The unclaimed benefits, tax discounts, and food vouchers in the UK have reached a staggering £15 billion annually. This figure is derived from online benefits calculators as the government does not track how many people are claiming Universal Credit, council tax discounts, and rebates. The lack of reliable government data has forced independent charities to determine why vulnerable people are not getting the assistance they need. However, the majority of people are only able to access their full benefit entitlement when they are in dire need and turn to food or fuel banks, where volunteers can assist them. This paper analyses the reasons why benefits are going unclaimed and the impact of digitalisation on the benefits system, especially for the elderly and those with low incomes.
Barriers to Claiming Benefits:
The first factor that affects the uptake of benefits is the lack of awareness of their existence and the eligibility criteria. As a result, online benefits calculators like those provided by Entitled To and Turn2Us have become go-to tools for navigating the complex benefits system. Unfortunately, access to these calculators is increasingly becoming a luxury for low-income households, who cannot afford the cost of connection to the outside world. Despite discounted “social” tariffs being available, only one to two per cent of eligible customers are taking them up. According to Ofcom, 11 per cent of lower-income households are not online, and this percentage increases to 18 per cent for the over-65s. Therefore, a significant number of eligible people are not claiming benefits because they cannot access the internet or a telephone landline.
The Elderly and Digitalisation of the Benefits System:
The digitalisation of the benefits system has left many elderly people behind. Eight hundred and fifty thousand pensioners who qualify for Pension Credit do not get it, even though it could be worth up to £3,300 per year, and they could be eligible for discounted council tax, free TV license, and Warm Homes Discount. This situation is a travesty, and the government has launched a campaign to publicise its Pension Credit claims hotline (0800 99 1234). However, awareness of the campaign remains low. The digitalisation of the benefits system has also affected the uptake of Healthy Start vouchers, which provide low-income parents with £4.25 a week to pay for basics like milk, fruit, vegetables, pulses, and infant formula. Last year, only 54 per cent of eligible families claimed the vouchers, and this figure has worsened since the government phased out paper vouchers in favour of a prepaid card. The new system is causing significant problems for parents, as many applications have been repeatedly rejected, and the cards are failing at supermarket checkouts. The Department for Health and Social Care insists that it has fixed the issues, but the high volume of complaints suggests otherwise.
Delays in the Council Tax Rebate Scheme:
Another issue with the benefits system is the delays in the council tax rebate scheme. Only a few councils have issued the £150 promised to people living in council tax bands A to D this month, and many warn that payments may not be made until September. The individuals who need the rebate the most are the least likely to pay by direct debit and may have to wait months for councils to set up new portals to accept claims.
The benefits system in the UK has significant issues that affect the most vulnerable members of society. The lack of awareness of benefits, eligibility criteria, and how to claim them are barriers for many individuals, especially for those who do not have access to the internet or a telephone landline. The digitalisation of the benefits system has also left many elderly people behind, as they are unable to access it. Furthermore, the delays in the council tax rebate scheme have caused many low-income households significant financial hardship.