Recent changes to the welfare benefits system have created a minefield for couples nearing their retirement age, meaning they could be over £100 per week worse off if they make the wrong choices regarding which benefits to claim. To help residents understand their rights, our Money Advice Officer has put together a Q&A about how pitfalls can be avoided.
Q: What’s changed?
Since 2019 pensioners haven’t been able to make a new claim for Pension Credit or pension age Housing Benefit if they have a partner who is below pension age. Instead, they have had to claim Universal Credit as a couple, which is paid at a much lower rate.
Q:What if I’m already claiming Pension Credit or Pension Age Housing Benefit as a couple?
A:There’s nothing to worry about, you’re protected. As long as you remain a couple, your benefits can continue and if you need to make a new claim in the future for any reason, you can do so.
Q: What if we’re getting Disability Benefits?
A: If both of you are claiming certain disability benefits and nobody is being paid Carer’s Allowance for looking after either of you, it’s likely you’ll have an element in your benefits called the Severe Disability Premium. If this is the case, you cannot make a claim for Universal Credit at present, and you can’t make a claim for Pension Credit either because of the new rules. In this case you will have to stay on, or apply for, old-style working age benefits such as Employment & Support Allowance, Income Support or Jobseeker’s Allowance which will include the Severe Disability Premium. However, this is changing on 27/01/2021, after which you would have to apply for Universal Credit in this scenario. You should get some professional advice to check if you’re on the correct disability benefits for this to apply to you.
Q: What if we’re already claiming working-age benefits?
A: The situation is different depending on which of you is the main claimant for these benefits:
If the younger member is the main claimant for Employment & Support Allowance, Income Support or Jobseeker’s Allowance
The existing benefits can continue and you will get additional pensioner premiums to increase your payments. If you’re already getting working-age Housing Benefit, this can continue and a reduction can no longer be made if you have any ‘spare’ bedrooms.
If the older member is the main claimant for Employment & Support Allowance, Income Support or Jobseeker’s Allowance
These benefits will stop as soon as you reach your pension age and you will need to claim Universal Credit. However, if you are eligible for Universal Credit it is best to make a claim for it BEFORE you reach your pension age because you can access additional payments, for example if you’ve been found unfit for work you can carry on getting the additional limited capability for work elements and you can get a 2 week run-on of the old benefits. It is best to seek professional advice to work out when is the best time to claim Universal Credit.
Q: What if I’m a single pensioner and someone moves in with me who is below their pension age?
A:If they are claiming Employment & Support Allowance, Income Support or Jobseeker’s Allowance, your benefits will end but they can get extra pensioner premiums in their claims. If they are already getting working-age Housing Benefit from the same local authority you live in, this can continue. However, if there is no Housing Benefit in payment or they live in a different local authority area, you need to check whether the extra pensioner premiums work out more than the Housing Benefit you would lose out on, or if Universal Credit including housing costs would be more. If they are not claiming any benefits, your only option would be to claim Universal Credit if you’re eligible.
Q: What if I’m a single pensioner and I move in with someone who is below their pension age?
A: The situation is the same as the last question except it doesn’t matter if you are in the same local authority area or not, their Housing Benefit can continue regardless.
As you can see, there’s a lot to consider and it’s always best to get some professional advice to make sure you are taking the right action. If you’re a Warrington Housing Association resident and need advice about this issue you can get in touch with our Money Advice Officer, Steven, for a free appointment.