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 576.

    How about all the millionaire MP's and Ministers shunning their salaries and all other 'perks' they get for doing the job. How about that IDS?

  • rate this

    Comment number 575.

    I have to agree with Nick Clegg on this one.

    Benefits should be on a need basis, not an automatic right. And well-off pensioners do benefit from very generous higher rate tax relief on pensions, as well as decades of Governments spending billions to inflate property prices. These billions amongst some of the massive debt that this country still owes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 574.

    Makes a change - it was "bash a banker" now it's "bash a pensioner". When are pensioners going to get the £350 per week (£500 for a couple or single parent with children) calculated by the Government for universal credit to be the minimum amount anyone can live on? Remember that the state pension is not a benefit but a human right from a lifetime of contributing into the system.

  • rate this

    Comment number 573.

    Might I respectfully suggest that "wealthy MPs" return their overgenerous expenses to the treasury.

  • rate this

    Comment number 572.

    Coming from a privileged Tory Toff, on a huge salary and with a guaranteed, no doubt ample, pension, this is a bit rich! I am disabled and have a bus pass, a Blue Badge and a Railcard. I had to fight tooth and nail to get these, because I didn't claim benefits and never had. Having worked since my teens and now having a decent pension and some savings, does he want me to give them up? No way IDS!

  • rate this

    Comment number 571.

    This s called pre-electioneering populism, trying to blindside the gullible into believing that the Tories are being "fair" to everyone. Odd that the "Liberal" side of the dictatorship hasn't raised this even though it has been been talked about for years.

    They should also stop payments to those living overseas.

  • rate this

    Comment number 570.

    First, a civilised society values and awards its elderly because of the dignity of age. Second, this appears to be a government too bone idle to change the law.

  • rate this

    Comment number 569.

    Wealthy MPs should decline their salary, it would show they are willing to sacrifice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 568.

    Is everyone forgetting that it was the incompetent Brown who brought in these benefits without considering the wider consequences? It was part of the wider package of massive public spending growth overseen by Blair/Brown for which chickens have now come home to roost. Always the price to pay following a Labour government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 567.

    Wealthy government ministers should not be able to claim expenses. IDS is an expenses (benefit) scrounger.

  • rate this

    Comment number 566.

    Errr - here's a clue - the article uses the word 'wealthy' in the first two sentences, and later on, for context, also mentions the words 'Lord Sugar' & 'Peter Stringfellow'.
    If you don't feel in the league of these two estimable gents, just calm down & hang on to the bus pass. This is a big fuss over very little.

  • rate this

    Comment number 565.

    Is IDS just sounding this out to gauge reaction?

    Once the government cant cut support & benefits to the poorest any further then they will start on other areas.Pensioners are "safe" until the next election (Daves promise expires)

    IDS is on a hiding to nothing as the wealthy are usually the tightest

    But he could set an example by asking mulit-millionaire politicians to not claim salary/expenses?

  • rate this

    Comment number 564.

    It would make more sense if IDS simply asked people not to claim it, rather than hand it back (which few would bother to do). At 70, I've been fortunate not to need to claim a free bus pass or winter fuel allowance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 563.

    it's hardly sound policy saying 'please can we have our money back?'. and those that do give it back will likely be those that always paid their full taxes, contributed to charity, didn't dodge fares, were honest enough to pay for museum visits etc.

    i.e. it's a tax on the liberal minded in society who have already contributed the most.

  • rate this

    Comment number 562.

    @535. Greggers . You have got some brilliantly droll satirical posts going on today. Every time i read one it cheers me up just a little bit more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 561.

    My Partner shall be 60 on Monday.
    She has been unfit to work for a couple of years..she has worked up until then all her life even when she had 2 children.
    She will miss receiving her state pension by 24 days.
    She was assessed by atos and deemed to be fit for some sort of work although her Doctor has sent a strong worded letter to atos.
    contradicting their assessment.
    Took off IB put on JS.

  • rate this

    Comment number 560.

    520. Tartanian

    My point is that many people who claim universal benefits are able to give themselves and their families a reasonable standard of living anyway, so to me, that's a waste of public money.

    There will always be better spent on things like cuts in income tax. s be some genuinely needy people who require help from the state, so low take up of benefits isn't something to worry about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 559.

    It would appear that the Conservatives appear to have decided to just press the 'self destruct' button, in the knowledge that they won't achieve a majority at the next election. As much as they harp on about picking up the pieces from the last Labour government, the next government will end up picking the pieces from this one. After 3 years, still blaming Labour and not ACTUALLY doing anything?

  • rate this

    Comment number 558.

    Peter Stringfellow recently tried to hand back his winter fuel allowance.
    He contacted the DWP & was told to give it to charity or some worthy cause because there was no system in place to take back his money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 557.

    Has anybody actually seen Mick Jagger on a bus? This seems like a good political soundbite but with very little financial benefit. With this argument and the Prime Minister finding time to comment on a footballer's childish behaviour, I can only assume that either there is nothing very important on the government's agenda, or they are trying to divert the public's attention. I wonder which?


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