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 596.


    This is not the answer. Take the money from the rich, the monopolies, and the Bullingdon Club who think they produce the wealth in this country.
    The working people produce the wealth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 595.

    I could easily do without the Winter Fuel Payment and wouldn't worry if I didn't get a free TV licence when I reach 75, but free bus passes are a very different matter. Without the support of pensioners, I'm sure out local bus services would wither away. We would all take to our cars and contribute to congestion and climate change while others, who rely on buses, would lose a valuable service.

  • rate this

    Comment number 594.

    In our household are 2 state pensioners. We both worked all our lives. We never claimed a penny in benefits

    Sorry but I know thats not true from the rest of your post

    .... We therefore fund our own universal benefits, and also pay for other people's benefits because they can't be bothered to seek work and breed too freely

    So everyone but you who claims benefits is a scrounger

  • rate this

    Comment number 593.

    just as a few who get a lot from benefits are highlighted for across the board cuts, likewise the few pensioners who are well heeled are highlighted to soften us up for more wide ranging pension/benefit cuts. why else would the blue meanies bring this story to the foreground.

  • rate this

    Comment number 592.

    Tax avoidance costs £120billion a year, collect all that and they wouldn't need to cut anything because it would end austerity.
    Plus £billions in benefits go unclaimed every year anyway, I bet most of that is due to pensioners and the disabled who don't even know they are entitled to it.
    But it seems the government is determined to claw back the £850billion bank bailout money from the poorest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 591.

    'hand back' benefits ... Maybe politicians could lead the way Duncan, by voluntarily handing back fraudulent or overclaimed expenses rather than employing somoene to legitimise them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 590.

    Watching inflation erode my pension money, food bills rocketing, council tax sucking at my bank account along with the energy bills - why not just tax all universal benefits at 100% above a set level, say £20,000 income p.a.?

  • rate this

    Comment number 589.

    "easier for a camel ..to go through the eye of a needle! than for a rich man (or woman! I assume Jesus wasn't sexist!) to enter heaven!
    I'm NOT a Christian! But ..this is Sunday! Ironic! So few CHRISTIAN sentiment ..towards ..basically ..protecting the elderly-at ALL costs! IF EVERYONE WEALTHY gave back what they didn't need :) society would be nicer (using Norway/Sweden as examples!)

  • rate this

    Comment number 588.

    537.Boris Roach
    "...people who've worked all their lives for their own retirement and dared to spend their money buying a home instead of throwing it away"
    Many young people today have jobs with a decent salary but they cannot afford to buy a home because the prices are so high. They cannot afford to save for the deposit because they pay a fortune in rent, mostly to rich pensioner landlords.

  • rate this

    Comment number 587.

    If IDS truly believes this then he should also encourage all MPs that are millionaires to not claim anything on expenses because they can afford it. Isn't government all about leading by example?

  • rate this

    Comment number 586.

    I have real issues with policies like this one. Those targeted have paid taxes for these 'benefits'. If the govt does not want the wealthy to have them, they should give a tax rebate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 585.

    So the elderly pay into the system all their life; if they have been prudent they are now requested to forgo that right. At the same time you can arrive in the UK from Eastern Europe and claim benefit having contributed nothing! IDS you really are a completely deluded individual.

  • rate this

    Comment number 584.

    The Tories, summed up by the first verse of the song Change the World by The Offspring.


    I mean Mr. Cameron no ill will but a nation divided is not a sign of strong leadership, it is very much a sign of weakness and failed leadership.

  • rate this

    Comment number 583.

    Well my wife and I have our bus passes and heating allowance. We still pay tax, much more than the value of the benefits. Our savings are being taken from us already by interest rates less than inflation. So in reality we receive nothing from the state. As always we are net payers into the system. Blame Gordon, he started it all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 582.

    He should get Cameron and Dim George to ask their Millionaire friends to return their tax rebate.

  • Comment number 581.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 580.

    I can't believe some of this statement. He should update his Offices. I have been getting Fuel Allowance for several years. The first year I wrote and told them I did not need it. They responded that there was no process to not payi it! I then started giving it to charity. Peter Stringfellow then started up a process to pay the money into a pool to distribute to those who do need it. !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 579.

    do millionaire pensioners expect eternal life?
    I`m sure they have enough to see them out- but wait the NEED for £300 heating allowance will keep them battling on

  • rate this

    Comment number 578.

    A system to collect what is handed back would cost more than it would save so @354 giving it to charity may be an answer. Those 'wealth creators' who have just had a 5p marginal tax cut could do the same.
    The comments posted show how devisive this govt, it's policies and statements are. Worringly, I believe that's intentional.

  • rate this

    Comment number 577.

    Politicians / rule makers, change the rules, that is why you are there. Stop belly aching about what companies like Google or rich pensioners should do regarding paying taxes or receiving allowances available to them which you have defined.

    You and only you are responsible for the rules - Do the job for which you have been elected and stop blaiming 'others'.


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