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 496.

    sounds like they are in a right muddle. I always question the logic behind open ended commitments and universal benefits, ultimately are unsustainable and without economic growth they quickly become problematic and this is why IDS, Clegg and Co are trying to wind back policies that were supposed to be universal, this wil increasingly be the pattern with other benefits unless growth returns

  • rate this

    Comment number 495.

    oh to have the luxury of a bus to use the pass on, living in rural northumberland we have one bus into hexham(17 milesaway) on a tuesday morning returning four hours later. Perhaps a better way to save money would be for millionaire ministers to pay for their own chauffer driven limos.

  • rate this

    Comment number 494.

    The bald fellow has a brass neck...those MPs employed by us should take a 50% wage cut immediately.
    Those buffoons are not fit for purpose.
    We should sack the lot of them and replace them with people that respect that they are our employees.
    Im on £17k take home a year and that income goes all on bills
    The banks should be shut down and replaced by one national bank in each country within the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 493.

    I am a supporter of the conservative party, but rubbish ideas and suggestions like this from IDS is comical, people have paid taxes over considerable time and invested in their future, now you suggest this? Please you are making fools of yourselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 492.

    Get lost Duncan-Smith.

  • rate this

    Comment number 491.

    Instead of giving out benefits to all pensioners the government should ask pensioners to apply for them, like you have to apply for a bus pass. This way those who have a comfortable lifestyle will not bother to apply and if they do so be it, I am sure money will be saved if this approach was adopted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 490.

    Having paid for a pension, by working for most of my life, I assume I have the benefits too. IDS, when he shows the way by giving back all his perks at Westminster, and his fellow MPs do the same, and when the bankers give back the bonuses they took from our money, perhaps we could consider it. Leading by example maybe?
    But if the money is going to be used to fund game playing drone attacks,no.

  • rate this

    Comment number 489.

    479. Yes thats right take the high ground, trying to make a point by the use of someones deceased, very classy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 488.

    pity he should check his facts before opening his mouth again..
    peter stringfellow highlighted on a tv programme it is impossible to return the fuel allowance, he tried
    perhaps the people giving advice should be sacked now that possibly might save a lot of money.
    lest we forget the pension welfare bill is the biggest part of the welfare bill, Mr Cameron is scared to touch so picks on the sick

  • rate this

    Comment number 487.

    If people just stop and think for themselves for a moment, rather than listen to a conservative clown, things could be viewed from a better prospective.

    The free bus pass gets elderly people out of their cars and onto public transport. This is safer for other road users and decreases some of the congestion on roads and in city parking spaces.

    This is not knocking older drivers ability

  • rate this

    Comment number 486.

    There is a definite agenda by the media and by politicians on both sides too 'demonize' the elderly, this is just another attempt and should be rejected for the vile discrimination it surely is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 485.

    We are not wealthy but get by. We recycle our Winter Fuel Payment to help our community. The village hall and children's play area get our cash. I would imagine lots of pensioners who can do similar. Our pensions are taxed so tax the benefits then all would contribute - it would be easier than expecting folk to return it voluntarily.

  • rate this

    Comment number 484.

    The millionaire MPs should set an example by refusing to indule in expenses. Won't hold my breath...

  • rate this

    Comment number 483.

    The wealthiest pensioners (not all pensioners) are better off than most people. Younger generations have much worse pension deals & are in fact filling the blackhole left by older generations not being asked to put enough by politicians who did not reform the system in time. So perhaps just the weathiest pensioners do not need the extras. I wouldn't take them from WWII veterans & widows, however.

  • rate this

    Comment number 482.

    This is only applicable to a select group of wealthy pensioners.

    This topic is being generalised to be applicable to all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 481.

    Let's be honest,this government would love to start hitting the pensioners as they've hit everyone else (except themselves) but are too afraid of losing the "grey vote" .

  • rate this

    Comment number 480.

    So, having supported those who choose not to work and have a large number of children through their entire working life, the so-called "wealthy" pensioners (I am not sure what definition is for being "wealthy") should continue to support these people to the end of their life? I thought that the government wants to create a fair society in which its citizens give and take, not just take and take.

  • rate this

    Comment number 479.

    Will Cameron repay the DLA he claimed for his late son, then? Will those Cabinet ministers who are millionaires give up the subsidised booze and meals?

  • rate this

    Comment number 478.


    "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."

    Err - AFAIK you have to claim WFA so this statement seems rather odd.

  • rate this

    Comment number 477.

    Good i like it and it's only commonsense. Why should rich people of any age get free bus passes and heating allowence etc. Never understood why people on jobseekers get no help with heating and tv licence while rich elderly get £400+ and a free licence.

    This will hurt the tories tho since pensioners have the greatest sense of entitlement than anybody.


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