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TX: 11.06.04 – UNCLAIMED BENEFITS – PART 2

PRESENTER: PETER WHITE



THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY

WHITE
We reported yesterday on the extraordinary sums of money to which elderly people are entitled but which are going unclaimed. For some time now the charity - Housing 21 - which provides sheltered accommodation for around 17,000 people has been employing two benefits advisors to go into their complexes to help people discover if they are getting all the benefit to which they're entitled. So far they reckon they've unearthed over a million pounds of unclaimed benefit, mainly attendance allowance - a benefit to which disabled people are entitled if they need extra assistance with daily living. When I accompanied the benefits advisors recently to Kipling Court in Bradford they were no less successful. This is just a flavour of what happened when advisor Lynne Davey talked to Jim and Barbara Walton about their circumstances.

ACTUALITY
LYNNE DAVEY
It depends on whether or not you get up at night and if you do how often you're having to get up at night. So if you have to get up at night to go to the loo and you're doing that more than once a night then it is a distinct possibility that you would qualify for the higher rate attendance allowance.

BARBARA WALTON
Well I do have to get up more than - two or three times.

LYNNE DAVEY
Two or three times a night.

BARBARA WALTON
Yes.

LYNNE DAVEY
So I think it would be worthwhile asking them to review your attendance allowance with a view to increasing it to the higher rate.

BARBARA WALTON
Well my husband he has slight epileptic [indistinct word], you know, and so he gets disturbed sometimes and usually it's when he's asleep in bed.

LYNNE DAVEY
Well Mr Walton are you taking medication for your epilepsy?

JIM DAVEY
I am love yes, shall I bring it to you let you see it?

LYNNE DAVEY
Oh no, no that doesn't matter at the moment but I'm thinking perhaps you may be entitled to attendance allowance in your own right. So I can set the wheels in motion for your attendance allowance to be increased, I can ask for a blue badge application to be sent out and I can help you with that claim form, I can do a new claim for attendance allowance for you Mr Walton and then if that is awarded we can do a claim for pension credit to get the additional amount. So the potential is that you could be better off by probably about £140 a week.

WHITEPretty startling figure to be - to have thrown at you. Well the benefits advisor who was actually on the spot up in Bradford and who took over organising the Waltons' claim is John Robertshaw of Housing 21 and he joins us from our Leeds studio. John, first of all, I mean just because this is a new concept for a lot of people in words of one syllable exactly what attendance allowance is.

ROBERTSHAW
Attendance allowance Peter - it's a benefit for people who are aged 65 or over who have some form of health illness, ailment or disability that means they require some form of extra help or assistance.

WHITE
So when we talk about disability people don't have to think about really severe disabilities, like being in a wheelchair or being totally blind or something like that, we're talking about milder things than that.

ROBERTSHAW
Absolutely. To give you an example of that - some of the things we're looking at - people that have problems coping with health and mobility that means they have difficulty dealing with ordinary day-to-day tasks such as having a bath or shower, for example.

WHITE
So I mean why do so few people actually get this benefit in your experience?

ROBERTSHAW
I think one of the reasons is that the actual name - attendance allowance - is quite misleading for a lot of people. People feel if they hear the word attendance allowance they have to be receiving some form of help or assistance before they're actually eligible to claim.

WHITE
Another thing that you've mentioned to me is this whole business of complexity and interestingly we got an e-mail yesterday from Lorraine Schultz who says: I've got a masters degree but I was filling out the form for an elderly couple, I was turned down for insufficient evidence and yet the lady had Alzheimer's and the husband was blind and she says no wonder elderly people don't apply.

ROBERTSHAW
That is very true, it is quite a daunting claim form. It is important to stress, I think, that the claim form has been redesigned and the new claim form was issued from about October last year. Now that new claim form is much simpler than the original claim form but we're still looking at 20 pages, which …

WHITE
Which would scare the daylights of any - somebody over 80 wouldn't it and a lot of people under 80 as well.

ROBERTSHAW
Very much so. This is what we find with Housing 21 is part of the problem - people may realise they're entitled to attendance allowance but without help or assistance to complete the claim form people often don't know where to start.

WHITE
John Robertshaw thank you for the time being but we'll come back to you.

Well in fact in the case of the Waltons they actually got even a little more than £140, it was nearer £170 by the time John and Lynne had finished. And they're now receiving some of the money and they've had time to absorb what's happened to them. I went back to see them again the other day and already it was clear this was making a major difference to their day-to-day lives.

ACTUALITY - TELEPHONE CALLJIM WALTONHello? This is Mr Walton speaking. I wonder if you could let me have a taxi to take me to the National Westminster Bank up in Idle. Ten minutes. Very good, thank you very much. Bye.

BARBARA WALTON
This morning Jim had to go up to the bank and so he had a taxi up to the bank and back again. We both of us find it very difficult walking up hills, walking at all actually. We wouldn't normally - before then - we wouldn't have used a taxi, we'd have used the bus or walked but we can't do that now. So it is - that is very, very helpful for us.

JIM WALTON
I think there's something in view about getting a walk in shower for us. Now this is going to be very, very helpful because neither my good lady or myself can climb in and out of a bath or sit into the bath, it's an impossibility to get out once we get down.

BARBARA WALTON
Jim needs a high rise chair, like I've got here, for a start off. So this furniture is comfortable to sit on and it's easy to get down but to get up is a bit difficult.

JIM WALTON
And we are anticipating going to Bispham in August.

BARBARA WALTON
Yes, we went last year. And the food is absolutely marvellous. And we do get looked after and it's only across the road and we're at the seafront.

JIM WALTON
To do this last year we had to be very, very careful how we used our pennies.

BARBARA WALTON
Jim wasn't for going down to that meeting. I persuaded him, I said well if we don't go down and hear what's being said we won't know. And as a result we've had all this, it's been lovely.

WHITE
But for every couple like the Waltons now getting this money hundreds of thousands more are maybe missing out, indeed the Government's own estimates say that between 40 and 60% of those entitled to attendance allowance is actually not getting the benefit.

Paul Holmes, is the Liberal Democrat spokesman on disability issues and he's been critical of the Government's record on the delivery of benefits.

Paul Holmes, what do you say they're failing to do basically?

HOLMES
Good afternoon Peter. There's a couple of things really. One is that they don't know themselves the scale of the problem and this applies to things like disability living allowance up to the pensionable age and to attendance allowance afterwards. And in response to parliamentary questions and research last year they've simply said - well we don't know and it would be too difficult to find out or to estimate accurately how many people are missing out. So they're sort of ignoring the problem that way. But in terms of what they can actually do about it there are two things. One, they could try a mass advertising campaign. Now they've said they won't do that in this case because they say it wouldn't work and yet they have done, for example, for family tax credits, so why would they do it in one instance but not in the other?

WHITE
We did, of course, invite the Department of Work and Pensions to appear on this programme, they were unable to make anyone available. In a statement to us though they did say they wanted as many people to claim as possible and that the numbers claiming attendance allowance had actually risen by 13% over the last five years. And also on the issue of complexity they said the claim form for attendance allowance had been halved in length as John Robertshaw actually said. Isn't it actually though the responsibility of other agencies to make sure people get to know about these benefits, once the Government's put them in place?

HOLMES
Well the Government - that's the Government's fall back position, in fact, they're working with other people such as local authorities and welfare organisations. But that's a bit disingenuous really because, for example, I spent a day with a worker from Chesterfield Borough Council in my constituency who was going out to advise elderly people on fitting door chains and window locks, people who were referred by Neighbourhood Watch for example, but he was trained that while he was there he would ask them well are you claiming pension tax credit or are you claiming attendance allowance and he was having a huge success rate - like the example you've just had in the programme - of getting people signed up to this money that they're entitled to. So on the one hand the Government's saying that's the way to go to do it and on the other hand they're telling local authorities you've got to keep the council tax down and cut your costs and not employ so many people. They can't have it both ways. If they want people on the ground going out doing this sort of work they've got to put up the funding to do it.

WHITE
Well let's pick up that point. The Government have asked local authorities to work together to increase benefits uptake amongst elderly people, now Craig Brewin is assistant director of Richmond Social Services and he joins us. And you've actually launched your own pilot scheme haven't you, what have you done?

BREWIN
Yes that's right Peter. We are required to do it now, all local authority social services departments are required to do face-to-face visits with our clients because it has been discovered or the evidence suggests that that's the way to get people to take it up. Now what we've done is done it in partnership with Age Concern and they do it on our behalf and it has proved so successful and the take up rate has increased by so much that we're now just about to launch a joint campaign with the Pensions Agency.

WHITE
So when you say they've done it on your behalf they act as your agents - who pays for this?

BREWIN
We pay for it. The Government didn't give us any money to do this, they just issued guidelines saying that all social services clients who we charge or provide a service to should be assessed for benefits. So we've done it from our own resources and we do it through Age Concern because they're very flexible and very successful.

WHITE
And so when does it actually happen, I mean do Age Concern go into people who are vulnerable - because wouldn't the obvious way to do this be when actual social services people, like occupational therapists maybe or physiotherapists - I know they're health people - but wouldn't that be the time to do this, when you actually have to make a visit to someone?

BREWIN
Well we don't do it at that point, that's the point at which you pick the clients up, so we become aware of them at the point at which they refer to social services. But the people who have the initial contact aren't necessarily benefits - experts in benefits. So the records are kept centrally and we pass them on to Age Concern with the permission of the client. But it would be wrong for people making first contacts to actually do the financial assessment of somebody so we pass it on to the people who are experts in that particular field.

WHITE
Let me just widen this discussion and bring everybody in. Is this really the best way to deliver money to the people who need it most or could we target it more precisely? I want to bring in Patricia Morgan, who's a sociologist and research fellow with the think tank - CIVITAS. Now you've got doubts, haven't you, really about the whole system really?

MORGAN
Yes I have got doubts. What I've been hearing is that this benefit is so relaxed I wonder that a hundred per cent of us don't qualify for it - it's just a matter of going to the toilet in the night for example. In fact I heard from the Department of Work and Pensions that attendance allowance was a benefit for people who are - and I quote -"so severely disabled, physically or mentally, that they need someone with them to help with personal care". Now is getting up in the night being so severely disabled and having somebody to provide personal care because I'm then told that you don't have to actually have anybody looking after you to claim this benefit. I do wonder whether it ought to be more targeted - targeted a bit more precisely on people who do actually need this sort of intensive personal care. Are there other issues coming in here, for example, living standards of pensioners generally and somehow this benefit is being used to bump up living standards? And I think that's a matter really for general pension levels rather than for specific allowances.

WHITE
Can I put a couple of those points - first of all, just the general thing that is it for people who are severely enough disabled? John Robertshaw you deal with the people everyday, on a day-to-day basis, you went to the Waltons and 20 other people in Kipling Court, what's your reaction to that?

ROBERTSHAW
Well I think a lot of people - first contact with people don't appear that they have illnesses, ailments, disabilities that means they will qualify for attendance allowance. But what you've got to do, you've got to look into the situation a little bit more deeply because people who have degenerative illnesses, for example, adapt their lifestyle and find ways of coping with their lifestyle to make life easier. A lot of people if help were available to them would be using any extra help and assistance that were available.

WHITE
Paul Holmes what about this point about policing - I mean that sounds a rather harsh word but actually what Patricia's saying is you can spend this money anyway you like, you don't actually - you don't have to prove you spend it on solving the problems it's supposed to combat?

HOLMES
There is an element of truth in that but I think Patricia's confused with a couple of things. I mean first of all I would agree with her that while ever we have the completely inadequate state pension that we've got then people are looking to top it up in other ways and we'd be better off just having a decent pension in the first place. But Patricia's missing the point that if people are entitled to this - and we heard the example of somebody who can now use a taxi to get up to the shops or to the bank where before they would have been housebound and not been able to do that - to me that would seem a legitimate use of the money, if they are entitled to this money. The point is that up to two million people are missing out on it and if the money's there we should be making the effort to get it to the people who need it.

WHITE
Patricia Morgan.

MORGAN
Well I didn't know that a person was housebound because they did say they could use a bus or walk. So that's not being housebound. Like a lot of these things, which are means tested, or targeted and then you tend to find the client group expands, expands, expands, expands because the rules are continually relaxed to let more people in. And when you do that you're also creating more resentment, more dishonesty, because people are manipulating their circumstances to qualify. And then I would get back to the question of shouldn't this be more precisely targeted and more precisely policed? And aren't we again, I repeat, dealing with the question of general living standards amongst pensioners? Which is another thing we could talk about but it's rather a different matter.

ROBERTSHAW
Peter can I just correct …

WHITE
John Robertshaw.

ROBERTSHAW
… attendance allowance isn't actually a means tested benefit, it's what's classed as a non-means tested benefit …

MORGAN
Yes but it's targeted and it's on very vague criteria, so it's always possible to continually widen the client group.

WHITE
John Robertshaw just finally, I mean you administer these benefits, you try to get them for people, do you think they're accurate or do we need to re jig the way they're done do you think?

ROBERTSHAW
In relation to attendance allowance specifically?

WHITE
Well and to the others because that's one of the problems - how many of them there are.

ROBERTSHAW
Well yeah this is the problem, there's an awful lot of benefits available to people. People often don't know exactly what benefits are available and we've also got the issue of how people aren't aware of the financial implications of how one benefit can passport to another benefit, for example.

WHITE
Right, I'm going to have to stop you there. Patricia Morgan, Paul Holmes, Craig Brewin, John Robertshaw - thank you all very much indeed. And if you think you might be entitled to benefits, such as attendance allowance, we do have on our website a list of criteria of eligibility and a list of phone numbers where you can get more advice about filling in the forms. We should stress that Housing 21, which took this initiative, does have to confine its help to its own residents.


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