Belfast Telegraph

£147k better off... how the Belfast Telegraph campaign helped elderly

By Claire McNeilly

Benefits for older people worth £147,521 have been identified in just two weeks on the back of a Belfast Telegraph campaign.

That compares to £56,345 for the same period in 2011 — or a year-on-year increase of 156%.

The news comes following the success of the Belfast Telegraph's Feel the Benefit initiative in December, which was an integral part of Age NI's Spread the Warmth campaign.

Our objective was to encourage pensioners — many of whom are living on the breadline — to take up the benefits they are legitimately entitled to.

It followed a revelation by Age NI last month that older people across the province are missing out on up to £200m a year in unclaimed benefits.

That ‘lost’ money could go a long way in the battle to prevent winter deaths.

In 2011, nine pensioners died every hour in the UK due to the cold — an alarming statistic in today’s modern world.

However, the stark reality is that with soaring bills, many face a troubling choice between keeping warm or putting food on the table.

Age NI has calculated that a successful benefits check can boost an older person’s weekly income by £62 — or £3,224 a year.

To this end, our initiative aimed to encourage 100 senior citizens to contact its helpline from December 3 to 17 to check their financial entitlements.

At the end of that week, 174 benefits checks had been carried out, identifying annual benefits to the tune of £65,241.

Age NI added that, just two weeks later, 332 checks had been completed, resulting in the identification of total entitlements worth £147,521.

The 2012 figure compares to 85 benefit checks for the same two-week period last year, which unveiled unclaimed annual revenue of £56,345.

And it means that our initiative helped generate benefits of over £91,000 extra in two weeks during the winter of 2012 compared to the previous year.

AGE NI chief executive Anne O’Reilly said that their advice service phone lines were inundated with calls and that advisers were able to help people in real need.

“Coverage in the newspaper has helped many older people in real need access additional financial support, which is important because 23% of people in later life in Northern Ireland live in poverty,” she said.

Some people still believe there is a stigma involved in asking for so-called help, but this is money our elderly are both legally and morally entitled to.

When they don’t avail of the financial help provided, this money returns to the UK Treasury and is therefore lost to the Northern Ireland economy.

Background

Around 500 people die each year in Northern Ireland from cold-related illnesses and pensioner poverty. Thousands of older people are consistently failing to apply for government benefits to which they are entitled. For more information or to see if you may be entitled to benefits, contact Age NI on 0808 808 7575.

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