Alliance Finance spokesperson Seamus Close, former MLA for Lagan Valley, has welcomed a new Audit Office report into the take-up of benefits by pensioners. Mr Close, a former Public Accounts Committee member, said Northern Ireland’s pensioners could be missing out on £43 million very year.
Mr Close stated: “There are currently about 36,000 pensioners who fail to claim what they are entitled to, either through ignorance or pride. In the report, we are told that when the Department of Social Development and its agencies have targeted non-recipients, the average weekly benefit gain was £23 per week.
“Imagine the difference £23 every week would make to the life of a pensioner. If we consider this figure in global terms, then an estimated £43 million is being lost out on by pensioners annually.
“An element of the taxes we all pay is in order to ensure that no-one should be living below the poverty line. The message that needs to be communicated, is that not only are pensioners entitled to benefit, but that they truly deserve it for their lifetimes’ work and contribution to society.
“We need to convince our elderly population that there is no shame in applying for benefits. All pensioners need to recognise that they have been paying into the tax system, either directly or indirectly, for a lifetime.
“Northern Ireland’s pensioner population will increase from today’s figure of 260,000 to 314,000 by 2021, so we need to get benefit procedures right in order to ensure that all pensioners receive their entitlement.
“I appreciate that the Department of Social Development has been trying hard to address this problem. However, the facts speak for themselves and more improvements within DSD are necessary in order to ensure that the take-up of benefits is maximised, particularly by those in greatest need.”