Help the Aged has said individual pensioners could lose out on up to £50,000 over a lifetime by not claiming benefits.
The charity said pensioners faced benefits deficits of between £5,000 and £50,000 each over a lifetime. The figure was released as part of research from the London School of Economics for Help the Aged’s winter deaths campaign, run in tandem with British Gas.
The £50,000 figure is based on a 65-year-old woman missing out on £50 a week in benefits for the rest of her expected lifetime. A face-to-face benefits advice service set up by Help the Aged and British Gas found one in five clients were eligible for an extra £50 a week.
The charity said that half of those eligible to claim a share of the estimated £4.5bn in unclaimed benefits for older people could lift themselves out of fuel poverty, which Help the Aged said currently affected one million pensioner households. It renewed its call for means-tested benefits, such as housing benefit, council tax benefit and pension credit, to be paid automatically to pensioners, which it has said would lift 500,000 out of poverty.
The news comes two days after government figures showed there were 23,900 additional winter deaths in England and Wales last year, down from 25,300 in 2005-6 and 48,400 in 1999-2000. The figure is reached by comparing the number of deaths from December-March with the average of those between the preceding August-November and the following April-July.
Help the Aged said the number of excess winter deaths was a “national scandal”, demonstrating the government’s lack of progress in tackling fuel poverty. Ministers have set a target of eradicating fuel poverty for vulnerable households – those containing children or older, sick or disabled people – by 2010 and all households by 2016.