NI Auditor: Data sharing could mean more dosh for pensioners

Northern Ireland has so far found £14m in unclaimed oldsters' benefits

Initiatives including new technologies have helped identify £14m in unclaimed benefit entitlements for senior citizens in Northern Ireland, according to the Uptake of Benefits by Pensioners report by the province's audit office. But Kieran Donnelly, the chief auditor, has said that data sharing could help drive this figure up.

"To successfully reach all pensioners entitled to benefit, these public sector organisations must obtain better information on the extent of non-uptake, use data sharing to best effect and continue to work closely with the independent advisory sector," he said.

Work already underway includes targeting vulnerable and traditionally hard-to-reach clients through ICT and local media events staged by the For Your Benefit Project, Advice Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Electricity, according to the report.

It says that for the past four years Advice Northern Ireland has been working with HM Revenue & Customs to reach vulnerable groups, during which time the department has developed a range of tax credits and ICT tools for the purpose.

The province's Social Security Agency (SSA) has implemented an online benefit calculator and the provision of advice and information through the NI Direct website, as part of a £2.4m programme to increase the uptake of benefits. According to the report the exercises targeted more than 70,000 pensioners and resulted in additional annual benefit payments of £17.3m to this group.

The SSA said that its deployment of new technology through the Pensions Transformation Programme has resulted in more joined-up working and contributed to increasing uptake of benefits by pensioners, particularly State Pension Credit.

It also said that new technology, telephony and better operational processes have enabled more "joined-up working" between the state pension and state pension credit systems and increased awareness of benefit entitlement.

At the end of all state pension telephone claims, people are encouraged to make a claim for state pension credit, the SSA said.

The report says that about one in five Northern Ireland pensioners live in poverty and for many, benefits are a significant part of their income.

"Maximising benefit uptake can therefore contribute to tackling poverty," said Donnelly. "The relevant public sector bodies have done much to overcome the barriers to claiming benefits. While this is to be commended, more needs to be done."

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

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