When Nina Hayton saw a government ad for retirement credit payouts in August, she thought her prayers had been answered.
The 72-year-old former agriculture secretary from South Petherton, Somerset was desperately worried about how she would be able to afford to heat her home this winter as utility bills mount.
If she qualified for a pension credit – which is paid to low-income pensioners – she would receive much-needed extra money each week and unlock other benefits such as extra help with fuel bills, council tax and NHS dental treatment.
Most vulnerable: Some retirees have been waiting half a year for vital pension credit due to rising bills
Nina, who is divorced, contacted the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) and found she could claim as much as £36 a week – plus refunded payments worth an estimated £1,044.
She was understandably thrilled: the pension credit would mean she could finally buy new glasses and pay for a Christmas present for her nine-year-old granddaughter.
But earlier this week – nearly four months later, and with Christmas fast approaching – she was still waiting for the money.
Because Nina is one of the 60,000 pensioners who has a huge arrears in the pension credit at the DWP.
Money Mail has discovered that some people have been waiting six months for these necessary additions to the state pension.
The timing couldn’t be worse as the cost of living crisis bites.
Retirement credit has for years been one of the largest untapped resources available to retirees retiring with little savings of their own.
In fact, more than 850,000 eligible low-income people were still unable to claim their entitlements in June, the DWP said. On average they could get more than £3,000 a year.
Many don’t claim it because they mistakenly believe they don’t qualify for retirement credit — or don’t know it exists.
Others are just too proud to claim it – even though they have every right to it and have dutifully paid taxes throughout their working lives.
If you do qualify, the weekly income with pension credit will be topped up to a minimum of £182.60 for singles and £278.70 for couples.
You are eligible if you (and your partner, if any) have reached state pension age – now 66 – and have a low income and can barely make ends meet.
Any savings or investments over £10,000 will affect the amount of pension credit you receive. Any £500 above that amount will be counted as £1 per week income and used to calculate what supplement you will get, if any.
Those caring for a family member can get an extra £38.85 per week, and disabled pensioners an extra £69.40.
Other support schemes for those who are entitled to a pension discount are the warm housing discount and rent allowance if you rent out your home. Claims can be made retroactively for up to three months.
Backlog: DWP’s inability to meet the high demand for state pension credit leaves many retirees vulnerable
With the cost of living rising, the DWP began a publicity drive in April to raise awareness and help retirees pay their bills.
It was a huge success and generated a record number of applications. More than 111,550 successful credit claims were filed between April and August alone.
But only a third of these claims have been paid so far, according to a freedom of information request by stockbroker AJ Bell.
Nina Hayton was one of the plaintiffs. Since she signed up in August, she’s had to cut back on essentials, turn down her heating and cook less often.
“I need the money now, not in the future,” says Nina. “At 72 years old, I never expected to be wrapped in a blanket and worry about using electricity and gas.
“I am frustrated by the arrogance of the government in its attitude when people in urgent need of help are not getting it.”
After Money Mail intervened this week, the DWP finally spent Nina’s retirement credit.
Yesterday it deposited £874.56 into her bank account for the period June to November and will now pay her £145.76 every four weeks.
The DWP said the “volume of pension credit claims is at an all-time high” and it is doing everything it can to ensure retirees get the support they need.
But the collapse in services, with such long delays, has left retirees vulnerable as the weather turns colder and bills continue to climb.
Steve Webb, former pensions minister and now a partner at consultancy LCP, says: ‘It is shocking that a government department can run a publicity campaign and not be prepared for people to react to it.’
The government’s cost-of-living support payments paid this winter are another incentive to apply for pension credit. A successful application submitted before December 18 could mean you qualify for a payment of £324.
Missing: Many retirees do not apply for a pension credit because they mistakenly believe they are not eligible for the payments or do not know it exists
Dennis Reed, of Silver Voices, an organization for the elderly, blames the delays on staffing problems at the DWP, which he says is “stalled across the board.”
“Treating people this way and making flimsy excuses seems scandalous to me,” he adds.
“Saying there’s been a wave of signups isn’t a good excuse for choosing to run that ad campaign.”
Another Money Mail reader, Gordon Lang, says he called the DWP 40 times in a five-month battle to claim retirement credit for his elderly mother-in-law.
In March, the application was made for the pension reduction of 88-year-old Suzanne Geiser. But due to what Gordon describes as “appalling inefficiency,” payment was not forthcoming for months.
“She needed the money and it was extremely frustrating because no one could explain the situation. We were sent from agent to agent,” he says.
After months of calling, Gordon, who is from Bedford, says a DWP official told him there was no record of an application being received and it may have been lost.
Suzanne finally got her back payments at the end of August.
June Gumble, 85, says her retirement credit was suddenly cut short after her husband’s death in April and has not received a payment since.
She immediately lost free access to the dentist, subsidized glasses and had to pay for a television license. She also received letters from her council in East Hertfordshire demanding council tax.
“It was a real shock and I didn’t realize until July that I had to file my own pension credit claim,” she says.
‘I called the DWP to apply, but my application remained half filled. They said they’d wrap it up by calling back in ten days, but they never did.’
A spokesperson says the DWP had not been given enough time to investigate June’s case to provide a formal response to Money Mail, but was looking into it.
Morgan Vine, of the Independent Age national charity, says: ‘Receiving this money is the difference between being able to turn on the heating and lights and living in a cold, dark house.
The DWP refuses to confirm whether it has hired more workers to handle the mountain of applications from retirees.
A spokesman says the department has “more resources,” but would not explain what this meant or give details of the measures taken.
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