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 856.

    It's not as though any money saved will be directly and transparently used towards paying a tangible amount off of the UK debt.
    Fleece the pensioners etc of £Millions on the Monday, only to spend £Billions on bombing Syria on the Tuesday.

  • rate this

    Comment number 855.

    844: "Iain Duncan Smith is a decent and honourable man"

    I can only assume that you've been living under a rock until today, to have arrived at that conclusion...

  • rate this

    Comment number 854.

    As long as politicians give up their unnessessary expenses...

  • rate this

    Comment number 853.

    Strange some comments here.

    You would think he is suggesting that money is being taken from the poor in society, where as he is talking about the RICH in society giving up some of their benefits.

    I know plenty of pensioners who earn more from their pensions and investments than I do from my salary.

    That is fine - they worked for it. But why should they get the winter fuel allowance?

  • rate this

    Comment number 852.

    Urging them not to claim would seem to make more sense. I think I would have more sympathy for the older generations that are complaining so strongly here if they at least acknowledged that us younger people are likely going to have to work longer and harder than they did, for a far smaller 'reward' in our old age.

  • rate this

    Comment number 851.

    Rather than going after people who have worked all their lives Mr Duncan Smith should be going after the people who have NEVER worked and take away their benefits. Then we would see how quickly they get a job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 850.

    I love how IDS uses doublespeak for the word "encourage", for rich pensioners to hand money back.It sounds like a term used by someone runs a protection racket.
    "We encourage you to hand over the bus pass money, or George could turn nasty, very nasty indeed, and we dont want that now, do we"....

  • rate this

    Comment number 849.

    This debate ignores the real issue. In 1969 3% of adults received any form of benefit. In 2010 this had climbed to 27%. Even taking out the effect of an ageing population benefit provision has 'exploded' and over the past 30 years & increased 4 X faster than GDP growth. Benefits & the welfare state were never meant to be universal or an ongoing entitlement. The safety net is now a safety blanket.

  • rate this

    Comment number 848.

    If there is something wrong with the benefits system, IDS should fix it. Asking people to voluntarily hand money back just shows how bad it is

    And who defines who 'wealthy elderly' people are? People have paid their taxes over the years are now deemed to be wealthy if they have any savings or have managed to pay off their mortgage. Soon be clobbered yet again by a Mansion Tax by LibDems or Labour

  • rate this

    Comment number 847.

    I consider myself fortunate in retirement as the contributions I made from my salary over 40 years service provide a comfortable pension. I did make enquiries about waiving the fuel benefit but was told there is no mechanism to do so. Since then we pensioners are under attack from Fabians, Youth organisations & now the Conservatives of all people. So after careful consideration - Get Stuffed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 846.

    Technically, those who have contributed the most tax/NI pounds over their life times should be entitled to the most benefits. That's why we pay in the first place, so we have something for later on.

    Also, anyone who paid little/no tax during their working years for whatever reason should keep quiet.

    Not fair? Yeah, life isn't fair. Stop buying DVDs and make an investment every now and then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 845.

    Any 'decent' person should shun benefits. We are in crisis saving the banks and implementing austerity. Equally though, those in power and running business should forgo their benefits and perks.

    How about it chaps and chapette's up top. Go philanthropic and give all your income to charity. You know it is the decent thing

    Ultimate protest
    www.cnn.com/2013/04/05/world/europe/ italy-triple-suicide

  • rate this

    Comment number 844.

    Iain Duncan Smith is a decent and honourable man, so what he says should be listened to carefully.
    In this case, it depends what he defines as rich.
    Ordinary people who work hard all their lives and put aside some money for their retirement cannot be expected to refuse the few quid they can actually get back out of the enormous amount they have paid into the system over their working lives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 843.

    I'm not wealthy but don't claim a bus pass as I suspect would few wealthy pensioners.Fuel allowance helps but I feel the "Christmas Bonus"is a farcical amount which must be costly to administer and should be dropped.
    Perhaps consideration could include MPs, and peers/bishops who have sufficient income to no need their salaries.Extending the same principle to councillors and PCCs would also help.

  • rate this

    Comment number 842.

    Seems like yet another Tory suggestion of "don't do as we do but do as we say"

    If IDS wants to cut the benefits cost then he should introduce legislation but he and Cameron don't have the courage to upset wealthy Tory supporters and are happy to label those who need benefits, because of low pay, scroungers. Rebalancing this scenario would win the Tories more votes but seeing that requires wisdom.

  • rate this

    Comment number 841.

    What IDS suggests is 'fair enough', however perhaps the suggestion to donate the money to Age Concern would have been more sensible / welcome. Additionally, perhaps MPs would like to forfeit claiming just one of their yearly 'expenses' so they can contribute to the UK money pot too, after all, they are wealthy enough to be able to miss a couple of hundred quid once a year? Lead by example IDS!

  • rate this

    Comment number 840.

    I really think everybody should calm down.

    If you all care so much about people with less money; then give all your money to people who need it. Millions live on less than $1 per day. But you don't care about them. Shameful.

    Tony from Tonbridge Wells.

  • rate this

    Comment number 839.

    Why do Governments always seem to want to make the frugal and hard working feel guilty about claiming what they were told they had earned?

  • rate this

    Comment number 838.

    Perhaps the same could apply to politicians and their allowances.

  • rate this

    Comment number 837.


    Why should pensioners pay for the fact that you've irresponsibly had far too many children?


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