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.


More on This Story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    One of the reasons pensioner benefits aren't means tested is because the moment you means test anything, you make it far less likely that the most vulnerable will apply for them, as they struggle with the application forms. Take up of pension credit goes some way to prove this.
    IMHO I think they should be means tested - many pensioners simply don't need them. They're vote-buyers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    Means testing will always result in keeping wages and benefits low and benefits include pensions of course.

    The purpose of means testing is actually to do that and to ensure low costs for employers. Why would employers pay proper wages if in effect the state will pay them?

    IDS with his plea is actually putting unfair pressure on those people who are relatively poor but not as mean as he is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    What has IDS ever given up? He certainly didn't object to a tax cut for his rich mates and himself. Charity begins at home IDS, perhaps you should try it!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    Death taxes would be a sure fire way of re-distributing wealth back into the society. It's not that we shouldn't receive anything from our loved ones, but if that runs into millions, then that needs to be stopped. The British model needs to offer rewards for sucess that is built on hard work and not snuff out such chances before birth with the privileged born into money getting a better start.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    Where does Mr. Duncan Smith draw the line on" not wealthy "and "wealthy". Why not start with all our politicians foregoing their expenses they claim paid by the taxation pensioners pay for…?

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    Too little, too late. The age of retirement should be raised and payments reduced. Our generation will not see a state pension, so why should this one?

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    So they've paid taxes all their lives and now shouldn't take what they're eligible for? Disagree. They should take anything back that they can as a reward for a lifetime of throwing money in the wind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    The bus pass thing is a complete red-herring. Other than producing the passes the additional costs are precisely zero (it's not like additional buses are put on as a result).

    Besides, do we really think that those with a net worth of £1m+ are using buses?

    Heating allowance? I see the point but it's funny how there's never any mention of the billions in benefits that go unclaimed each year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    Let the millionaire Front Benchers show the way by being first to refuse benefits and free travel.

    In 2008/09 IDS claimed £2916 London Costs - a universal benefit for MPs and £3530 travel for himself and his family.

    What a hypocrite!

    The only things that the Government has in short supply is a sense of shame and common decency.

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    Some solitary elderly persons can become extremely parsimonious skimping on proper heating, regardless of their real wealth.

    In such people this benefit is a real encouragement to look after themselves. The suggestion to hand it back is an unfortunate mixed message. Not good.

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    Why dont they just cape it like they do with the other benefits, because its madness giving money to people who dont need it when there are people who do need and suffering because they cant often get it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    Most of my friends and myself do not actually need this payment and we give it to a range of charities. I expect a lot of wealthier pensioners do the same. I do not give it back to the Government as they would misuse it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    Good to see Iain back in the news after being made a fool of with his claims.

    Does he think people have forgotten after a month ?

    How about MP's giving up their £400 a MONTH food allowance it must be so embarassing for someone on 65000+ a year to have to claim it.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    Not a hope in hell IDS. I worked 40y, created wealth, exported, paid hundreds of thousands in tax over the years. I have seen my money spent on wars I did not agree with, MPs and QUANGOs we don't need, inflated salaries, banks bailed out, savings eroded, interest destroyed. I give my heating allowance to my mum (92). I use my Freedom Pass to visit her. U want my money, come take it but be armed!

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    What if 'our' MPs voluntarily give up the funny-money jobs in the City they seem to get when they're ousted?
    And back public friendly legislation instead of the corporate money that gives them these jobs.
    Then Plebs might start getting fairer treatment, and the same kind of pensions as every other European country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    Someone wrote 'How does he think the got wealthy in the first place , tax evasion or even fraud , and greed for money'. I think thats a bit unfair, depending how you define wealthy are GPs earning 80-90k or surgeons earning £100k+ or senior military or police people wealthy due to tax evasion, fraud or greed - or because thats what the salaries are. The Gen Sec of my trade union earns £80k+

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    They're always harping on about individuals.

    When are they going to tackle corporations who don't pay their fair share of tax?


    They seem to be avoiding this whilst creating clouds of dust to escape into such as this typical non-story.


  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    In my opinion this statement by IDS is a prelude to trying to stop state pension, not for the "rich" but the so called rich, as in the middle ground earners, or private pension holders.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    "Wealthy elderly people who do not need benefits to help with fuel bills, TV licences or free travel should return the money". When are these politicians going to realise when it comes to a bus pass nobody gets any money to return! Therefore if a person does not use the pass nobody looses or gains.

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    Pensions will be so devalued by the colapse of the Euro and the £.
    The banking system is on it's way out.


Page 66 of 73


More UK stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.