Reluctant Benefits still at Sea

This is a continuation of my last week’s blog on welfare benefits.   ( You can see all the posts on this subject by clicking on “Welfare Benefits “ in the Tag Cloud )

I have been surfing around for days now in the choppy sea of welfare benefits information.    At this point I am none the wiser, indeed if anything I am more befuddled about where to start.    That is hardly surprising if you remember those 5772 pages on the Government website.   Needles and haystacks come to mind!

My frustration is compounded by my limited computer skills and the torrent of data that is floating around in the Benefits sea.    If  I could structure and simplify it all, there would be a pile of unclaimed money that could be made available to many hard-pressed older people.

But perhaps that’s the reason for all the information and confusion.    Successive Governments of both parties are always in two minds about benefits.     When they want something they willingly give money back to us to secure our votes.    Then having promised it, they are not totally committed to spending the money.      It is easy to give the benefits with one hand, thereafter in times of austerity, it is not so easy to take it back with the other.

I can certainly see why many older people are unaware of benefits that are available to them, but also why even if they know about them they don’t claim them.

All the more reason to keep paddling 😋

FOOTNOTE – Please note, I hasten to add that I am no expert and anyone reading this should not take my observations or figures as fact.    Hopefully before I finish this series of blogs, I will have raised awareness of some of the issues in the welfare benefits system.    If you’re intending to make a claim, you should go to one of the trusted agencies like Age UK or Citizens Advice Bureau.    

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LLLP Derailment.

I have been surfing around looking for welfare benefits solutions for what seems like an age.  So this weekend I am going to have a break and write about some thing different.

Ever since the Last Laugh Looney Party has been at the Cabinet table it has been having more and more influence on Government policy.    There has not been a better example than last weeks announcement by the new Transport Minister —- Mr Jo Johnson.   He is the younger brother of Boris, who is also well known for progressive Looney ideas.

Jo Jo has only been in office for six weeks and already he has gone a long way to solving a major crisis.    One most  of us didn’t know we had!      The railways, or more precisely the devastating environmental scourge of carbon particle pollution from diesel trains.    I must admit it has given me many sleepless nights, thinking about carbon particle pollution.     What is even more worrying is that we live close to a railway and those particles might be blowing in any time the north wind blows.     I may have to ware a mask until Jo Jo has sorted the trains out.      I will also contact my ever-helpful no-win no-fee lawyer.

Jo Jo has decreed that such filthly trains will be  banned almost overnight — or at least by 2040.    Well, —-he hopes by then — or maybe later.   Trains are always late anyway!

The new policy was kicked off with a speech at the British Museum full of all the latest political  buzz words, straight out of the LLLP Political Speech Handbook :-

  • “ There is no new funding needed for the policy”  —- a very clever move which guarantees it will be supported and also that it won’t happen.
  • “A vision for how it will decarbonise” — we used to use chimney sweeps for this, but they have been swept away
  • “Use more bi-mode trains” — you can never get enough of these, even if nobody knows what they are.
  • “A bridging technology to other low emission futures” —- it is probably a good idea to have a few bridges in any new railway policy.

Jo Jo, like his brother, has obviously learned a lot from the Last Laugh Looney Party.    It is a good idea to have dates which are so far away that no-one will remember what you said when the time comes around to deliver a result.       Litter your speeches with technical jargon that nobody will understand, which will make you look very clever.   Finally get yourself all over the news papers which will raise your profile, when nobody knows who you are, or what on earth you are talking about.

Who knows Jo Jo could be the first Last Laugh Looney Prime Minister in …… 2040 😀

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Reluctant Benefits Koan

The path to benefits entitlement,

is not paved with enlightenment.

Benefits Streets aren’t paved with gold.

They are more like illusory rainbows.

 

Reform is beset by political indecision.

Met swiftly with opposition derision.

The virtue of benefit is washed away,

by extremes on both sides of debate.

 

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Reluctant Welfare Benefits and Benefits

This is a continuation of my last week’s blog on welfare benefits.   ( You can see all the posts on this subject by clicking on “Welfare Benefits “ in the Tag Cloud )

Perhaps I should start with what I know already.     There are far more reliable websites out there, if you can find them.     One of my first problems was that the websites have different dates and consequently different databases.    Because of that you can frequently find several figures for the same issue.     Needless to say this is hopelessly confusing.      Also, several benefits have changed their name over the years and it is easy to mistakenly think that they are separate benefits when they may not be.    There are some trustworthy advice agencies that can guide you on this but you have to find who you can trust first.     Because sadly I have found several companies that embed their advertising amongst charitable organisations.     But in fact many of them are high interest loan sharks, so you have to be very careful.     Additionally, there is a vast amount of Government information, but once again you have to find the particular data that is current and relevant to you and that is not always easy.     That’s what this blog thread will be all about.

I have worked with charitable organisations for 30 years providing housing and support for older people.    During that time I have employed some very committed and successful benefits teams.     What little I now know I have learned from them.   They have helped a great many older people to secure substantial unclaimed benefits, which in total amounts to  many millions of pounds.

So here is a jumble of benefits information in my head.   Let’s start with what benefits I have heard of :-

  • State Pension – not really a benefit – it is an entitlement that you must have paid into for years.   The rules on it have changed over the years and are still changing today, therefore few people are sure what they are entitled to.    The current Government is equalising men and women retirement age, while at the same time progressively extending the state retirement age for everyone.     Some years ago, the annual index linking of pensions was changed from the Retail Price Index to the Consumer Price Index which has had the effect of depressing pension increases since they were introduced.    On the positive side, the current Government has introduced a new higher state pension but only for new pensioners which introduces a level of unfairness and confusion into the system.
  • Pension Credit – even more difficult to understand which partly explains why it is so under-claimed.    It is a very important benefit nonetheless and acts as a “passport” to several other benefits.   Hence it is very important to claim this benefit if you are entitled to it.   I will say more about it when I’ve looked into it further.
  • Housing Benefit – This is a key means-tested benefit for renters in the public and private sector.    It too is a “passport” benefit to other benefits.    Over quite a few years, housing benefit increases have been limited and in some situations “capped”.    It remains a very important benefit for many elderly people in retirement housing, because it includes an element of payment for service charges.

I could go on to mention Council Tax Benefit …….. and then discuss …….. cold weather …….. and fuel …….. and care …….. and health …….. and ……. and …….    But with each step my knowledge would get less and less and more befuddled.    Also I would probably need 5772 pages.

So I will look them up first before I comment on them individually.     So far I have spent quite a few days surfing in the benefits sea.   I have yet to find a compass or a life raft.

Is it any wonder that so many older people fail to receive their full entitlement to welfare benefits ?

FOOTNOTE – Please note, I hasten to add that I am no expert and anyone reading this should not take my observations or figures as fact.    Hopefully before I finish this series of blogs, I will have raised awareness of some of the issues in the welfare benefits system.    If you’re intending to make a claim, you should go to one of the trusted agencies like Age UK or Citizens Advice Bureau.    

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“Peak Stuff”

Economists are funny people with some very strange ideas.   They are always forecasting things which rarely come true.   Today I read for the first time about the theory of “peak stuff”.  It is not a concept I have come across, although it sounds like a collision of product life cycles.

Apparently some economist worked out that in the UK in the year 2000 the average person in Britain purchased 15 tons of material.  By 2013 that number had fallen to a mere 10 tons.   Goodness knows how they calculated that number or what it consisted of :- cars, furniture, a years’ supply of food and drink, clothes.   Could that all add up to fifteen tons, or even ten tons?  It’s very hard to believe but, I suppose a lot of it would be excess packaging.

Well when you have got that much stuff you may conclude you have enough.  That’s where the idea of “peak stuff” comes from.   Older people are likely to reach this state sooner than everyone else.    That is when I started to get concerned about my M&S shares.   I was reading in the Times business pages about Marks and Spencer’s closing a number of its stores and they mentioned “peak stuff” leading to reduced  consumer demand.

I suppose when you think about it, I certainly have enough pants and vests to last a lifetime.  Not to mention white shirts, and socks and hankies and sweaters and ties and more ties.  Yep I have definitely reached “peak stuff”.

The economists were right after all.   It is me that is responsible for the country’s economic downturn.

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Reluctant Welfare Benefits

I have decided to start a thread about welfare benefits for older people.   It may we’ll go on over several months as it is a large issue and to many people, including me, an unfathomable subject.      Nonetheless it potentially offers vital financial support to many people.

What interests me is how anybody expects older people to find their way around such a complicated system.     Or maybe, if they are the Government who is dishing out, they don’t?      The take-up of benefits is renowned for being low, especially by the poorest pensioners, who the benefits are supposed to be helping.    Various commentators estimate the under-claiming of pensioners benefits to be between £3 billion and £5.5 billion annually.    A pot of gold for the old at the end of a reluctant rainbow!

So I kicked off my research with my IPad, because all Government information is on-line these days.   A visit to the Government’s website on benefits has 5,772 pages !    That should be a quick read.

Perhaps it is not surprising, because the Government spends £264 billion on benefits every year, which is 34% of all Government spending.   Not all of it is spent on pensioners, but a lot of it is.

A graphic I found on the Office of National Statistics website gave a breakdown of the budget figures :-

  • £111 billion on pensions
  • £30 billion on Personal Social Services
  • £44 billion on disability benefits
  • £10 billion on Elderly Care Payments
  • the remainder is Housing Benefit and other benefits.

SO HOW DO YOU GET IT ?    That will be my challenge in the weeks / months ahead.    I will report on my progress each week.

 

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Banking Security

My money is safe in the bank.    So safe I can’t get at it !

My bank card expires at the end of the month and normally a few weeks before that I am automatically sent a new one.   But this time it must have got lost in the Christmas post because I didn’t get one.   I was worried that I might not be able to buy anything from the 1st of February and that starvation was only a step away.

So I decided to ring up the helpline number on the back of the card.    This is where customer service kicks in.   I speak to a recorded message press 1 for  “ nothing I could understand” ; press 2 for “nothing I wanted”; press 3 for “ nothing in particular”.    I finally reverted to pressing 1 in the hope I might get a real person.    No such luck, I got another automatic message saying “we are exceptionally busy  right now, please wait and we will be with you as soon as possible”.   Then I got entertained with some plinky plonk music regularly interrupted by repeated messages of how exceptionally busy they were.  I nodded off for a while, eventually to be woken up by a real person.     Well not quite, it was another recorded message asking some security questions :- “please type the third digit of the security number on the back of your card”      Which I did.     It was only when I was next asked to type in the fourth digit, that I realised that I had got the third digit wrong.    Too late, they already had me down as a suspected fraudster.  I was then abruptly told, that if I hung up my card would be ‘locked’.   If I held on and listened to some more music, I could speak to a real person eventually although “we are exceptionally busy  right now, please wait and we will be with you as soon as possible”.   Then a bit more plinky plonk music!

A tune or two later the music stopped and a real person answered.   As I was half asleep I didn’t catch her name, just the thick Glaswegian accent.   She told me she had some security questions so that I could verify who I was :- name, address, post code and date of birth.   Fortunately, I knew who I was so I could answer the questions correctly.   I told her my problem and so she said “ in that case I have a few more security questions”.    None of them were as simple as my mother’s maiden name, it was more like Eggheads except they didn’t give you alternative answers.    I am normally quite good at quiz shows, but not today.    I didn’t know what bank accounts we had with them.    I didn’t know the favourite colour I had given them six years ago when I opened the account.    Worst of all I could not recall what I had used the card for five days ago.     I could tell she was beginning to lose confidence in me.  In fact the fraud squad were probably on their way around as we spoke.

My money was safe, but I wasn’t.

Then as the interrogation was drawing to a close, I remembered I bought a small fridge six days ago at Sainsbury’s.   “No that’s not it”, she said.  “But I did,  I bought a fridge”.    “Not according to us you didn’t”.   “Well OK maybe it was Argos inside Sainsbury’s“  “Sorry I have to accept your first answer”

Then she very politely explained that the system had now locked me out for my own sake and I couldn’t get any more money until I personally visited my bank with some photo ID. Preferably not wearing a mask and definitely not carrying a fire arm.

 

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