The poorest pensioners have been waiting months for their benefit claims to be approved after the Department for Work and Pensions overwhelmed the increased demand spurred by its own publicity campaign.
In early April, the DWP launched a campaign to encourage retirees to apply for pension credit – the benefit paid to low-income people over the state retirement age – to deal with the rising cost of living.
Welfare Rights Advisers said observer That DWP was not able to handle the subsequent flow of requests, which resulted in long delays.
“[Last week] “We received a phone call from someone who had been waiting since April, having filed a claim at the time,” said Matt Hunt, assistant coordinator of the Derbyshire Centers for Unemployed Workers.
“We have at least eight cases open now for people who have been waiting more than three months to receive a response from the pension credit, which is unusual in our experience.”
He said online forums have been reporting cases of people waiting since February, while requests are usually processed within six weeks at most.
“We are often told exactly what claimants are being told, which is ‘there’s a backlog, you’re just going to have to wait.’ So we are now referring the cases to the local attorney’s office to try and establish at least a pattern for these cases, and try to lobby outside where possible.”
The government’s target cost of living payment of £650 only goes to people claiming tested benefits – so those whose pension applications are overdue can’t get the target cost of living payments either. They are eligible for the £300 cost of living payment for retirees in the meantime, and if their pension credit application is finally accepted, they can receive the target payment retroactively.
‘Some people wait six months and more – others wait longer. I’ve chased a case of an 87-year-old who had waited three months,’ said a social care rights adviser in northern England.
“Claims were being submitted within four weeks and this is the timeline that is still being submitted when your claim is acknowledged. As consultants we are [normally] She tends to chase after about six to eight weeks…but decides not to bother chasing all the pension credit claims on our case count up to the three-month point.
“When we phone the chase, they promise the customer to call back in two weeks. That’s their response. I don’t want the call back, I want the claim to be considered and paid.”
Labor MP Tan Dahsi told observer He recently intervened to help a voter who was forced to rely on food banks due to delays in processing an application for a pension. Ultimately, the late arrears component was awarded.
The Doha Work Program has now redeployed staff to deal with the increase in demands. The observer I’ve heard anecdotal evidence that recent claims are being dealt with more quickly, but the backlog of cases is still stuck in the system.
Labour’s shadow pensions minister, Matt Rhoda, said: “The government has a poor track record of providing pension credit and its failure is leaving less affluent pensioners to pay the price.
“The administration’s absolute priority in the Conservative cost-of-living crisis should be to support more people to demand this additional assistance, not delay payments.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “We want to ensure retirees get all the support they are entitled to and the success of the recent pension credit campaign is driving the volume of pension credit claims being made to an all-time high.
“Additional resources are being deployed to ensure we address the surge as quickly as possible. We are also working closely with stakeholders and service providers to identify potential process improvements that will increase efficiency and reduce processing times.
“Successful claims and arrears are delayed and paid accordingly, to ensure that receivables are not missed, so we urge anyone who thinks they may be eligible for a retirement credit or cost of living payment to check.”