UK households missing out on £19bn a year in unclaimed welfare benefits
UK households missing out on £19bn a year in unclaimed welfare benefits –
Millions of UK households are collectively missing out on at least £19bn a year in unclaimed welfare benefits, at a time when many are forced to use food banks or run up debt as they struggle with rising living costs, according to new estimates.
Lower income households are failing to claim benefits and other cash support for which they are eligible, according to a study by the consultancy Policy in Practice. Some families could be forgoing as much as £4,000 a year.
The sheer complexity of the benefits system, lack of public awareness of what support is available for households, and fear of being perceived by others as “benefit scroungers” all contribute to the high level of unclaimed or underclaimed benefits, says the analysis.
It estimates that 1.3m households are eligible for but do not take up the UK’s main working-age benefit, universal credit, resulting in £7.5bn going unclaimed each year. Nearly 3m eligible families do not claim council tax support (£2.9bn), while 5m households miss out on nearly £2bn of support for water, energy and broadband bills.
“It is shocking that £19bn of benefits and support is unclaimed at any time, let alone during a cost of living crisis,” said Deven Ghelani, director of Policy in Practice. “Missing out on eligible benefits could be the difference between households keeping their heads above water and feeling they are drowning,” he added.
Benefits advisers said they typically secured relatively small additional payments for clients of £10 to £20 a week, which would nonetheless have a transformative effect. “It can mean the family can eat properly, put the heating on, get the bus, take the children swimming – all the things we take for granted,” said one adviser.
But the study found even bigger sums were not unusual. In one case, advisers helped a pensioner couple in Kent living on £280 a week secure an extra £222 a week in pension credit – £11,500 a year. A Coventry pensioner living on £55 a week was found to be eligible for an extra £138 a week (£7,200 a year).
Pensioners are more likely not to apply for benefits on the grounds that they perceive benefit “handouts” to be shameful, say advisers. An estimated 850,000 pensioner households fail to claim £1.8bn annually in pension credit, which is designed to support retired people struggling on low incomes, according to the study.
The government should commit to positive messaging about benefits to ensure claimants are not put off, urged Policy in Practice. “The stigma and shame attached to claiming benefits is a major factor driving no-take-up among those who are eligible but who choose not to engage with the benefit system at all,” the study says.
Millions of lower-income households struggled to stay afloat financially over the past 18 months as energy and food prices soared. Food banks have experienced record demand amid growing food insecurity, with a fifth of households reporting skipping meals, going hungry or not eating for a whole day.
The study argues the social security system has become hugely complex, requiring multiple application mechanisms across different organisations, national and local. Households could easily be required to make six or seven different applications to receive the benefits and cash support they may be eligible for.
“Claimants must become experts in the system’s intricacies and know which hoops to jump through, all while dealing with financial pressure. While some aspects of claim application are unavoidably complicated … the system as a whole needs to avoid adding extra pressure wherever possible,” the study says.
Daphne Hall, vice-chair of the National Association of Welfare Rights Advisers, said claimants needed high levels of confidence, persistence, patience and determination to negotiate benefit systems that can be arduous and put administrative and psychological barriers in the way of applicants in desperate need of support.
The study said that as the value of working-age benefits had eroded in recent years, financially struggling claimants had been forced to locate and navigate a plethora of discretionary emergency support schemes, often administered locally and with differing eligibility requirements.
The £19bn figure does not include the personal independence payment (Pip) and attendance allowance (AA) disability benefits, for which there is no automatic entitlement. If just 10% of Pip and AA went unclaimed, this would amount to £3.5bn annually, the study estimates.
Even when Pip is claimed, some claimants are rejected or receive lower awards after a health assessment. More than two-thirds of those who appeal win their case at tribunal, but nearly half abandon their appeal. A recent report by MPs suggested this was because the lengthy and exhausting appeal process was damaging to their health.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said:“We are committed to helping vulnerable households and ensuring everyone claims the support they are entitled to. The independent benefit calculators on gov.uk and the free Help to Claim support from Citizens Advice are available to help people check their eligibility and claim universal credit.