Ministers criticised for ‘sneaking out’ Universal Credit cut plans ahead of crunch Brexit deal vote
Ministers have been criticised for quietly announcing a cut to thousands of pensioner couples’ benefits in the run-up to last night’s crunch Commons Brexit vote.
Thousands of low-income elderly people with partners of working age face losing up to £7,000 a year as a result of a change in policy which will force them on to Universal Credit.
The new rules, to be brought in on 15 May, will mean mixed age couples - where one partner is below state pension age and one is above - will be unable to claim pensions credit and instead have to switch to the less-generous Universal Credit.
The couple rate of Universal Credit is £114.81 a week compared with £255.25 for a couple receiving pension credit, meaning a potential loss of up to £7,320 a year. The move will only apply to new claimants and not those already in receipt of the benefit, the DWP said.
The policy was announced on Monday night in a written ministerial statement by pensions minister Guy Opperman, who said the change was part of the bid to “modernise the welfare system” which MPs backed in 2012.
“Pension credit is designed to provide long-term support for pensioner households who are no longer economically active. It is not designed to support working age claimants," he said.
“This change will ensure that the same work incentives apply to the younger partner as apply to other people of the same age, and taxpayer support is directed where it is needed most.”
But former Liberal Democrat pensions minister, Steve Webb, who now works for investments firm Royal London, criticised the proposal, saying: “People who may be affected deserve to know about this change and not have it sneaked out on a day when ministers were no doubt hoping that everyone’s attention was directed somewhere else.”
Labour MPs Laura Pidcock and Alex Sobel meanwhile blasted the Government's move.
Older people's charity Independent Age also sounded the alarm over the proposals, warning that it could leave fewer pensioners getting "vital" financial support.
The charity's director of policy George McNamara told PoliticsHome: "With 2 out of 5 older people who are eligible for Pension Credit not receiving it, and with pensioner poverty alarmingly high, it would be better for the Government to focus on getting much-needed financial support to them, rather than changing the rules so that even fewer older people receive this vital benefit."
A DWP spokesperson said: "In 2012, Parliament voted to modernise this system for new claims so only pensioners receive pension credit.
"Currently couple can move from working age benefits to pension age benefits when the older partner of the couple reaches state pensions age.
"The new rules mean this now takes place when the younger partner reaches state pension age too."