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 916.

    Regardless of whether you are rich or poor, if you have paid your dues then you are entitled to the benefits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 915.

    Every time this person (IDS) opens his mouth he puts his foot in it. he shouldn't even be a government minister for his shocking treatment of sick and disabled people on benefits. So let's see he's had a go at the unemployed, the sick and disabled, now pensioners getting benefits. Anyone else left to slight and demonize? and all to cover up mass corruption by global corps who are in bed with them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 914.

    Do people really need to be told not to claim if you don't need to? Seems obvious to me!

  • rate this

    Comment number 913.

    Sir Alex Ferguson, all the pensioners in the commons the late maggie thatcher the queen the lst is endless

  • rate this

    Comment number 912.

    Just how well off do IDS and Cable think ordinary pensioners are. After working for 50 years in an averagely paid job being careful and saving my money I'm now being told by millionaires that I'm well off and don't deserve the benefits I've paid for in taxes over those 50 years. Well put in your manifesto boys and see how long you last. Your days are numbered as it is, this little gem seals it

  • rate this

    Comment number 911.

    My late elderly father ICI retiree asked if he could return his winter payments for years and was told there was no way to do this! Lots of ways for folk to apply and get money, but to tell them he did not need or want it made him feel as if he were a rather odd and feeble minded idiot. All the wrong way round.

  • rate this

    Comment number 910.

    What exactly does "Encourage" mean Mr Smith.Is it another smoke and mirrors political word for a new Tax or a new Benefit ??

  • rate this

    Comment number 909.

    According to the Inter-Generational Foundation 2 million over 60s have assets worth £1 million or more.

    1 in 5 children in the UK are classified as living in poverty.

    Who needs the money more?

  • rate this

    Comment number 908.

    My neighbour gave her savings to her family in order to claim Income Support.
    I worked all my life and now receive two small pensions,State Pension and Disability Living Allowance. I also pay Income Tax.
    I will not be returning my Winter Fuel Payment etc. to support my neighbour !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 907.

    Hold on, they're not taking it away just simply asking for thoses who don't or no longer require it to stop claming or simply return it. Hmmm how about if you dont need it and rather than hand it back give it over to charity and then gift aid it so they get extra benefit from it....

  • rate this

    Comment number 906.

    In this time where labour sold us down the river. I agree with ids. Shame on the people with I've paid into mentality. Time to be less selfless. We don't all have to behave like bankers and over paid footballers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 905.

    .....and starbucks should pay tax. Naughty Amazon and Ebay..... and the banks - bad....human rights...Abu Qatada ??..... Offshore tax loopholes and the list can go on and on and on. Just change the law !!!! that's what you're there for.......who's in charge these days ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 904.

    We are pensioners. My husband worked for 45 years, payed taxes all that time. The only state benefit we claimed prior to retirement was children's allowance for our 2 children. The only state benefit we now get is the pensions, which we have made a life time of contirubtions towards, and the bus pass. We see people around us who claim everything they can, but don't work. I'm keeping my buspass.

  • rate this

    Comment number 903.

    Great idea IDS, lets get the pensioners off the buses and back into their cars, so they can drive at slow speeds and frustrate other motorists, increase pollution etc. This would probably also reduce the bus service as there would be fewer passengers. Looking at the voting demographics I can't see any party wanting to upset the aged who have the greatest representation at the polls.

  • rate this

    Comment number 902.

    I have a bus pass and use it occasionally. I am not aware that there is a cost until I board the bus, when the driver records this on his machine. I assume the Council are then billed for my fare. Even this is not clear as the Council pay a subsidy for the service irrespective of my use of the service. If, like Mick Jagger, I likely did not use the service where is the cost? Can anyone explain?

  • rate this

    Comment number 901.

    We are living in a country where its best not to have money,or to be frugal.It's better to waste it so you can get all the benefits and allowances.Personally,I will bet it all on a horse when near retirement so I will win either way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 900.

    Of course its a good idea but how would it work? I've worked all my life , so far, with a mortgage till I'm 66 and I get my pension at 66 (and a half) and apparently my bus pass at 62. I'm not going to be well off at all. Why have I worked so hard and long to be treated like this?
    415 - totally agree.

  • rate this

    Comment number 899.

    It would seem many of the comments here are from people who haven't read or understood the article. IDS suggests rich pensioners give money back. That is it. Plenty on here talking about having money taken away, and stories about pensioners who are clearly on modest incomes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 898.

    This is all just a storm in a teacup. The political comment is just posturing and media blather
    For the record I am a well off pensioner but value these benefits for social reasons. All the suggestions so far will either be unjust to someone, or, like a means test, will be administratively very expensive, and prone to fiddles.
    Why not just up the tax threshold for over 65s upward to compensate?

  • rate this

    Comment number 897.

    Is the Daily Mail's website down ? I only ask because there seem to be more than the usual number of posters on today who obviously read it and take its "facts" as gospel.


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