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The term ‘pensioner benefits’ is used in this note to refer to those benefits that are available to people of or near State Pension age in addition to the State Pension. They include, for example, disability and carers’ benefits and benefits for people who have reached a specific age such as free prescriptions, the Winter Fuel Payment, free TV licences and concessionary bus travel. Means-tested benefits include Pension Credit, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support and certain passported benefits.

Some have argued that the Winter Fuel Payment and other ‘universal benefits’ can no longer be justified, in light of the deficit and benefit cuts facing non-retired households. In its April 2016 report on Intergenerational Fairness, for example, the Work and Pensions Committee said that such measures led to “ill-targeted support, further complicate the benefits system and are far harder to put right than to introduce in the first place. Given welcome improvements in pensioner incomes in recent years, there was “no case for future governments to contemplate any increase in the value or range of universal pensioner benefits” and that they should “not be off-limits” when spending priorities are set in future Parliaments. (Work and Pensions Committee, HC 59, April 2016, chapter 4, para 86 and 87).

The election manifestos for the 2019 election, contained a range of commitments to protect pensioner benefits and/or the policy to uprate the basic and new state pensions according to the triple lock (the highest of earnings, prices or 2.5%).

This note provides an overview of the main “pensioner benefits” and the debate on how and whether they should be reformed. It also covers developments in Scotland, where responsibility for certain benefits received by pensioners has now been devolved to the Scottish Government and Parliament following the Scotland Act 2016.

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