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 1436.


    You, Me, my Gran and a few mates with MS and a couple of single mothers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1435.

    For those that could not return it and for those that do not really need it, why claim for it in the first bloody place!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1434.

    My father worked himself half to death for decades, built up a business, paid a fortune in tax while others sit around on their backsides for those same decades living on the state. And now the ONE thing he is entitled to based on contribution, he's just supposed to turn down. If you tax people as highly as the UK does, EXPECT them to draw the benefits they've overpaid for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1433.

    All political parties need to come together and agree a future welfare state based on these three principles:

    1) Anyone who pays income tax should not receive any of it back as benefits
    2) Anyone in full time work/retirement should not require benefits to lead an acceptable standard of living
    3) No one on benefits should have a higher standard of living than someone in full employment/retirement

  • rate this

    Comment number 1432.

    @1382 E.Doyle. Pensioners have paid for you my friend not themselves. There Mothers and Fathers paid for them.Don't know were the youth of today are going to get there money none working, most though not through there own fault.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1431.

    The better off should shun whilst the poorest have them ripped away. What a complete joke this upperclass twit is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1430.

    An eighty year old friend with mobility problems recently had her disabled parking ticket, which she had held for over ten years, removed because she walked a few yards across a carpet without leaning heavily on her stick which she has to use all the time outside. She was told she could re-apply for the ticket in six months time.
    No amount of handed back winter fuel allowances will help her.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1429.

    "Why do so many people think IDS has no right to say this because he is wealthy? Do you think we should replace all MPs and ministers with the unemployed?"

  • rate this

    Comment number 1428.

    1354 Foolfighter
    I think you'll find that's only income tax; there are others. It's not only Labour that bases an argument on partial and so misleading information. Apologies to all who've pointed this out before me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1427.

    Good luck trying to get the baby boom generation to break a habit of a lifetime: rank selfishness. This is the generation that realised they were destroying the planet and refused to lift a finger, that pushed their parents into "residential care" rather than look after them themselves and then took away the privileges they'd enjoyed from their own children in tuition fees. You should be ashamed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1426.

    IDS is on to something here - those who are really/obscenely well off can afford to give up some more of it...So raise their taxes. Simple really!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1425.

    If I were retired with money to spare, I would claim all the benefits I was entitled to, and donate an equivalent (or proportionate) amount to charity. This would have 2 benefits - 1) I decide where the spare money goes, rather than having it hoovered up by some grant-spongeing human rights quango, and 2) I use my bus pass with pride and help to take the stigma and snobbery out of the entitlement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1424.

    Although all people above the required age are ‘entitled’ to these benefits – state pension, winter fuel allowance and free bus pass - they have to actively apply for them to get them (fill in a form & supply bank details etc) – so all who say they don’t need these benefits need not apply for them in the first place.

    This is just a political PR stunt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1423.

    1415. All benefits should be stopped.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1422.

    1395: Totally agree. The Welfare state should be there for people who need it not wealthy pensioners. Pensions account for well over half of the Welfare budget and how many pensioners are sitting on big fat pensions and large savings. Its totally unjust! For once IDS I agree with you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1421.

    It's a bit rich asking pensioners to give money back to a Government that's just handed a pay rise, in the form of a 5% income tax reduction, to those earning over £150k per annum.

  • Comment number 1420.

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

  • Comment number 1419.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1418.

    Why on earth should they???

    So called wealthy pensioners have paid NI and tax all their working lives so why not be able to have something back?
    How about closing the doors to those work shy young people who see a life of benefits as a lifestyle choice and look down on those who work.
    Im 43 and work for the NHS, I see the Vicky pollards on a daily basis who do nothing but claim for everything

  • rate this

    Comment number 1417.

    as a couple who have worked all our lives and paid tax and nhi...now we are being told we should feel guilty for getting a SMALL help now we are retired...with a bus pass and help with fuel costs....SHAME ON YOU.


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