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Don’t take away our take-up stats

February 03, 2022 – Phil Agulnik
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Every year we report on the government’s latest updates to their benefit take-up statistics, combining, where available, data from DWP and HMRC. Last year we came up with a total estimate that £15bn of benefits remain unclaimed.

We were planning to update this number in three weeks’ time, as new DWP take-up statistics are due out on February 24. However, at the end of last week the department put out a statistical notice that effectively puts something of a spanner in our works.

It’s not because more people are getting the benefits they are entitled to. Instead, it’s because DWP has given up on trying to estimate benefits take-up for working-age people. The statistical notice is to let the small band of organisations (like entitledto) that use the statistics know that, for the foreseeable future, it only intends to produce take-up estimates for pension-age benefits.

We will of course report on available trends in benefits take-up when the new numbers are released, and knowing what is going on with the estimated £2.2 billion of unclaimed means-tested benefits for pensioners is certainly worthwhile. But trends for this group of benefit claimants, where take-up is estimated to have improved in recent years, does not tell us anything about trends among working-age claimants.

That’s because big increases in the basic pension have made it less likely that pension-age households qualify for top-up benefits, as most of the work of supporting incomes is done by the basic pension. The opposite is true for working-age benefits, where means-tested benefits have become even more dominant in recent years

Why can’t take-up estimates be produced for working-age benefits?

The problem facing government statisticians is that the benefits system is moving from the old ‘legacy’ system to Universal Credit (UC).

methodological note from 2020 set out a myriad of reasons why it was not possible to produce take-up estimates for UC, and these technical issues remain the reason why estimates for UC are not being calculated this year. The change from last year’s take-up statistics is that the problems stopping accurate estimates of UC take-up being produced also mean estimates for other working age benefits would now be unreliable.

We would be very disappointed if the government decides to abandon estimating take-up statistics for UC, rather than this being a pause in their publication. One of the main reasons the government gave for introducing UC is that it would help increase benefit take-up. As such the inability to produce take-up statistics means the only part of the business case for introducing UC that can be estimated accurately has gone in the wrong direction – fraud is far worse under UC than it was under legacy benefits.

If the government commits to bringing back take-up estimates we also hope it will fill the existing hole in the take-up statistics for Council Tax Support/Reduction. This was abandoned in 2013 when the benefit changed from a national Council Tax Benefit system to local Council Tax Reduction schemes, and we believe take-up rates have been dwindling ever since, but without proper monitoring we will never know for sure. 

Including take-up of help for Council Tax makes a big difference: when the last estimates came out pension-age households failed to claim nearly £1.5 billion of help, about the same as the current estimate for unclaimed Pension Credit.

Whatever is available we will be sure to report on it because we believe the stats provide inspiration to eligible recipients to start a claim, and ultimately we want to see everyone getting the help they are entitled to.

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