Experts predict the overall figure will rise to £17billion by 2022 – and from June 2020, over-75s will also find themselves without a free TV licence after the BBC’s decision to offer the concession only to those claiming the benefit. Charities and campaigners are now demanding that ministers publicise the pot of money and commit to targets to increase the number of people claiming Pension Credit. A recent survey revealed that three in four MPs also believe it is the Government’s responsibility to ensure all older people who are entitled to Pension Credit receive it. Launching its Credit Where It’s Due campaign today, Independent Age revealed that if 75 percent of those eligible signed up for the benefit by 2020, more than half a million would be lifted out of poverty.
The charity’s George McNamara said the issue was a “hidden scandal” and added: “The only beneficiary is the Chancellor, sitting on billions in unclaimed Pension Credit.
“Reform is essential and it is the Government’s responsibility to act.
“It won’t cost them an additional penny, but would transform the lives of pensioner households.”
Research for Independent Age found pensioners in the north-west were missing out the most, with more than 170,000 not claiming the Pension Credit they deserve.
Even in the north-east, which had the lowest number, 72,000 households are still missing out.
Jan Shortt, the general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, said: “Pension Credit has been around for nearly two decades but the system remains complicated and clearly doesn’t work.
“It’s time we moved away from means-testing pensioners’ incomes and paid them all a decent state pension instead.”
Former saleswoman Veronica Fenn, 80, said many older people were simply “not aware” of Pension Credit.
The Londoner, who struggles with her sight, told how the benefit had taken “a tremendous amount of anxiety” out of her life because she was now entitled to free eye care, as well as dental checks and chiropody.
“It opens doors for you,” she said.
“These perks are kept quiet but Pension Credit is vital. It is only because of the Independent Age helpline that I know the help is there.”
Full-time carer Graham Marks, 81, said it was “catastrophic” that more people aren’t claiming entitlements.
Mr Marks, who looks after his disabled wife Barbara at their home in Surrey, said: “These people have paid their taxes and National Insurance but there is nowhere you can go easily to find out that the benefit even exists.
“I feel that local and central government should be doing a lot more to make sure this money is distributed to those that need it most.”