Benefits advice in the home could lift pensioners from poverty and improve their health

A unique study is being launched which could lead to a financial and health boost for pensioners across the country.

Researchers from Newcastle University will be looking at whether helping older people to claim the benefits they are entitled to leads to improved health and well-being. The research has been funded by the National Institute for Health Research, Public Health Research (NIHR PHR) programme.

Around two million pensioners are living in poverty in the UK and many could be lifted out if they claimed all the benefits they are entitled to. Billions of pounds go unclaimed every year in pension credits, council tax benefit and housing benefit, as well as health related benefits. In an earlier small-scale study carried out in the North East, 68 of 126 participants received some sort of extra welfare as a result of this intervention, with 52 receiving additional financial benefits ranging from £4 to £137 per week – an average of £55/week.

Professor Martin White, Professor of Public Health at Newcastle University, who is leading the new study, said: “We found many of the older people in our previous study were finding it difficult to make ends meet. Added to this, many were living in poor health or caring for a chronically ill relative. Additional income makes their lives easier, and could make a real difference to their health.

”The new trial will be larger, including 750 people from across the North East and will look at whether there are any health gains from the extra financial benefits. Recruitment will be through GPs, with surgeries taking part in every area of the region from Northumberland down through Tyne & Wear and County Durham, to Teesside.

Letters will be sent out to those eligible to take part by their GPs over the next few weeks. All study participants will get a free benefit check and advice in their own home from an experienced welfare rights advisor. They will also be given help to fill out any forms that are required. Professor White added: “We’ve previously shown that many older people don’t know which benefits they can claim or even where or how to access advice.“The intervention is simple but effective in helping older people claim the benefits they’re entitled to.“There are almost half a million people above retirement age in the North East.  We believe almost 19,000 could be eligible for unclaimed financial benefits.

“The advice that we’re providing could become even more important as the effects of the Welfare Reform Bill start to bite.”As well as extra cash, many participants received non-financial benefits, such as mobility aids and household adaptations. These included ‘Blue Badges’, that let people with mobility problems park in disabled parking bays, and ‘Staywarm’ fuel grants.  

Case study Ninety year old Thomas McCleod took part in the earlier study and he now receives an extra £50 a week in Attendance Allowance. In 2003 he had a heart attack but wasn’t getting any benefits at all.Mr McLeod, who lives in Dulverston Close, Chapel House, said:“The extra money has made a big difference to my life. My wife died in 2002 and I had no idea how difficult things would be once I was on my own. My bills were going up every year and I had no idea what I was entitled to claim.“I can’t walk very far as I need a stick so it was hard for me to get out and about to find the right advice. It was perfect for someone to come round to my house to help me out. I was told I should be getting some help.“This extra money is a real God send. It pays for a gardener and a home help as well as a personal alarm service. It makes it a lot easier to manage.” 

Further details about the study can be found at:

http://www.ncl.ac.uk/ihs/research/project/4094

http://www.phr.nihr.ac.uk/funded_projects/09_3009_02.asp  

For more information on this press release, an interview with the academics involved, or an interview with the case study, please contact Sam Wood in the Newcastle University press office on 0191 208 7374, 07886 473 422 or e-mail sam.wood1@ncl.ac.uk 

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR PHR programme or the Department of Health. 1.      The National Institute for Health Research Public Health Research (NIHR PHR) programme was launched in autumn 2008. It commissions research to evaluate public health interventions, providing new knowledge on the benefits, costs, acceptability and wider effect of non-NHS interventions intended to improve the health of the public and reduce inequalities in health. The scope of the programme is multi-disciplinary and broad covering a range of public health interventions. Visit www.phr.nihr.ac.uk 

The National Institute for Health Research provides the framework through which the research staff and research infrastructure of the NHS in England is positioned, maintained and managed as a national research facility.  The NIHR provides the NHS with the support and infrastructure it needs to conduct first-class research funded by the Government and its partners alongside high-quality patient care, education and training.  Its aim is to support outstanding individuals (both leaders and collaborators), working in world class facilities (both NHS and university), conducting leading edge research focused on the needs of patients. www.nihr.ac.uk

published on: 9th March 2012