One of Derry’s most experienced advice workers has described changes to the pension credits system here as a “silent welfare reform,” which he says is depriving thousands of local pensioners of money they should be entitled to.
Until May 2010, pension credits were available to a person after their sixtieth birthday, now people are no longer eligible until they are 61 and a half years old. Jimmy Doherty from the Galliagh Women’s Group advice service, says this 18 month change means pensioners are losing out on almost £1400. As well as this, Mr. Doherty says there are huge delays to processing claims when people do come forward to take advantage of their entitlements.
“The goalposts have been moved here and nobody, except those who are directly affected, seems to care,” said Mr. Doherty.
“This is a silent welfare reform and it’s been inflicted on one of the most vulnerable groups in our society. Older people seldom complain and they are going without payment here because of problems at the top of these gorvernment departments. Staff on the ground in Derry, where pension credits are processed, are overworked and there are clearly not enough staff to handle the workload because of the lack of recruitment.
“The fallout from this means that people are waiting for months for payments to be made and our older people are going without money that they are perfectly entitled to in the meantime. In some cases there’s absolutely no communication so people have no idea how to even start the application process.”
Mr. Doherty says government needs to re evaluate spending in terms of expensive campaigns and put the money to more practical use for the benefit of elderly and vulnerable people.
“We see the government pumping money into campaigns to encourage people to come forward and claim while what they should be doing is funding local community organisations who are usually the first port of call for people who don’t know where to turn with the application process. I’m increasingly concerned about the fact that a system is now in place which allows for telephone applications which in some cases could result in inaccurate information being relayed and further complications arising from that.”
Mr Doherty says improvements must be made to the system sooner rather than later.
“The denial of pension credit for that 1 and a half year period from the age of sixty is stopping people at that age from having a better quality of life and processing delays are ultimately causing increased hardship and poverty. Our elected representatives should be stepping in to make the system better for those who need these payments most.”