BENEFITS EXPERT: Help for struggling pensioners

We have only our State Pensions to live on. Mine is £597.60 a month and my wife's is £150.83 a week. We have no savings and are struggling financially. We live in social housing, paying £76.94 a week rent and £75 a month Council Tax. Is there any help we can claim?

The main benefit for pensioners with a low income is Pension Credit, but the combined incomes of you and your wife are above the level where you could qualify.

However, you appear to be entitled to Housing Benefit that would reduce your basic rent to about £34 a week and Council Tax Benefit that would reduce your Council Tax to about £540 a year.

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You can claim these from your local council and you should ask for them to be backdated for the maximum period.

I am a woman who will be 60 in July. When will I get my State Pension and how much will it be? I do not know what National Insurance I have paid during my lifetime. Do I qualify for anything free like prescriptions and eye tests once I am 60 and what about a heating allowance?

You will reach the age for State Pension when you are 66 in July 2022.

How much pension you will get will depend upon how many years of National Insurance you have.

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You will need at least ten qualifying years of National Insurance to qualify for the minimum pension. If you want an estimate of the pension you can expect you should contact the Future Pension Centre, Pension Service 9, Mail Handling Site A, Wolverhampton WV98 1LU or ring 0345 300 0168. They will not be able to give you an accurate statement until October but they will be able to tell you how many years you have to date.

When you are 60 you will not have to pay for your prescriptions. Help with other NHS charges will depend upon your income (and that of your husband or partner if you have one). The necessary claim forms are available at the dentist, optician etc.

If you do not qualify for a pension, or only a small one, you might be able to claim Pension Credit, based upon your income when you are 66.

According to current rules, you will become eligible for a Winter Fuel Payment once you reach State Pension Age.

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Will people who qualify for the new pension from April be able to put off claiming it and get more?

Yes, but they will not be able to claim a lump sum, and a deferred pension will only be increased by 5.8% a year, not 10.4% as at present.

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