Mixed Age Couples – Pension Credit Changes

Below is a letter to Alistair Burt, my local Conservative MP, regarding the changes to Pension Credit entitlement for mixed age couples – those couples with one person of state pension age and the other is below. These changes coming into force on 15th May 2019 will potentially have a seriously adverse impact on the financial position of mixed age couples. This government has pursued these changes in spite of warnings from UK charities who advocate for elderly people. Age UK have written a factsheet on this issue which you can read by clicking on the link below:

Click to access age_uk_-briefing_on_benefit_changes_for_mixed_age_couples_february2019.pdf

“I am writing to you to raise my concerns about the change to Pension Credit entitlement which will result in a serious reduction to the income of mixed age couples.

On 14th January 2019 the Department for Work and Pensions announced changes to benefits for mixed age couples – mixed aged couples being defined as one person in the partnership being of state pension age and one below. This change originated from the Welfare Reform Act which was passed in 2012.

• The current Pension Credit entitlement for couples is in the form of a top-up up to the value of £248.80 per week, £1078.13 per month.
• The current Universal Credit entitlement for couples is £498.89 per month.

Currently mixed age couples can receive the Pension Credit when the older of the couple reaches Pension Age. However, the changes will mean that both members of a mixed aged couple will have to reach state pension age before they can claim Pension Credit.

While this entitlement will continue for mixed age couples currently in receipt of Pension Credit, from 15th May 2019 any new mixed aged claimants will not be able to claim Pension Credit and will only be entitled to claim Universal Credit, which as you can see above is around £500 less per month per couple.

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Further, the ongoing entitlement to Pension Credit for those mixed aged couples who are already on the benefit prior to and on the transition date of 15th May 2019 ends if there is any break in claiming. This will mean that, when re-applying for benefits, they will be moved on to the far lower rate provided by Universal Credit, set out above, until the younger person in the couple reaches state pension age.

This reduction could result in a reduction of income of up to £7,000 per year for a mixed age couple. As the average age difference between couples has been estimated at 2.6 years this could result in an average loss of benefit of around £19,000 before the younger member of the couple reaches the state pension age. In couples with a larger age difference this loss may obviously be far larger.

Further, the loss of Pension Credit has a knock on effect regarding the receipt of other benefits such as Warm Home Discount, Cold Weather Payment and Council Tax support. Where Pension Credit is lost due to the introduction of the changes, the older partner will also lose the exemption from the spare room subsidy, commonly referred to as the ‘bedroom tax’.

These changes will have a significant effect on mixed age couples and has been criticised by a number of UK charities, including Age UK who described the change as illogical. Older people will be penalised for having a younger partner.

Age UK also said, “the changes could affect the health and wellbeing of some older people, will increase pensioner poverty, force people to use their retirement savings to support a younger partner and put pressure on family relationships”.

Concerns about this change were raised during the passage of the legislation through the House of Commons and the House of Lords and amendments were proposed, but not accepted by your government. There was particular concern raised about circumstances where the younger partner was not able to work.

Below is an excerpt from the ‘Universal Credit Final Impact Assessment’ from 2012:

36. When looking at the pattern of changes, couples with children see the biggest increase in cash terms, gaining an average of around £14 per month (around 0.4 per cent of net income for families of this type). Lone parents see a smaller cash increase. Couples without children, in the long-term, see a small notional reduction in their entitlement both in cash and percentage terms. Both members in such households would generally be expected to actively seek work. Some of the larger notional losses for couples without children are in cases where one member is of working age and one is currently eligible for Pension Credit. Under the reform they will be eligible for Universal Credit as opposed to Pension Credit in order to ensure that the partner of working age remains focused on a return to work. Transitional protection will ensure that there will be no cash losses for any households that are actively moved to Universal Credit from legacy benefits or tax credits, where their circumstances remain the same…

The highlighted section indicates that the government were fully aware that there would be a reduction in benefit for mixed age couples, so this is not an oversight.

This change will affect a significant number of people, estimates of those currently on pension credit but not at state pension age vary between 57,000 and 93,200 depending on your source. While not all of these people will be affected by the changes it is clear that the change will have an adverse effect on many people, including mixed age couples here in North East Bedfordshire.

This policy unnecessarily penalises people on the basis of having a younger partner. I believe the change is ill-thought out and should be reconsidered.

As you will know Universal Credit is for working age people not for those at pension age, but this change will result in pensioners in a mixed age couple coming under the Universal Credit system.

Further, the change assumes that the younger of the couple will be able to find the work to boost the couple’s income, which will often not be the case for a number of reasons.
I am also concerned about the lack of any transitional protections for those moved off Pension Credit.

Do you agree with these changes to Pension Credit entitlement? I look forward to hearing your views on this matter.”

Sources
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/changes-to-benefits-for-mixed-age-couples
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/housing-benefit-adjudication-circulars-2019/a32018-mixed-age-couples-changes-to-entitlement-conditions-from-15-may-2019
http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2019/37/pdfs/uksi_20190037_en.pdf
http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2019/37/pdfs/uksi_20190037_en.pdf

 

 

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