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 476.

    If Sugar and Stringfellow want to return their winter fuel allowance they can just declare a bit more income for tax purposes, job done, multi millionaires posturing and pretending to be virtuous over £200, don't it just get on your nerves?

  • rate this

    Comment number 475.

    "This government takes my breath away. We played by the rules, worked, paid tax and now we get a few perks. So what?"
    You had a job for life, low house prices, inflation+ salary increases, final salary pensions, shares from the privatisation of public utility companies...
    All gone now. Today's greedy pensioners have grabbed the lot. What opportunities have the youth of today got?

  • rate this

    Comment number 474.

    449. Will
    The older generation have a sense of entitlement worse than the benefit scroungers.
    Not, perhaps, altogether true. I am a pensioner, not rich by any means, but do not get, nor want, winter fuel allowance, free bus pass or free TV licence. I will confess to the Christmas bonus. Sorry to be a scrounger.

  • rate this

    Comment number 473.

    My parents worked all their lives. Hard manual work in the chemical industry & shopwork. They bought their council house, saved hard, did without so my brother & I could 'get on'.

    When they retired they both had lump sums and modest pensions, which they also paid into all their lives.

    So IDS wants to take away some of their hard earned benefits from them. Same on you rich boy!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 472.

    419. Tartanian

    "Everyone should claim ALL benefits to which they are entitled, in order to protect those who NEED such benefits."

    But the point is, benefits are being paid to people who don't actually need them.

    I could still afford to give my son a reasonably comfortable standard of living even if I didn't get £1,000 a year in child benefit, but the government still decides to give it me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 471.

    Here we go again, it lets alienate pensioners and get the sheep to bleat outrage towards them .....
    Give us growth with a liveable wage, oh yes i forgot, this lot have created one and quarter million jobs since they have been in power... WHERE are these jobs then ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 470.

    Time this wood head left, his book was the worst ever writing, even your own party wanted you out, he's got a few million ££ in the bank and he also claims benefits and on top of that he gets around £1600 per week....time you paid some back IDS

  • rate this

    Comment number 469.

    Those of us who are well off pay tens if not hundreds of thousands of pounds in tax. Should our politicians waste their time and "head-space" considering whether we should give a few hundreds of pounds back? If the HMRC and Social Services computer systems would only talk to one another it would be a simple matter to means test these benefits and not give them to us in the first place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 468.

    I worked for a homeless charity here in cardiff were every year, Herion Addicts received winter allowance for there heating bills.
    This was never used for heating bills, but was used as bonus cash for more drugs.
    Dont take it from the old, take it from them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 467.

    Why don't the BBC cover more stories on the privatisation of the NHS, the privatisation of the Royal Mail etc??
    Just deflecting stories like this open for comment. Junk news!!
    BBC is now just a Government media spin department.

  • rate this

    Comment number 466.

    I've got a great scheme for richer people to pay back benefits they don't need. I'm going to call it Income Tax.

  • rate this

    Comment number 465.

    Hmmm. This is pure PR. He isn't actually doing anything. It's like saying "anyone avoiding tax, volunteer to pay more, please".

    The government cuts taxes for the rich and pushes those on the poverty line nearer the brink. This comment is designed to make him look like a fair man without any consequence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 464.

    What a society, where people say "it doesn't affect me, so I don't care."

    Everyone is a member of a minority, and if people don't stand up to be counted, there will be no-one left to speak up for them when they are the minority under attack from this morally bankrupt Government.

    We should be thriving by now, if the coalition was up to the job!

    Expect raids on bank accounts, the LDs' wealth tax.

  • rate this

    Comment number 463.

    How about rich MPs handing back their salary?
    Lead by example!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 462.

    My concern is what IDS considers "well off" or "wealthy". This is the man who said he could pay all his bills, clothing costs, travel and buy food on £50 ish a week! If we are talking about people who have hundreds of thousands of pounds of ready cash, then I don't think they should get benefits. But pensioners on average incomes, let them keep it; they deserve it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 461.

    Its an outrage that the PM can defend welfare benefits to the mega Rich (not the OAP which is national insurance contribution based - everyone deserves it) then is happy to cut the basics of life for the poorest. This cannot be right or is it just. No one should be living on less than £80 per week. No one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 460.

    Well I for one will not see a pension worth mentioning (in 40years+) and I am very well aware of it.

    I am not working (no point since my benefits exceed what I would earn by about £5,000-6,000 per year. Also I don't need to wake up early in the morning either :) and obviously get housing, child benefits etc.
    So the more money pensioners will give up, the more for people who need it like me. :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 459.

    This is just the start in a Tory attempt to claw back every elderly persons
    benefits, by starting with the rich they will in time have a threshold, then keep moving that threshold till everything single elderly person has no benefits at all passes nothing, we the elderly are very much a burden to to this evil government!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 458.

    I am all for the cull on benefit handouts, but this is a tad too far. If you have paid into the system then why shouldn't you be entitled to these benefits. It's the people who haven't, and never will pay into the system, due to laziness, who should be targeted and forced into work they so desperately don't want to do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 457.

    Interestingly, Mr. Duncan Smith does not qualify his remarks by deflining what is 'rich'. Are those of us who worked hard all our lives, saved, paid into pensions and who now have a reasonable lifestyle in retirement as a result of our efforts regarded as 'rich'? I pay tax on my pension, thus helping to fund the benefits system, and take care when I spend any savings. Am I rich? I don't think so.


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