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 896.

    @ Paul C.

    I might not need to claim it in th future so I'll stop paying into the system now shall I?

    Hang on. I suppose I'd better carrying on paying so that all those who have not ever paid into the system have a fund to be paid from......

  • rate this

    Comment number 895.

    Three years ago I had a bet with my friends that before this Government's term was through they'd refer to to State Pension as a State Handout. Seems I'm on course to win my bet!
    The lion's share of the Pension Bill goes to retired Public Sector Workers who receive this on top of their State Pension. Let's see a few of them give up their, extremely costly, perks!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 894.

    834- true; UKIP is bad news for pensioners.
    They represent UK banking elite (who won't hand back their huge tax funded benefits) -even more than the Tories do. Both would sink onto the obscurity they deserve if they didn't run the press.
    No surprise UKIP shares the lowest IQ voters with BNP.
    Pensioners would have to hand back their sanity to vote for them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 893.

    I’ve never claimed the fuel allowance or Christmas bonus they just turn up in my bank account and help to balance the fact that the interest on savings has been eroded to the point where it is not worth having as apparently I now have to subsidise cheap mortgages for the younger generation that have never learnt to live within their means and save.

  • rate this

    Comment number 892.

  • rate this

    Comment number 891.

    IDS just does not get it, there must be a career for him in banking soon.
    First he says he can live on £50 a week and then refuses to do so even though over 100,000 people ask him to back his words with his actions. Now he says penioners should give back what they have worked hard all their lives for and get the passes. I have provided for those that went before me, let those after do the same.

  • rate this

    Comment number 890.

    There are untold numbers of unforseens and obscurities in moving to fiscal budgeting that the German and Austrian school of economists have 'imposed' on the world. Decent people run our goverments but they are tied ultimately to their politics. We are in this mess because of vast tax dodging, benefit cheating, and the scam that is inflating property and asset values. EU will not survive austerity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 889.

    112.peter smith
    3 Hours ago
    Considering the number of rich people making millions by tax avoidance
    You don't 'make' money by tax avoidance, you keep more of what is yours in the first place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 888.

    It's all very well moaning about these useless politicians,but it's the public who vote for them, those who voted for Osborne must be stupid,why would anyone vote for an unqualified ex towel folder to run the economy,it's blind stupidity to vote for these people,it only encourages them and gives them an inflated feeling of self importance.
    IDS,failed meaningless ex Tory party leader.irrelevant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 887.

    "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."

    What makes you think people are not already donating to those people or don't care. However your comment highlights the ineptitude of a Government who give aid but don't ensure it is used as such.

  • rate this

    Comment number 886.

    Learn to spell people!! Where did you go to school godammit?!?!?!?!

    It's damn ridiculous that the BBC and most of their listeners in this thread can not even spell the name "Ian" correctly. There is only one "i" in Ian for god's sake.

    No wonder this country is going downhill so fast. :-( Alot of pretend 'posh' people in here who can even spell 3 letter words correctly.

  • Comment number 885.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 884.

    Richard Phillips
    Wealthy elderly people should go further. They should refuse treatment by the NHS. They can afford treatment so they should pay for it. Or better still, they should not pay for it, and die earlier so the state can get earlier access to their inheritance tax. Also all gold teeth should be forcibly removed.

    I am sure this will be implemented if the Tories get in power again!

  • rate this

    Comment number 883.

    I'd be very happy to forego my benefits if this was required by a government who were equally reducing their lucrative salaries to represent the value they add.

    I'd also be happy to accept a refund of my taxes, council tax and NICs in compensation for the benefits contracted with the Government.

    Does "Government" understand the law of contract? If you promise something, you have to deliver!

  • rate this

    Comment number 882.

    I think all pensioners should do this when IDS and his govenment buddies give up collecting wages and expeses they don't need to claim. Why should people wait until they have retired before not claiming government handouts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 881.

    Surely it would make more sense to stop people with a certain level of wealth claiming these benefits instead of giving them the money and then asking nicely for it back?

  • rate this

    Comment number 880.

    Well said 811.chopie. For these rich pensioners not to be effected by the cuts because of a stupid promise by Cameron , when everybody else is not only morally wrong but its very very selfish

    I don't go along with this "I've worked all my life and paid into the system". Basically if you don't need it don't claim it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 879.

    How about the well off members of parliament eg IDS, DC, GO, NC giving back the money they claim for expenses and all the benefits ie subsidised meals etc they receive for doing their work. The majority of pensioners have worked hardendured difficult years after the war, some have and some have paid into a private pension meaning they pay tax unlike some of the larger organisations eg NPower.

  • rate this

    Comment number 878.

    Transparent set-piece stuff. IDS thinks we're all simpletons. Gov could simply implement all this, but they know it would be electoral suicide. The negative blowback on all this tripe isn't worth the effort of trotting it out. Sad, sad, sad!

  • rate this

    Comment number 877.

    It was a silly promise of the Conservatives to assure us that bus passes etc were sacrosanct. If it is, as IDS says, a matter of morality, it is he who lacks the moral courage to acknowledge that circumstances have changed and so should the concessions. It is as bogus an argument as that of asking companies to pay taxes not demanded by the law.


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