Iain Duncan Smith urges wealthy elderly to 'hand back' benefits

Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith said the wealthy elderly have a choice as to whether to hand back some of their benefits

Wealthy elderly people who do not need benefits to help with fuel bills, TV licences or free travel should return the money, the work and pensions secretary says.

Iain Duncan Smith told the Sunday Telegraph he would "encourage" people who do not need such financial support "to hand it back".

But the decision whether or not to do so was up to them, he added.

Deputy PM Nick Clegg said the suggestion did "not make sense".

Prime Minister David Cameron has already said the benefits would be protected for the entirety of this Parliament, including for the year 2015-16.

A general election will be held in 2015, and Mr Duncan Smith said there were no plans to means test to exclude richer pensioners.

He told the paper: "I have no idea what we will put into the manifesto... I have no indication of change.

"It's fair to say that [pensioners] are more vulnerable than others and we need to be very careful about what and when we do things, if we ever do."


Money is tight, savings are being made across government, but Sir Mick Jagger is entitled to a free bus pass.

If you think that is odd, some in government agree with you, including the cabinet minister responsible for benefits, Iain Duncan Smith.

But the prime minister has repeatedly committed himself to protecting universal benefits for pensioners, regardless of their wealth.

So Mr Duncan Smith is trying to square the circle.

His idea creates an image of a queue of pensioners posting banknotes through the Treasury's letterbox. Don't hold your breath for that.

And his cabinet colleague Ken Clarke acknowledged there was no mechanism for people to repay the government.

In short, bus passes, free TV licences and winter fuel payments are safe until the next election. But after that, all bets are off.

Among the benefits is the winter fuel allowance of between £100 and £300 tax-free to help people who have reached the state pension age with heating bills.

A free TV licence, worth £145.50 for a colour set, is provided for people aged 75 or over, while those aged over 60 can get free NHS prescriptions.

Eligible older people are entitled to free off-peak travel on local buses anywhere in England when they reach the state pension age. Schemes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland allow people aged over 60 to apply for free bus travel.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said people have always been able to contact the department if they no longer want to receive a benefit.

Mr Clegg said his Liberal Democrat party and coalition partner the Conservatives were at odds over pensioner welfare reform: "I think we should grasp this nettle. The Conservatives don't want to do so. That is a difference of approach."

He added: "When money is tight, you've got to have the right priorities in tough times. I think it's right to ask very wealthy, maybe multi-millionaire, pensioners to make sacrifices, just as we're asking families on lower incomes."

Election promises

Shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn said: "I don't agree with him (Mr Duncan Smith).

"The fact is we have certain universal benefits in our society, people have worked hard, they've paid their taxes and they get that, in this case, when they have retired."

Nick Clegg says there is a "difference of approach" between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats over plans for welfare reform

Entrepreneur Lord Sugar and nightclub owner Peter Stringfellow have been among those who have previously complained they have not been able to opt out of receiving the winter fuel allowance.

Former Conservative Chancellor Ken Clarke said: "Well, you can't hand it back to the government, I don't think it's a system for doing that.

"I think every pensioner and retired person, like myself, obviously has to make up their own mind about whether they really need it and whether they're going to give it to some worthwhile cause.

"No doubt, most pensioners who are reasonably prosperous give quite a lot of money to charity and worthwhile causes in any event."

Charity Age UK said encouraging wealthy people to give up the benefits could have a knock-on effect.

"It is open to anyone to decide not to make use of these benefits but when it is suggested that 'wealthier pensioners' should choose to forego them our worry is that some who are badly in need of extra help will feel less inclined to take it," director of external affairs Caroline Abrahams said.

"Older people on very low incomes sometimes minimise their own difficulties and refer to others they know who are worse off than they are."

Universal credit

Meanwhile, the introduction of a new system of benefits for working age people begins on Monday - and marks the biggest overhaul of the benefits system since the 1940s.

Pensioner Ann Davis: "I think they should give us the option to opt out"

Mr Duncan Smith said the new universal credit system was being implemented over four years because "I want to get these things right".

Under the new universal credit, six working-age benefits - income-based jobseeker's allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, income support, child tax credit, working tax credit and housing benefit - will be merged into one.

He said: "We want to say to people, you're claiming unemployment benefit but you're actually in work paid for by the state: you're in work to find work. That's your job from now on: to find work."

Universal credit starts on a limited basis on Monday for new claimants, who are single, who live in a small number of postcode areas in Ashton-under-Lyne in Tameside, Greater Manchester.

Trials in three more areas - Oldham, Wigan and Warrington - will begin in July.

From October, more claimants will move on to universal credit as and when they have a significant change of circumstances, such as starting a new job or when a child is born.

From April 2014 until October 2017, the rest of those affected in England, Scotland and Wales will be moved on to universal credit in stages. It will start in Northern Ireland from April 2014.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    Why when these people have probably contributed most to the economy through various taxes and yet again while those who have sat on their backsides most of their lives continue to do so at our expense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.


    "On another topic, the reason why the government has cut welfare is not really to cut the deficit. It is to get people back into employment."

    One small point you seem to have missed. To get people back to work you need jobs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    Its simple - Cameron and his chums [ like IDS ] have already destroyed over 50% of the old Tory membership [ who have voted with their feet and shifted over to Mr Nigel Farage of UKIP ] so lets welcome these comments by IDS [ A Synod Of Dort Mad Protestant'esqe remnant / throwback from a previous life ] and watch the Eton Boys go down the road of self destruction even more.....their tine is up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    Live as we do Mr Iain Duncan Smith, life for a vast many pensioners becomes much harder than of a comfy style life you lead.......probably you have so much you don`t know how to use it sensibly anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    Considering the number of rich people making millions by tax avoidance I can't imagine they are going to bother returning small amounts like winter fuel extras. It wouldn't be worth the time and trouble.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    Same rules for everyone. If we are considered 'wealthy' enough not to be able to claim some benefits, so be it.

    How is it a pensioner can go to their local bingo club every session (14 times a week), spend on average £30 per session on bingo and fruit machines and still be overheard complaining they are short of money ?

    Been there, seen it and heard it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    68. Totally agree. Bus pass also keeps us fit walking to the bus stop, also keeps out of the way of road hogs. Does IDS/MPs know how to walk? My heating allowance cut by a 3rd. MPs earn huge salaries plus claim expenses for house decoration & such. We pensioners have to pay VAT on any essential repairs. MPs dont reply to e mails ie IDS, Theresa May but then crime does not matter to her or police

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    My answer would be to scrap the benefits system completely and replace it with the tax system, those in need would receive tax credits, doing away with all these bits and pieces of benefits which are just political footballs hopefully saving some money on the huge cost of managing these complex and disparate systems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    Ok Mr Duncan-Smith please can I have a rebate for all the money I have paid into the NHS for the past 40 years and now find that I cannot get an appointment to see who I need to, but could do if I was an immigrant who of course has paid nil!!! Also could I have a rebate for the money paid into the state pension scheme as I now get so little because of high taxes

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    Another vague reference from the Condemns. What does 'wealthy elderly' mean?
    Rather than looking at payments to pensioners, what about the millions sent as foreign aid to nuclear countries like India and the billions about to be wasted on Trident?
    Charity begins at home, so sort that out Condemns!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    well what do you know, the tories are talking about OAP benefits now, how about the MPs give up their expenses and receive minimum wages for doing what supposed to be a public service ? I do admire their strategy though, split everyone into groups and let us blame each other for any cuts , I.E. working peoples wages, people on benefits, immigrants, disabled people, OAPs,parents,the list go's on

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    I.D.S. Speaks again , This man has no moral compass.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    I'm sure IDS would like to adopt a policy in line with Logan's Run and extend the parameters just a tad to ensure him and his cronies are exempt.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    If wealthy pensioners give up their benefits, what will the government waste the money on next?

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    No matter how well off they are, most elderly people paid their NI contributions for years. They are as entitled to their benefits as anyone else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    Does IDS hand back his benefits? Regardless it is a good idea. If child benefit and other benefits can be means tested, so can fringe benefits for pensioners. The rich pensioner does not need their TV licence paid for anymore than they need free bus passes or a winter fuel allowance to be used to buy a Christmas present for the kids.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    Although I wouldn’t like to point the finger at anyone in particular, shouldn’t MPs and Government Ministers who are also independently wealthy shun some of the perks that go with the job. After all, what’s sauce for the goose…………..

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    A nice thought by IDS, but a weak and unfair suggestion nonetheless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    Just now
    "Anyone with £1 million should 'give' any future salaries away (ideally to the poor/those on benefits!) Anyone with MORE than one house ..should give the other houses away (ideally to the homeless) !"

    What a brilliant idea! Come on IDS, Cameron, Clegg et al! Here is your opportunity to lead by example!

    Ian? David? Nick? Hallooooo!?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    It's high-time these baby-boomers were put in their place. They've enjoyed the success and wealth of the previous century, and many now own several properties and rewarding pensions. Yet my generation won't get private pensions, or a remote chance of investing in the property ladder until we're in at least our 40's. If people are so concerned about people paying taxes and 'society' this is a must.


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