Government benefits – helping you in retirement

Unless you’ve managed to build up a large private pension or have a great deal of savings, it’s not always easy to get by in retirement when you’re no longer earning. There are various ways in which the government can help give people of pension age enough money to live on – here’s a concise guide to some of the main benefits.

State pension – this is available to men over 65 and women over 60 (increasing to 65 by 2020), although eligibility for the full state pension depends on whether you or your spouse/partner have accumulated sufficient ‘qualifying years’ through national insurance contributions (NICs). You’ll need to have worked approximately 90% of your adult working life in order to do so. People who have been out of work to bring up children or care for other family members are given ‘Home Responsibilities Protection’ to make up for lost NICs, and people who receive jobseeker’s allowance and income support will also be given credits while claiming benefit. If you don’t have enough NICs to be eligible for the full basic state pension, but have at least 25% of the qualifying years, you’ll receive an amount somewhere between the minimum and the maximum. If you have less than 25%, you normally won’t be eligible to claim any state pension, but you may be able to get financial help in other ways, such as pension credit or the Over 80 pension.

Pension credit – you may qualify to receive pension credits to top up your income if it is very low. Pension credits are made up of two elements: guarantee credits and savings credits. Guarantee credits are available to single people over 60 who have an income of less than £114.05 per week, or couples over 60 with an income of less than £174.05 per week. If eligible, you’ll receive top-ups to bring your income up to these levels. Savings credits are available to individuals over 65 whose weekly income is less than £159 or couples over 65 whose weekly income is less than £233. If you qualify, you’ll receive £17.88 per week if you’re single or £23.58 if you’re a couple. Payments can be made directly into your bank account. Other benefits are not taken into consideration when calculating eligibility, and you may also qualify to receive other benefits if you’re on pension credits, such as housing and council tax benefits.

Over 80 pension – if you’re over 80 and on a low income because you don’t get the basic state pension or receive less than £50.50 per week from your state pension, and as long as you’ve lived in the UK for at least 10 years up to your 80th birthday, you’ll be able to claim an over-80 pension, which will top up your income to £50.50 per week. It is considered taxable income and will be included as part of your income if you apply for other benefits. Again, you can receive payments directly into your bank account.

Cold weather payments – it can be very expensive trying to keep your home warm enough during periods of extremely cold weather. If you’re on a low income, the government can provide cold weather payments to help you pay your fuel bills. If the temperature drops to 0 degrees Celsius or below for seven days in a row between 1st November and 30th March, you’ll automatically receive payments if you’re eligible – normally when you’re also receiving pension credit.

Winter fuel allowance – people aged over 60 can claim winter fuel allowance to help heat their home. The amount varies depending on personal circumstances, up to a maximum of £300. You’ll automatically receive your allowance with your pension payments if you receive a pension. If you’re not receiving a pension, you’ll need to contact the government Pension Service in order to apply. It has a winter fuel payment department for processing claims.

Bus pass – when you reach 60 you’ll be able to apply for a bus pass from your local council, allowing free off-peak travel across the country. The application process varies between council areas. Get in touch with your local council to find out how to apply.

Free or concessionary television licence – everyone over the age of 75 is entitled to a free television licence, which covers anyone else also living at the same address. People aged 60 or over living in residential care homes can apply for a concessionary licence fee of £5 through the administrator of care home in which they live.