According to the charity Age UK, nearly three million pensioners in the UK are struggling financially and there has been a sharp rise in the number of elderly people living in poverty. Despite this, the benefits that exist to help older people are the most likely to go unclaimed.

“Despite millions of older people struggling financially, around £3.5 billion in benefits remains unclaimed every year when this extra income could make a huge difference to their lives,” says Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK.

David Samson, welfare benefits expert at the Turn2us benefits advice service, run by the Elizabeth Finn Trust, says that many pensioners simply don’t know what financial support is available to them. “For example, they may be getting their State Pension but not be aware that they are entitled to Pension Credit,” he says. “The rules for Pension Credit are more generous than the rules for working people, so they may have an entitlement that they don’t realise.”

Up to 1.4 million pensioners do not claim Pension Credit – one of the most important benefits for the retired – with an average of £2,000 per family every year going unclaimed, according to the Department for Work and Pensions.

“It’s important to get the message out there as we know that claiming the correct benefits can make a huge difference to quality of life,” says Samson.

Here’s a guide to the most common benefits available for people over the age of 60:


Attendance Allowance

This is a benefit for older people (over the age of 65, under 65s can claim the Personal Independence Payment instead) who may need extra help to stay independent at home, as a result of an illness or disability. You can claim up to £83.10 per week and, by claiming it, you may become entitled to other benefits such as Pension Credit and Housing Benefit, or an increase if you are already receiving them.


Carer’s Allowance

The main welfare benefit for carers. It pays up to £62.70 per week and you may still be able to claim even if you don’t see yourself as a carer. You could be eligible if you spend at least 35 hours a week caring for a disabled person (you don’t need to be living with them or related to them), or if you care for someone who receives Attendance Allowance. If you get a state pension you won’t be paid Carer’s Allowance, but you could be awarded extra Pension Credit or Housing Benefit instead, so don’t be put off making a claim. For anyone claiming Universal Credit, you can get an extra ‘carer element’ without actually applying for Carer’s Allowance.


Housing Benefit

This is to help people on a low-income pay for their rent, which can take up a large chunk of your money every month. It is means tested, which means your eligibility and the amount you will receive is dependent on your savings, who you live with, how much rent you pay, how many rooms you have in your home and if you get other benefits such as Carer’s Allowance, Attendance Allowance or Personal Independence Payment.


Pension Credit

This is an income-related benefit to give you some extra money in retirement. It comes in two parts and you may be eligible for one or both. Guarantee Credit tops up your weekly income to a guaranteed minimum level of £159.35 if you’re single or £243.25 if you’re a couple. Savings Credit, meanwhile, is extra money if you’ve got savings or your income is higher than the basic State Pension; you can get up to £13.20 extra a week if you’re single, or £14.90 if you’re a couple. It’s always worth applying and, even if you’ve previously been turned down it’s worth making a new claim every year – nearly nine out of 10 claims are successful and you may be eligible even if you own your own home.


Winter Fuel Payment

This is an annual tax-free payment to help with heating costs. Payments are made between November and December and you are entitled to £200 (or £300 if you’re over the age of 80), although you will receive less if you live with other people who qualify. You only need to claim once, after which you should automatically receive a payment every year. If you receive the State Pension or Pension Credit you usually get a Winter Fuel Payment automatically.


For more information on benefits for over 60s, check out the Wise Old Elephant blog.