IN ONE year, almost £90 million in benefits has gone unclaimed, an online tool being piloted by Christians Against Poverty (CAP) has found.
The charity estimates that £19 billion is going unclaimed each year by eligible households. This happens because of the complexity of the application system, lack of support to access online claims forms, and unawareness of entitlement to benefits, it says.
After publishing the figures on 3 October, CAP has now launched a campaign to help people gain access to the money to which they are entitled.
Pension credit is the most underclaimed benefit, it says: three-quarters of the entitlement is not being claimed by the more than 150,000 people who have used CAP’s online calculator. Pension Credit is particularly important, the charity says, because it also acts as a passport benefit to other support, including housing benefit and local assistance
Carers’ allowance is also underclaimed: 33 per cent of those completing CAP’s form have never claimed it. Eighteen- to 24-year-olds are also less likely to claim benefits to which they are entitled, CAP says.
The online calculator was created a year ago in partnership with the debt charity Turn2Us (News, 27 January). Results from the 150,000 people who have used it suggest an average of £513 in unclaimed benefits each month.
One user, Lisa, discovered that she was entitled to £250 in benefits each month. “I am working. Most of the time when you’re working, you don’t get anything. That’s what I thought. But then, I thought, it’s only going to take a couple of minutes; so, just out of curiosity, I did it.”
After filling in the government forms, she now receives Universal Credit. “With the cost of living going up, it has made a huge difference. I can pay my bills. It has kept me out of debt. It has taken a lot of pressure off.”
About 800 churches have signed up to work with CAP to encourage people to check their benefits. St Andrew’s, Droylsden, in south Manchester, has a CAP debt centre in the church. The manager, Clare Byfield, has been using the calculator with people in the community café and at lunch sessions. In the first two sessions, four people had found £315 a week in unclaimed benefits, she said.
“The advantage of filling in the benefit calculator together is that you get to build up that relationship of trust with someone. . . Otherwise, they’re just dealing with another automated process, which can reinforce the sense that they’re alone in this, and is certainly daunting for some people who aren’t comfortable with the digital world. Although the calculator is pretty easy to use, I never underestimate the power that a supportive presence has in these moments.”
CAP’s director of external affairs, Gareth McNab, said that the tool offered vital help at a time when “many are struggling to cope with the ever increasing cost of living. It’s horrific to think that there is £19 billion each year on a desk in Whitehall that should be in people’s pockets — there are no good reasons to withhold that vital support, and every effort should be being made to connect everyone with their entitlements.”