The current spell of colder weather is a timely backdrop to the 'Feel the Benefit' and 'Donate A Coat' campaigns, which aim to persuade senior citizens to sign up for all their benefit entitlements and encourage people to give away clothing to help the needy deal with the life-threatening chill of winter.
The Belfast Telegraph strongly endorses these campaigns, not least because 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.
These include unclaimed housing benefit and pension credits, and older people are collectively losing up to £200m each year.
Many of the elderly are unable, or in some cases too proud, to claim benefits, and Age NI has launched a campaign to prevent many of these people from suffering needlessly. Accordingly, people are being asked to seek advice from experts and Age NI has calculated that a successful benefits check could bring some people an extra £62 a week, which amounts to £3,224 a year.
As part of the Age Concern 'Spread the Warmth' initiative, the Belfast Telegraph is backing a 'Feel the Benefit' drive to encourage 100 pensioners to ring the Age NI advice helpline over the next five days so that they can claim money which is legally theirs. Our campaign could bring in £6,200 in five days which, if applied all year round, could claw back the enormous sum of £322,000.
One of the problems is that some older people are not aware of the potential benefits they may gain, and even if others know about these, they may not be able to take the initiative themselves. This is where family and friends could play a major role by making older people aware of their potential benefits and helping them to start their own initiative by contacting the relevant authorities.
The chief executive of Age NI Anne O'Reilly has rightly pointed out that a chat with an experienced advisor could make all the difference to the life of an elderly person.
No one should suffer in silence simply because they are unaware of the benefits available to them.