Given the trend towards an increasingly ageing population, the percentage of people over 60 will increase in the following decades and consequently the numbers of people who will lose out on backdating will increase.
However, without detailed figures on Housing Benefit it is difficult to understand how a full impact assessment of the proposed changes can be made.
Meeting the Challenge: Defeating Pensioner Poverty, Help the Aged (2007)Given the current rise in the costs of living and in particular the costs of oil, gas and electricity it is a fact that many pensioners are facing stark decisions between food and heat.
Pension Credit is recognized by charities such as Age Concern NI and Help the Aged NI as being a particularly useful benefit in maximizing the incomes of pensioners.
Undoubtedly Pension Credit has played an important role in tackling pensioner poverty and, in particular, access to twelve months backdating without the need to show good cause has been a very welcome feature of this benefit.
However, we are aware that older people still encounter barriers and difficulties in claiming benefits.
The Northern Ireland Housing Executive currently does not collate figures on the number of HB claimants over 60 whose benefit is backdated between three and twelve months.
It is their current practice to automatically consider all claims from people over pensionable age as fresh claims from a period beginning twelve months prior to the application being made.The Department for Work and Pensions proposes to introduce regulations to take effect from 6th October 2008 which will provide for the time for claiming Housing Benefit and Pension Credit for pensioners to be reduced from 12 to three months; the backdating period for HB working age customers to be reduced from 52 weeks to three months and the period for which Pension Credit may be retained while abroad to be increased to 13 weeks.Law Centre (NI) is concerned about the potential impact of some of these changes on several groups of people in Northern Ireland: older people entitled to claim Pension Credit, people in work entitled to Housing Benefit including migrant workers and self-employed people and others who could be considered vulnerable.Age Concern (NI) report that ten per cent of pensioners’ income is from means-tested benefits although many pensioners do not claim their entitlement.Age Concern (NI) also estimate that approximately one in ten pensioners in Northern Ireland is failing to claim the Pension Credit to which they are entitled.Being able to backdate benefit for up to a year helps prevent eviction and homelessness by enabling tenants to pay off rent arrears which, it is our experience, are often caused by problems with their Housing Benefit claim in the first place.