As Benefits Awareness Month continues, a new survey published by Turn2us today has found that people who could be in most need of financial help in Scotland are unaware of the welfare support potentially available to them.
The research has uncovered that over two-thirds (67%) of people living in low income households in Scotland are not claiming any means-tested benefits which they could be eligible for.
The results also indicate a potential lack of awareness of the type of support available for those on low incomes in the region. Over a third (37%) said they believe that those claiming welfare benefits have experienced some misfortune, suggesting they could be unaware of in-work benefits which exist to top-up low incomes.
This is highlighted by the finding that only 5% are claiming Working Tax Credit, despite the fact they are living on a low income and could be entitled.
Worryingly, at a time of welfare reform, over half (55%) of those on low incomes in the area reported they had not heard of Universal Credit, which is set to replace most means-tested benefits from 2013 onwards. This suggests that improving awareness and communication around welfare benefits and planned changes is essential.
The latest government figures show that a staggering £19.1 billion in welfare benefits goes unclaimed every year, including £6.48 billion in Child Tax Credits and Working Tax Credits.
Turn2us is running its second annual Benefits Awareness Month to highlight the support that could be available for those on low incomes who may be struggling financially.
The Turn2us website – www.turn2us.org.uk – has a Benefits Calculator which anyone can use, free and in confidence to work out which welfare benefits and tax credits they might be entitled to, possible amounts they might receive and how to make a claim. The website also contains clear and concise information on welfare benefits and the changes set to take effect in the next few years.
The average annual uplift for an individual who has used Turn2us and has been successful in identifying and claiming previously unclaimed benefits is £3,222 – additional income that can make a significant difference.
Alison Taylor, Director of Turn2us said: “Many of the individuals who have used Turn2us say that before coming to us they were simply unaware of what they were entitled to or put off from claiming by the complexity of the system and the process of claiming.
“Our latest research findings show there is a clear need for individuals and families to have access to good quality information and independent guidance to help them access financial help they are entitled to.
“Through working in partnership with a number of charitable organisations, we can spread the word further and reach even more people who may need help.”
Rachel, who lives in a low income household, initially contacted the Turn2us helpline to enquire about potential help available through charitable grants, when the advisor she spoke to also recommended a benefits check. This revealed that Rachel and her family were eligible for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit.
Rachel said: “I’d never heard of a benefits check before and prior to using Turn2us, I had no idea that I was entitled to this support. The extra help has taken some of the pressure off and eased our worry about not being able to pay our bills.”
Actor and broadcaster Nicholas Parsons is proud to be supporting this year’s Benefits Awareness Month campaign.
He said: “With over £19 billion going unclaimed in welfare benefits, each year, it is vital that everyone checks the welfare benefits to which they could be entitled.
“The latest research from Turn2us reveals that people on low income believe that welfare benefits are there to support people who have hit difficult times - yet many of those most in need are not claiming that to which they are entitled.
“By using Turn2us, within a few minutes, people will be able to see the welfare benefits on which they are missing out. With over 13 million people living in poverty in the UK today, greater awareness of what financial help is available could help millions of people escape the poverty trap.”
Benefits Awareness Month is running until 30th April 2012. For more information, and details on Turn2us case studies and campaign partners, visit www.benefitsawareness.org.uk.