In this blog, I look at key benefits that can help in pension age. Some are non-means tested e.g. to help with extra costs that any health difficulties can bring, whatever your income. Others are means tested, targeting help at those on lower incomes, whether in good health or not. Some help with extra costs that any health difficulties can bring, whatever your income. Others help those on lower incomes, whether in good health or not. Amy’s story illustrates my suggested “three steps” to help ensure you get all the benefits to which you are entitled.
I work with visitors to Maggie’s Centres - a charity supporting those affected by cancer. Although I draw on experiences of people affected by cancer in this blog, the benefits mentioned apply to anyone of pension age.
Putting steps into practice: Amy's story
Amy - based on several real-life visitors to Maggie’s Centres - called in to ask about help she might get with the costs of travel to the specialist regional cancer hospital. She had been dealing with anxiety and depression before her cancer diagnosis, and financial stress had been adding to this.
Both her low mood and financial worries meant that she had cut down on past social activities and hobbies.
And cancer was adding new costs: travel, keeping warm as she felt the cold, trying to eat well and her changing size needing new clothes to fit.
Checking for benefits
Amy’s Benefits Advisor suggested first doing a full check for unclaimed benefits:
- Step one: Non-means tested basic retirement income. Amy had a full State Retirement Pension of £129.10 a week and a small private pension of £15 a week. She also had life savings of £20,000.
- Step two: Means tested benefits. Amy had wondered about help with her rent and Council Tax, but had heard about a £16,000 savings limit. She had left it at that and so was dipping into savings to pay these bills.
However, Pension Credit (PC) has no savings limit, though savings can affect the sums. Her Advisor’s calculator found: her income of £129.20 Retirement Pension + £15 work pension + £20 “tariff income” (based on savings) = £164.20. Pension Credit takes this away from the PC “appropriate amount” for a single person of £167.25; and so would pay her £3.05.
Amy tried not to look underwhelmed: every little helped. But her advisor seemed more pleased, as she explained that getting PC meant Amy by-passed the financial assessment for:
- help with fares to hospital, worth £10 a trip, and Housing Benefit and Council Tax support. Amy could now get full help with rent and council tax, worth some £100 a week in her case.
- Step three: Extra non-means tested benefits for long term health conditions. Amy had asked for a form for Attendance Allowance (AA), as a friend had told her savings didn’t matter. But looking through it, Amy couldn’t see how AA applied to her. She still managed most of the activities listed if she paced herself, chose her moments, took it slowly, kept it simple and didn’t try too often. Besides, she didn’t have anyone helping her.
Her Advisor explained that the test was less “Can she manage a task at all?” and more “Could she reasonably do with a helping hand or encouraging word/reminder?”, even if she wasn’t actually getting any help. Together, they started to think of things that got in the way of tasks and how any help could enable Amy to “live as normal a life as possible”. The boxes began to fill… Amy was awarded lower rate AA, giving her another £58.70 a week.
- Step four: A return to Step Two. The extra AA income was ignored in the sums back at Step 2. However, being on AA now entitled Amy to an extra addition in the PC sums: an amount of £233.10 replaced the previous £167.25 in the sums, so PC rose from £3.05 to £68.90 a week.
By working through these steps, Amy’s income had nearly doubled from £144.20 to £271.80 a week. And she had also lost bills of £100 a week along the way and found help with those travel costs!
More than just the money
While waiting for her Benefits Advisor, Amy had started talking to other visitors at the Centre and found new friends and more about activities and other support provided by Maggie’s.
Back home, Amy was feeling that she could now afford to contemplate going out with friends, picking up her art activities or shopping for better fitting clothes.
Tackling anxiety and depression was going to need more than extra money, but Amy could now at least see the potential for – as she put it - “living rather than merely existing”.
Tom Messere is a Benefits Advisor at Maggie’s Centres.
Have you been affected by any of these issues?
If you have been affected by any of the issues described in this blog, or simply need someone to reach out to, you can contact the Maggies on 0300 123 1801, or visit their online centre.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of Independent Age