PENSIONERS should be means tested before getting free TV licences, bus passes and winter fuel payments, according to a leading Worcestershire campaigner for the elderly.
Brian Hunt, vice-chairman of Worcestershire Pensioners Action Group, said it would “draw a line in the sand” and stop very wealthy people receiving the benefits.
Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith has raised the possibility of pensioners voluntarily handing benefits back to the State if they can afford to go without them. At the moment, all pensioners are entitled to the handouts regardless of their wealth – costing the country £2 billion a year.
Mr Hunt said pensioners in Tenbury would not be able to afford to hand it back, but said means testing is an idea that could be explored.
“Pensioners don’t want something for nothing, that’s a myth, they donate all sorts of money to charities other people don’t,” said the 75-year-old. “When I look at myself, my payments to British Gas have gone up 38 per cent in two years. What Mr Duncan Smith forgets is the way bills like that have gone.
"The people worst off are the widows. Their situation has never been very good and for those who have their own property and need to pay for things like repairs, it’s a real struggle.
“But relying on goodwill and asking people to hand things back won’t happen.
“The fairest way is means testing. That means there is a line in the sand and a cut-off point.” His comments have been echoed by other pensioners in the city, who say despite their own struggles, if they had the money to pay it back, they would.
Dorothy Onions, aged 74, of Worcester, said: “If I was living in Spain or somewhere nice with plenty of money, I wouldn’t take the winter heating. Maybe if the very well-off pensioners gave it back, we could get more.
“Life for most of us is a daily struggle. I retired in 1999 and haven’t been on holiday since, I can’t afford to.
“I’ve got about £50 a month left after my food and bills are paid. It’s nothing.”
The winter fuel allowance is worth £200 to pensioners and £300 to the over-80s, and all over-75s get free TV licences worth £145.50 for a colour set. After reaching 60, prescriptions also become free and concessionary bus travel is offered to people at state pension age.
Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to protect the benefits until at least 2015, despite Mr Duncan Smith calling it an “anomaly”