When Nina Hayton saw a government advertisement for the pension credit payment in August, she thought her prayers had been answered.
The 72-year-old former agricultural secretary, from South Petherton, Somerset, worried desperately about how she would be able to afford to heat her home this winter, as energy bills soared.
If she were eligible for pension credit – which is paid to low-income pensioners – she would receive much-needed extra money every week and unlock other benefits, such as extra help with fuel bills , council tax and NHS dental care.
Most vulnerable: Some pensioners had to wait six months for vital pension credit following rising bills
Nina, who is divorced, checked with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and found she could claim up to £36 a week – plus back-dated payments worth an estimated £1,044.
Naturally, she was over the moon: the pension credit would finally enable her to afford a new pair of glasses and to offer a Christmas present to her nine-year-old granddaughter.
But earlier this week – almost four months later, and with Christmas approaching – she was still waiting for the money.
Because Nina is one of 60,000 retirees caught in a huge backlog of DWP pension credits.
Money Mail found that some have been waiting six months for these vital state pension top-ups.
The timing couldn’t be worse as the cost of living crisis rages.
For years, pension credit has been one of the greatest untapped resources available to retirees retiring with little personal savings.
In fact, more than 850,000 eligible low-income people were still not claiming their rights as of June, according to the DWP. On average, they could get over £3,000 a year.
Many don’t apply because they mistakenly believe they don’t qualify for the pension credit — or don’t even know it exists.
Others simply feel too proud to claim it – even if they are fully entitled to it and have dutifully paid taxes all their working lives.
If you qualify, the pension credit tops up weekly income to a minimum of £182.60 for singles and £278.70 for couples.
You are eligible if you (and your partner, if you have one) are of legal retirement age – currently 66 – and have a low income and limited means.
Any savings or investments over £10,000 will affect the amount of pension credit you receive. Every £500 above that is counted as £1 per week income and used to determine what top-up you get, if any.
Those caring for a parent can get an additional £38.85 per week and disabled pensioners an additional £69.40.
Other support programs for those claiming a pension credit include the Warm Home Reduction and Housing Benefit, if you rent out your home. Claims can be backdated up to three months.
Backlog: DWP’s inability to meet high demand for state pension credit leaves many pensioners vulnerable
With the cost of living soaring, the DWP launched an advertising campaign in April to raise awareness and help retirees pay their bills.
It was a huge success, generating a record number of applications. Over 111,550 successful credit applications were made between April and August alone.
But only a third of those claims have been paid so far, according to a freedom of information request by stockbroker AJ Bell.
Nina Hayton was among the applicants. Since applying in August, she has had to cut back on essentials, turning down her heating and cooking less often.
“I need money now, not in the future,” Nina says. “At the age of 72, I never expected that I would be wrapped in a blanket worrying about electricity and gas usage.
“I am frustrated with the government’s arrogance in its attitude when people who desperately need help don’t get it.”
After Money Mail’s intervention this week, the DWP finally issued Nina’s pension credit.
Yesterday he paid £874.56 into his bank account for the June-November period and will now pay £145.76 every four weeks.
The DWP said “the volume of pension credit claims is at an all-time high” and it is working hard to ensure pensioners receive the support they need.
But the collapse of services, with such long delays, has left pensioners vulnerable as the weather turns cold and bills keep rising.
Steve Webb, a former pensions minister and now a partner at consultancy LCP, said: ‘It’s shocking that a department can run an advertising campaign and not be ready for people to respond to it.
Cost-of-living support payments made by the government this winter are another incentive to claim a pension credit. A successful application made before December 18 could mean being eligible for a payment of £324.
Missed: Many retirees don’t apply for a pension credit because they mistakenly believe they don’t qualify for payments or don’t even know it exists
Dennis Reed of Silver Voices, an organization for older people, blamed the delays on staffing issues at the DWP, which he said is “locking up at all levels”.
“Treating people this way and making feeble excuses seems like a scandal to me,” he adds.
“To say there was a flurry of applications is not a good enough excuse when they chose to launch this ad campaign.”
Another Money Mail reader, Gordon Lang, says he called the DWP 40 times during a five-month battle to claim a pension credit for his elderly mother-in-law.
Suzanne Geiser, 88, applied for a pension credit in March. But due to what Gordon describes as “appalling inefficiency”, no payment came for months.
“She needed the money and it was extremely frustrating because no one could explain the situation. We went from one agent to another,” he says.
After months of calls, Gordon, who is from Bedford, says a DWP official told him there was no record of an application being received and it could be lost.
Suzanne finally received her backdated payments at the end of August.
June Gumble, 85, says her pension credit was suddenly cut after her husband died in April and she hasn’t received a payment since.
She immediately lost free access to the dentist, subsidized glasses and had to pay for a television license. She also received letters from her local council in East Hertfordshire asking for council tax.
“It was a real shock and I only realized in July that I had to apply for my own pension credit,” she says.
“I phoned the DWP to apply, but my application remained half full. They said they would finalize it by calling back in ten days, but they never did.
A spokesperson said the DWP had not had enough time to investigate June’s case to provide an official response to Money Mail, but was looking into it.
Morgan Vine, of national charity Independent Age, said: ‘Receiving this money is the difference between being able to afford to turn on the heat and lights and living in a cold, dark house.
The DWP refuses to confirm whether it has hired more staff to process the mountain of retiree applications.
A spokesperson said the department had “increased resources”, but did not explain what this entailed or give details of the actions taken.
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