Age UK supports the Government’s aim of a simpler system with better work incentives for people of working age. Particular issues for those in their 50s and early 60s are: support for disability, digital exclusion and appropriate help for older jobseekers.
At least in the shorter term the introduction of Universal Credit is likely to increase demands on independent information and advice services. The Government should consider how it could support the advice sector.
Couples where one has reached Pension Credit age and the other is younger (“mixed age couples”) could end up with £100 a week less income under Universal Credit than under the current Pension Credit system. The older partner could be financially better off living alone and claiming Pension Credit.
Carers and people with limited capacity to work who have an older partner may receive additional elements in Universal Credit but couples could still face lower incomes than under the current system. And it is unclear whether rates will be increased if the older partner is disabled and if so how disability will be assessed.
Older partners may have to draw more on their retirement savings to support a younger partner. They may also lose other support linked to Pension Credit such as Cold Weather Payments and the Warm Home Discount and miss out on protection for pensioners within Housing Benefit and support with council tax.
As the aim of the change for mixed age couples is to increase work incentives rather than cut spending we believe there is scope to use savings that will be made to provide an additional element within Universal Credit where one partner is older.
The new Pension Credit capital limit should not be used as a way of cutting overall support and older parents or grandchildren should not be adversely affected by reforms intended to change provision for working age people.
While we are pleased that pensioners will be protected in the new system of local support with council tax we do not believe that local authorities should be put in a position where it is against their financial interest, and those of younger low income people in the area, if more older people claim their entitlements.
Delivery plans and ongoing communications around reforms to means-tested benefits for older people need to be designed to maximise the take-up of benefits and to ensure that the transition from working age to pensioner benefits is as simple and as automatic as possible.