Do you remember Alice Through the Looking Glass being told by the White Knight that if she wants to stay where she is, she has to run as fast as she can, but if she wants to get anywhere, she has to run even faster than that? (That’s my memory of it anyway – I may be wrong.) That’s how qualifying for the State Pension can feel.
For the last few years the age at which you can claim State Pension has been rising. You can check your own pension age by using the government calculator. You should be notified when you’re approaching pension age, and you then have to claim it.
The value of the State Pension varies. There are two systems in place currently:
- For those who reached State Pension age before 6 April 2016. This currently £137.60 a week for those with at least 30 years of National Insurance contributions – plus there may be extra payments, usually based on how much a person earned and therefore paid in NI contributions. More information about the old system State Pension can be found on the UK government website.
- For those reached or reach State Pension age on or after 6 April 2016. This is currently set at £179.60 a week for those with at least 35 years of National Insurance contributions or credits. Details of when and what you are eligible as you reach state pension age for are on the UK government website.
Latest estimates suggest that around a quarter of a million people over 70 don’t receive a state pension, though many might be able to make a successful claim. Reasons for not receiving the pension might include a conscious decision to defer it, a lack of qualifying national insurance contributions, or the receipt of other benefits that cancel out state pension entitlement. But those are only a small proportion of those not claiming a pension, and anyone who thinks they are not entitled might find good news if they look again.
Pension Credit is aimed at those who are on low incomes on retirement. It comprises:
- Guarantee Credit – topping up minimum weekly income to £177.10 for single people or £270.30 for couples. There may be more to claim for those with disabilities, with caring responsibilities, or with high service charges on their owned home, for example
- Savings Credit –available to people who have made savings towards their retirement, or have an income higher than the basic State Pension. This offers additional sums of £14.04 a week for single people and £15.71 per week for couples.
Claiming Pension Credit doesn’t sit well with many older people, who feel somehow that there’s a stigma attached to it. But it’s well worth doing, because it opens the door to many other benefits, such as reduced costs for Council Tax, housing costs, health costs, and the benefit of Cold Weather Payments. Free TV licences have also been included for many years, but this is quite a bone of contention at the moment. Evengetting online can be cheaper for those who receive Pension Credit.
According to Age UK, 920,000 pensioner households have been missing out on Pension Credit payments worth up to £1.6bn a year. On average, they could get £32 a week, or more than £1,600 a year.
The rather oddly-named Attendance Allowance is a benefit that older people can claim if they need extra help in living independently because of illness or disability. It’s available to everyone that qualifies, regardless of income or savings. Even better, the claimant doesn’t have to use the money to pay for a carer specifically.
Attendance Allowance is paid at two rates, depending on a person’s disability, of £6o and £89.60 a week.
It’s important to make clear on the claim form what help is needed, when, and why, even if it’s only on bad days. Any written and anecdotal evidence you can provide to back up the claim is all to the good, to avoid having the claim turned down.
Find out how to claim Attendance Allowance on the UK government website.
This is a benefit that you could claim as a carer, if you spend at least 35 hours a week caring for someone. That someone doesn’t have to be a relative, and you don’t have to be living with them. Only one person can claim Carer’s Allowance for looking after a person, and you can’t claim more for looking after more than one person.
The rate for Carer’s Allowance is £67.60 a week, but that’s not entirely straightforward. Claiming this benefit could affect other benefits that you and the person you care for receive, and could affect your tax position. On the plus side, claiming Carer’s Allowance opens the door to other potential benefits, including council tax reduction, universal credit, pension credit, grants and bursaries for training, income support, and income-based employment and support allowance. Those in Scotland may also be able to receive an additional Carer’s Support Allowance.
Again, all the details about Carer’s Allowance are on the UK government website.
If you are unable to receive Carer’s Allowance and you’re caring for someone for 20 hours a week or more, then you might be able to benefit from Carer’s Credit. Carer’s Credit is a National Insurance credit that helps with gaps in your National Insurance record. It seems that although more people have become unpaid carers during the pandemic, the number of people claiming Carer’s Credit has fallen, and many more could be eligible.
NHS Continuing Healthcare
At the risk of sounding defeatist, this is one benefit that you will need tenacity and strength to claim. The experience of those who have gone before and our experts is that claims for this benefit are turned out regularly, often in the face of apparently overwhelming evidence that that they should be approved.
NHS Continuing Healthcare funding is a payment that in principle is made to those with serious health issues. You can read much more about it in our downloadable guide, written by an expert colleague who has helped many people through the process. The official view on the funding can be found on the NHS website, and if you’re interested in a paid-for advice service, take a look at Care to be Different.
Bus passes and railcards
When the time comes that your parent feels happy to travel by public transport again, they may find their eligibility for free or reduced-cost travel has changed.
Bus passes are determined locally, and you can find information via local authorities or try the library.
Rail companies offer a range of railcards that can help to reduce the cost of travel. Rail companies offer them via their websites, while the ‘official retailer’ explains that you can get a third off train travel with a senior railcard. Those of us who bought our cards before the pandemic haven’t enjoyed the benefits, so timing is all.
Many of the major charities provide further, easily accessible information about benefits and how to claim them. And many offer active help. A good place to start is Age UK’s series of benefits booklets.
Author Kathy Lawrence is editor of When They Get Older
If you found this article useful, you may like to read more about preparing financially for retirement