Millions of pounds of Pension Credit has been claimed by thousands of people in London who didn’t know they were eligible. A recent campaign run by Policy in Practice, funded by the Mayor of London, saw 8,200 older households in 17 London boroughs receive targeted letters to make them aware that they might be able to get the benefit. As a result there were more than 2,000 successful claims, worth just under £8.4 million.

As the cost of living crisis continues and prices for essentials continue to increase, millions of people are struggling to keep up with expenses. For pensioners, it is becoming increasingly harder to meet basic costs.

Through our partners at Age UK London, we had the opportunity to speak with Miriam*, a 73 year old resident of Westminster. Miriam told us:

The cost of living crisis has been a struggle, I’ve had to economise a lot on food. It is a shock after having a career my whole life to now having no money to spare, even if I had it I would be too frightened to spend it.

Miriam’s experience is just one among millions struggling with the rising cost of essentials.

More than two million older people live in poverty in the UK, with millions more surviving on low incomes. Research commissioned by Independent Age has found that increases in benefit income are the biggest single cause of people exiting poverty in later life. However, Policy in Practice’s Missing out report published in May this year revealed that a staggering £19 billion of support goes unclaimed in the UK each year.

Pensioners are missing out on £1.7 billion in unclaimed Pension Credit, along with millions of pounds in unclaimed social tariffs and passported benefits such as free TV licences, Warm Homes Discounts and Council Tax Support.

Pension Credit can be a lifeline for those over the state pension age, providing people on low incomes with much needed extra support for living costs.

Deven Ghelani, Director and Founder of Policy in Practice, said:

We are delighted that this important campaign to put much needed Pension Credit into older Londoner’s is getting national media coverage. The results can and should be replicated across the country.

Listen to Deven talk about the campaign on BBC Radio 4 Moneybox, on Saturday 16 September at 12:04

Overcoming stigma: Why Pension Credit goes unclaimed

Policy in Practice is committed to maximising people’s income through benefit take up, helping people to escape poverty and closing the unclaimed benefits gap. We work with local authorities to identify and reach out to households who are eligible for support but are not claiming.

Benefits go unclaimed for a number of reasons such as stigma, lack of awareness, fragmented support, and administrative complexity. From the pensioners we spoke to, stigma and lack of awareness are the main barriers. Miriam told us: “I wouldn’t want my friends to know that I was claiming or struggling at the moment.”

Local authorities can use data analysis to proactively engage with their communities, telling them about available support and guiding them through the application process.

Being smart with data through meaningful collaboration

In an initiative funded by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, Policy in Practice collaborated with the Greater London Authority (GLA) and 17 London Boroughs to put money back into the pockets of pensioners who are struggling with the cost of living crisis. We analysed the councils’ data to identify 8,239 households across the capital who were eligible for Pension Credit, worth more than £3,800 a year to pensioners living on the lowest incomes.

The data analysis allowed us to accurately target individual households who we then wrote to, informing them of their entitlement and guiding them to partners such as Age UK to claim.

This first phase of the campaign ran from February to August 2023 and secured £8.4 million in benefit claims for pensioners across London in its first year. Over an average Londoner’s lifetime this is worth £100 million and is life changing for those struggling on low incomes.

In addition, around £700,000 worth of Attendance Allowance was also claimed by 186 people as a result of the campaign.

Cllr Claire Holland, London Councils’ Executive Member for Communities, highlighted the campaign’s significance, stating:

Amid the ongoing cost of living crisis, Pension Credit can be vital for keeping low-income pensioners out of poverty.

Households contacted in the campaign went on to secure an average of £3,879. The campaign extends beyond the financial impact. The pensioners we spoke to became more engaged with their communities linking in with their local councils and services such as Age UK.

Putting £8 million a year into eligible people’s pockets is just the starting point

The Mayor has announced continued funding and will extend the campaign into Autumn / Winter. This next phase has the potential to reach over 10,000 Londoners and secure a further £7.5 million in Pension Credit.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said:

I am pleased that we will now be extending the scheme to thousands more older Londoners who may not know they are eligible to receive Pension Credit or how to claim it.

The campaign’s impact extends beyond London, setting the bar for other UK city regions to close the £19 billion nationwide unclaimed support gap. The first data led campaign of its kind across a city region can be easily replicated elsewhere and not just for Pension Credit but for all unclaimed benefits.

Deven Ghelani, Director of Policy in Practice, emphasised the immense potential of public sector data and welcomed the campaign’s expansion. He highlighted:

The potential for public sector data is immense and I think we are only at the cusp of using it now. We welcome the Mayor’s decision to expand the campaign into the autumn, continuing to grow the incomes of Londoners during this ongoing cost of living crisis.

Pension Credit lifelines are more than financial

The benefits of Pension Credit are not limited to financial relief, a claim also unlocks access to a range of additional support such as social tariffs, Council Tax reductions, Warm Home Discount, support with NHS costs, and a free TV licence for those over 75. The range of financial benefits extends to greater dignity for pensioners who have paid into the system, supporting many older people to stay in their own homes for longer.

Miriam* stressed the impact of these additional supports, saying:

I would certainly recommend that someone applies [for Pension Credit]. People don’t know all the bonuses from Pension Credit, it’s the benefits from it rather than the financial reward. It opens the doors to Council Tax reduction, social tariffs and I also had help with the service costs of my building.

Allocating unclaimed support for all of the UK

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is also running a simultaneous Invitation to Claim trial targeting people who are likely to be eligible for Pension Credit. This raises an intelligent debate on the government’s role in ensuring people access unclaimed support and whether locally or centrally run campaigns can be more successful.

As London’s data driven campaign continues to lead the way in bridging the benefits gap, it also showcases the immense potential of data in maximising benefit uptake for those on low incomes. We hope that as the campaign expands, more regions will see the potential of data and collaboration.

Policy in Practice uses our award winning data solution, the Low Income Family Tracker (LIFT), to identify the most vulnerable families, target support to them, and track the change that interventions have driven over time.

Find out more on our free webinar

Join Adrian McDowell, Senior Policy and Projects Officer from the Greater London Authority, to hear the background to this successful Pension Credit take up campaign, and what the Mayor plans to do next, on our free webinar, How data made London’s pensioners better off by over £8 million on Wednesday 27 September.

Adrian will be joined by Laura Stoker, Programme Lead – Cost of Living from Lambeth Council, one of the London Boroughs that took part in the successful campaign to use data to tackle poverty in London.

View more details and register here

*We have changed Miriam’s name to protect her identity

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