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 516.

    Its a bit hypocritical asking the well-off elderly to forgo benefits when considering the number of well-off politicians that milked the MPs expenses system for everything they could irrespective of whether they needed the money or not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 515.

    The demonisation of welfare claimants is endemic and disgusting, universality is an important ward against this getting even worse.

    Universality is designed to prevent the stigmatisation of those on benefits, since they are available to all there is no 'charity shame' effect, something this right-wing government and the right-wing press are clearly desperate to be rid of.

  • rate this

    Comment number 514.

    The key word here is 'Entitlement'

    The trouble is whilst I am working and paying a fortune in tax, NI & pension contributions for the next 15 years my entitlements are being placed further out of reach by this shambolic bunch of toffs, and I'm in my 50's !

    The way things are going I won't be eligible for anything until I'm 70 or dead !

    Yet those who haven't contributed get everything!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 513.

    What i love is one moment people are saying Tax the rich a huge amount then when a Tory minister suggests rich pensioners should give up their benefits (allowing more for the poor) everyone goes apepoo about it. Why don't you admit you are all jealous of the privilege or money most Tory's have In your bigotry you can't possibly admit they have a good point as you think it's betraying your class.

  • rate this

    Comment number 512.

    494. Bill Nelson

    "MPs employed by us should take a 50% wage cut immediately".

    Firstly you're statement is factually incorrect because MP's a self employed and secondly how would you only like to earn £30,000 a year if you had to work in London 4 days a week (sometimes not finishing work till the early hours if there's a late night sitting) and having to do constituency work at weekends?

  • rate this

    Comment number 511.

    How about re-instating the dividend credit on Pension schemes so disgracefully scrapped by Gordon Brown in his first Budget in 97.

    If pensions were left alone then a need for benefits would disappear for a lot of future pensioners.

    As it is, Brown has left a generation heading for retirement with little or no retirement provision.
    The burden on future taxpayers will be horrendous!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 510.

    When it comes to the 'big stuff' IDS is probably right (very rare that ever happens) and most well off seniors would agree. However, the bus pass is small stuff and regarded by many as a sort of right of passage. Regardless of their economic status I think as a society we should all be better at acknowledging our respect and gratitude towards all our seniors.

  • rate this

    Comment number 509.

    I see he hasn't mentioned wealthy MPs giving back their expense accounts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 508.

    So I have saved carefully all my life, paid my taxes, never had day out of work (yes I'm lucky) and this buffoon wants to take it off me and give it to those who haven't been so careful? The more I see of this Government the more I think I cannot carry on voting for them, not sure what to do though, the others would tax me more and give it to those who dont work! Happy days in the UK 2013!

  • rate this

    Comment number 507.

    People keep on saying "I've never claimed benifits in my life" etc etc. change the tune.

    If your rich you don't need handouts from the state regardless if its your state pension or not. Have some proud, take your pension you don't need and donate it to a worthwhile cause.

  • rate this

    Comment number 506.

    What is rich , its rich mps talking about benefits are they still collecting all the expenses and £400 a month food allowance ? travel and housing expenses ? I worked for 50 years not i hasten to add on a nice lottery win salary , but no debts managed to buy my flat , but no car no holidays abroad every year ,but i did pay my way im nowhere near rich . sort out the tax dodgers and bankers first .

  • rate this

    Comment number 505.

    Although I agree with what IDS is trying to do to curtail benefits waste, it is nonsensical approach to expect taxpayers to return either fuel or other benefits. He should firstly legislate to stop benefits to those tax payers who are on the very highest rate - and stop paying winter fuel allowance to people who are not permanently resident in UK . Those in 40% tax rate have be clobbered enough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 504.

    I tried to give my winter fuel allowance back but they made it so complicated, I kept it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 503.

    How come IDS is still in this job? He's the last person we want looking after welfare.

  • rate this

    Comment number 502.

    There is no official channel to do this when people want to. People who try are usually told to give benefits they don't want to charity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 501.

    I actually agree with this. If you have enough wealth in retirement to afford holidays several times a year, then the provision of a free bus pass becomes an insult. Give them to the elderly who only have state pension or inadequate private pension, but not to those who have enough wealth to leave inheritances and the like.

  • rate this

    Comment number 500.

    I have a bus pass but never use it because the service is useless.

    Bus passes cost nothing because they are usually half empty anyway.

    If they were smaller (cost less to buy) and more frequent it would be better for all of us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 499.

    "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."

    No. You still decide to claim it. It isn't given - it is taken. You can decline it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 498.

    If Mr Sunken Ship really wanted to, he could stop these benefits to the better off - he won't because it would alienate elderly Tory voters, many of whom see these benefits as an entitlement.

    So he resorts to asking the rich kids to stay out of the tuck shop. Another instance when the quiet man should not have opened his mouth.

  • Comment number 497.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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