Pension Credit is the principal element of the UK welfare system for people of pension age (apart from UK State Pension), which was introduced in the UK in 2003 by Gordon Brown, then Chancellor of the Exchequer (and subsequently Prime Minister). It has been subject to a number of changes over its existence, but has the core aim of lifting a large number of the poorest retired people out of poverty.
Eligibility may be estimated on a government website.
Original core elements
The scheme was introduced to replace the Minimum Income Guarantee, which had itself been introduced in 1997, by the same Gordon Brown. Pension Credit had two elements:
- Guarantee Credit is an income based benefit which is paid if the income of the applicant and partner (plus a notional income from savings) is below a certain level (£132.60 per week for a single person and £202.40 per week for a couple in 2010/11). The minimum age for claiming is rising in line with the increase in women's retirement age (see State Pension age). It is currently just over 60, but by April 2020 the minimum age for claiming will be 65.
- Savings Credit is an inverse means-tested benefit; the higher the individual's private pension income, the more they receive in Savings Credit, up to a certain limit. This element is available once the applicant or their partner reaches 65. Savings Credit is designed to "reward" people who saved for their pension during their working life. It therefore provides additional benefit to retired people who are not necessarily well off, but do have savings or a personal pension, and may not qualify for the full Guarantee Credit.
The value of Guarantee Credit, and Savings Credit are automatically uprated each year, in line with inflation, as is the basic State Pension, and Second State Pension (S2P). However, they are uprated by different inflation measures:
- Retail Price Index (RPI) : basic State Pension,
- Consumer Price Index (CPI) : Second State Pension
- Increase in Average Earnings : Guarantee Credit, Savings Credit
The net, deliberate, effect of these differences is to make the total combined impact gradually converge, over about 40 years, to an eventual situation where the total benefit is around £140 a week, whatever an individual's circumstance. Consequently, the Coalition government proposed replacing this complex system with a single flat-rate pension of about £140 per week, a policy which is currently being processed by Parliament.
Savings Credit, which would be abolished by the flat-rate pension policy, is currently only claimed by around 1% of eligible individuals, and few people of eligible age are aware of its existence. As an interim measure, the Coalition government changed the uprating system, so that a higher levels of income would be obtained more automatically, instead of via Savings Credit:
- basic State Pension : a triple lock - whichever is larger of
- CPI, or
- the increase in Average Earnings, or
- Guarantee Credit : the amount necessary to remain below the basic State Pension by the same cash amount
- Savings Credit : reduced by the amount necessary to cover the funding for the increase in Guarantee Credit, above where it would be under the original uprating scheme
Passported assistance with Council Tax
Anyone who was in receipt of the Guarantee Credit part of Pension Credit was also eligible for full Council Tax Benefit, which covered the cost of their Council Tax bill. This rule was abolished in 2013, since Council Tax Benefit itself was abolished. Instead, Councils are now legally required to introduce different rates of benefit for certain categories of people, known as Council Tax Reductions (marketed by many councils as Council Tax Support); in particular the Council Tax rate for pensioners must be set to zero, if they are in receipt of Guarantee Credit.
Assistance with residential property rental
Anyone who was in receipt of the Guarantee Credit part of Pension Credit was also eligible for full Housing Benefit. This could be a significant amount, ensuring that a retired person in this position has their rent paid in full. However, the Coalition government have changed this rule in a substantial manner: Housing Benefit will be abolished.
Instead, from October 2014, Pension Credit will gain a new core element for Housing costs; this is comparable with the Housing Element of Universal Credit, for working-age benefit claimants. The Housing element will be based on the Local Housing Allowance, in a similar manner to Housing Benefit, but payments will be incorporated within Pension Credit, rather than being a separate benefit claimed from the local council.
Payment of the Housing Element, as with the rest of Pension Credit, will be direct to the claimant, rather than being paid to the landlord (which had been the case with Housing Benefit for tenants in social housing). There are exceptions to this direct payment rule for tenants who would struggle with money management, or otherwise start to fall behind with payments.
Impact of disabilities
As with Universal Credit, there is an additional Element available for people suffering from certain levels of disability. The additional amount is called Extra Amount for Severe Disability and amounts to £53.65 per week (in 2010/11 prices); as with most elements of Pension Credit, it is added to the core amount, and the whole thing is paid as a single weekly lump sum.
The Qualification criteria is relatively simple - the applicant, and/or their partner must be in receipt of:
- Attendance Allowance (a benefit only available to people of pension age)
- Disability Living Allowance (a benefit only available to people below pension age). To qualify, this benefit (DLA) must be being received at the middle or higher rate.
- Personal Independence Payment (the new replacement for DLA, for claimants of working age; within a few years, DLA will only be for children).
The rules are complex and there are exceptions; for example, no-one in the household must be claiming Carer's allowance for looking after the disabled individual (otherwise they would be being paid twice for the same thing). The government encourages people interested in claiming this element to contact the Pension, Disability and Carers Service via Gov.uk, or an agency with expertise in benefits, such as the Citizens Advice Bureau, or a respected charity like Age UK.