Help the Aged renewed its call for automatic benefit payments for older people after official figures revealed a sharp rise in pensioner poverty.
The charity said the increase in 200,000 pensioners who fell below the poverty line between 2005-6 and 2006-7, taking the total to 2.1 million after housing costs, was partly explained by the fact that around £5bn of benefits allocated to over-60s was going unclaimed each year.
The figures from the Department for Work and Pensions showed the numbers in poverty, before housing costs were taken into account, rose by 300,000 to 2.5 million in the same period.
A spokesperson for Help the Aged said the means-tested system for claiming pension credit, housing benefit and council tax benefit was”incredibly complicated and convoluted”, and millions of pensioners failed to claim them for a variety of reasons.
In a report titled Meeting the Challenge: Defeating Pensioner Poverty, the charity explains how a new automatic payment system would lift 500,000 pensioners out of poverty and a further 500,000 out of deep poverty.
“Some people are put off by the amount of forms they have to fill in, while others are simply too proud to submit a claim,” she said.
“HM Revenue and Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions between them already have the information they need to assess a claim and pay the money directly into people’s bank accounts.”
Mervyn Kohler, special adviser for Help the Aged, said: “This daylight robbery of older people must not be allowed to continue. It is up to the government to ensure older people get the benefits they’re entitled to and these should be paid automatically.”
David Phillips, researcher at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said the increase in pensioner poverty was “the biggest surprise” of this year’s statistics.
“The actual increase is both statistically significant and unexpectedly large, especially as the pension credit guarantee is increased in line with average earnings,” he said.