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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.
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 improvements from the extra benefits. Recruitment will be through GPs, with surgeries in every area of the region from Northumberland down through Tyne & Wear and County Durham, to Teesside taking part.

Over the next few weeks, letters will be sent by their GPs to those eligible to take part. 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 above retirement age in the North East alone.  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.

This research furthers Newcastle University’s reputation as a world leader in research relating to Ageing and Health. The commitment to research on Changing Age addresses the challenges of ageing in order to make the very most of our increasingly long lives.

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 and was in a vulnerable state, but wasn’t claiming any benefits at all.

Mr McCleod, who lives in Newcastle’s West End, 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 Godsend. It pays for a gardener and a home help as well as a personal alarm service. It makes it a lot easier to manage.”

published on: 8 March 2012