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 1456.

    When the Gov't sorts out the banks so that we don't have to bail them out again and stops bankers having obscene 'compensation' then I'll happily recycle my benefits. Until then, I'll save for the next rainy day!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1455.


    "Good luck trying to get the baby boom generation to break a habit of a lifetime: rank selfishness."

    Don't talk about my mother in that fashion, please.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1454.

    68. tjd1
    I am over 60 and have been a higher rate taxpayer most of my working life. My free bus pass is just a small way of getting back some of the enorm amounts I have contributed to the UK economy & helps to prevent the emissions of greenhouse gases that I would otherwise create by using my car
    If you've been a higher rate tax payer all these years, you can surely afford to PAY for the bus.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1453.

    LOL, a foot stamping ' waaa you had it I want it' tantrum if ever I read one.

    As many have pointed out on the financial HYS we currently have an economy that is run for the benefit of those in debt. In such cases there is little motive for saving/investment. So people like your self will suffer alongside the economy. Apparently it is hard to recover such an economy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1452.

    All benefits shold be means tested and aarded accordingly. The gap betweejn rich and poor and the huge size of the welfare budget in this coiuntry demands it.

  • Comment number 1451.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1450.

    As far as I can see this is the only topic open on the BBC.

    IDS and his party clearly wanted his words to cause debate, and the BBC seem to have fully co-operated with this apparent desire.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1449.

    justin de shed

    At least it is something. My fuel bill for a year is in the region of £1600 per annum. Thats is at least 10% of our income, maybe more! We have 2 kids, one of whom suffers with heart defects, he is blue at the best of times, but much more so if you put him in the bath. We are having to appeal to get his DLA reinstated. We make a 120 mile round trip to a cardiac unit that is

  • rate this

    Comment number 1448.

    I wonder what those who formulated the benefits system would think of it as it is today, mind you I also think the same of the Convention of Human Rights.

  • Comment number 1447.

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

  • Comment number 1446.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1445.

    Firstly the age that you can now get old age pension is being pushed out and now if you live long enough to claim it this Tory government wants you to give most of it back.
    Perhaps the MPs should not get any expenses for the first £50,000 and only if they are an MP for more than 5 years and see how they like it.
    Leave our old alone they have worked hard and deserve all they get and more

  • rate this

    Comment number 1444.

    Listen pal.
    Anyone who has led a posh boys party...and who spouts posh boys ideas...and rubs shoulders with other posh boys/girls 24hrs a day...is IMO opinion...a posh boy!
    Comprehensive education? big deal.
    It's not where you're from...it's where you're at!
    Tony Benn had a very posh upbringing. But,he saw inequality all around him and the conscience kicked in!
    Go away!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1443.

    Pensioners like myself in this "wealthy pensioner" category - most of whom worked hard & saved hard throughout their lives to secure their future as pensioners - are paying many hundreds of times in Income Tax - the value of these paltry benefits.What's next - "Relinquish your State Pension?" No! No! No!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1442.

    Why do so many people think IDS has no right to say this because he is wealthy?

    -Of course He is entitled to His opinion even though He comes from a rich and privileged family and has married into an even richer one.

    However,this doesn't give Him the right to pretend that He knows what it is like to struggle on low incomes.
    Because He never has and never will!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1441.

    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? They'd run the country into the ground in 24 hours but that's OK because at least they'd have the 'right' to do it. Grow up HYS
    You mean like this lot are currently doing. It's just a pity they won't be unemployed until 2015.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1440.

    @792 "If thatchers hadn't shut the tin mines we could provide these people with free warmth anyway."

    I had no idea tin can be used as heating fuel. You learn something new every day on HYS!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1439.

    There are two words that spring to mind, one beginning with O and the other with F.

    If we have £15 billion for foreign aid and millions to waste on wars we don't want to be involved with, we can afford bus passes. For eveyone, never mind the pensioners!

    So, forget a forray into Syria.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1438.

    Minister's still showing they don't know what is going on ...

    They want pensioners to stay at work - without creating any jobs, while youngsters can't get any either. They seem happy to tinker at the edges of society (rich pensioners, poor unemployed) without having a credible plan for either - or the rest of us... and they don't appear to know how it all works!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1437.

    Should millionaire MPs hand back their salaries and expenses?


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