Assessments Awry


    The pensions service is making a big effort to reach those who are
    entitled to pension credit but who haven’t claimed.


     


    But welfare advice staff are reporting that the service is
    routinely miscalculating pension credit when claims are made, with
    the result that many pensioners are being underpaid or refused
    pension credit all together. This is particularly true for severely
    disabled pensioners and carers.


     


    Pension credit replaced income support for pensioners in October
    2003. Like its predecessor in some respects, the basic level of
    pension credit can be increased if people qualify for certain extra
    elements. These are called premiums. 


     


    Under pension credit, there are just two additional amounts, which
    should be simple enough to administer. Unfortunately, these two
    “extras” (for carers and for people who are classed as
    severely disabled), are often misunderstood by pension
    staff.


     


    The extra amount for severe disability for example is paid if the
    person:

     


    • Gets attendance allowance at any rate or disability living
      allowance for care needs at the middle or higher rate,
      and

    • They live alone or are treated as living alone (a couple where both
      are disabled are treated as living alone, for example, if no-one
      else lives with them), and

    • No one actually receives the carer’s allowance for looking
      after them.

    • The extra amount within pension credit for carers is paid if the
      person:

    • Gets the carer’s allowance, or

    • Would be getting carers allowance if they weren’t already
      getting another benefit, such as a retirement pension, that is
      worth more. These are known as “underlying entitlement”
      cases.

       


    Advisers regularly come across cases where pension credit claims
    have been miscalculated, with catastrophic results.


     


    For example, Mr and Mrs Arrowsmith are both getting attendance
    allowance. Their pension credit should include two “severe
    disability” amounts as a result (worth £88.30). There
    should also be two “carer” amounts included in the
    pension credit assessment, as they both have underlying entitlement
    to carer’s allowance because they care for each other
    (another £51.10). When the case was assessed, no carer
    premiums were included and they were refused pension credit. Their
    adviser called the pension service to query the assessment, and was
    told that there was no such thing as the carer amount.


     


    Mr and Mrs Rashid were both already getting attendance allowance
    when the local pension service visited to do the claim for pension
    credit and two carer allowance claims. Their pension credit claim
    was then wrongly assessed, so they lost almost £90 a week.
    When this was queried, the adviser was told that it was not
    possible to have a double “severe disability” element
    when there was underlying entitlement to carer’s allowance.
    The official was adamant that pension service guidance stated this.
    It doesn’t of course, and eventually the benefit was
    corrected and arrears were paid.


     


    But what if the Rashids and the Arrowsmiths had not been
    represented?


     


    The sums involved are so large, and the errors so numerous, that
    only a full-scale trawl of cases by competent staff, will put
    confidence back in the assessment process.


     


    Gary Vaux is head of money advice, Hertfordshire Council. He is
    unable to answer queries by post or telephone. If you have a
    question to be answered 
    please write to him c/o Community Care


     

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