Pension outrage as frozen winter benefits ‘left to wither on the vine’

Martin Lewis discusses Warm Home Discount policies

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The Warm Home Discount and Winter Fuel Allowance have not increased in a decade, despite surging energy costs, while the Christmas bonus has remained at its current rate since its introduction in the early 70’s. Many pensioners face a precarious winter as they try to keep warm.

Dennis Reed, director of Silver Voices, spoke exclusively to to express his disappointment at a lack of an increase to winter support payments for pensioners, many of which have remained at the same rate for years.

He said: “It is a great concern, because if we have a really, really cold winter, then a lot of people are going to have to switch off their heating because they can’t afford to eat.

“I had a member a few weeks ago who said basically every winter, she has to more or less spend most of the day in a sleeping bag, because her house is so cold, it’s so draughty, and she can’t afford to put the heater on. She’s got to spend all the available money on food and other essentials.

“It’s this sort of person who needs to be thought of when the Government decides that they’re going to suspend the triple lock or when they decide they’re not going to put the Winter Fuel Allowance up.

“A lot of these benefits which were introduced 20 or 30 years ago, are just being left to wither on the vine, they’re not being increased.

“There’s a Christmas bonus which has been £10 since 1972. Well, that would be worth over £100 now, if not a lot more, if it had been increased.

“It would be okay if the state pension provided a decent standard of income, but it’s not okay, because it doesn’t.”

Mr Reed was also frustrated that the Budget passed with hardly any mention of pensions whatsoever, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak only briefly referring to pension cap changes in his speech.

He said: “There was no mention of older people as such at all. There was no mention of older people at all in the whole speech, nothing on the triple lock and nothing on the Winter Fuel Allowance either.

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“That would have been a bit of a stop gap for a lot of older people with the surge in energy prices, and it would have been symbolic as well to say, ‘We’re going to do something this winter for our people.’”

A further disappointment for Mr Reed was the lack of announcements relating to social care, which he believes to be in a desperate state.

He said: “Despite quite a big campaign from charities over social care, there was nothing extra announced for social care itself. All that was done was a general increase in departments budgets.

“Very little of that is going to actually feed through to social care. We’ve really still got a huge social care crisis, with people not receiving the social care support they need, so we were very disappointed.

“It seems that every time health and social care gets some extra cash, it all goes to the NHS, it doesn’t go to social care.

“I’m not saying the NHS shouldn’t get it, but it’s always social care which is left out from this, which is a short term and counterproductive measure, because it just means that more people are clogging up hospital beds because they can’t get the support they need.”

Pension savers were given some positive news this week, as the Department for Work and Pensions announced new rules designed to add an extra layer of scam protection for people transferring their pensions.

However, Mr Reed believes the Government has been too slow to act on this issue, and warned of the importance of protecting people who may be at risk of being scammed out of their pensions.

He said: “The Government is retrospectively trying to put safeguards in place, but it should have thought of this before opening the door to potential scams.

“People who lose their lifetime savings that are ready for at least a comfortable, secure retirement, they’re never going to replace it unless they win a lottery.

“So we really should be very, very careful about the way those pension pots are used. It is very tempting if somebody rings up on the phone and says: ‘Your savings are only gaining 0.5 percent at the moment, I can guarantee you three or four or five percent returns every year’.”

“A lot of those people who lost all their savings are going to rely on the future benefit system. So the Government has an incentive to make sure that these scammers are not getting away with it.”

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