Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The benefits roller-coaster

Hah. For the first time in my life, I'm into the merry amusement-park world of government cash handouts for older people! And I'm wryly amused at what's available, and what isn't.

Of course, I've been enjoying non-cash benefits for a little while. I've had free NHS prescriptions for over two years. Same for eye tests. And now I can obtain a free bus pass (if, that is, you can imagine this Boadacea spurning her winged Volvo chariot, just to travel round the houses at a grindingly slow speed, and catching a cold from the other passengers).

But real extra dosh, there is the hand (well, the bank account)...that's something else. Namely, my £125.32 per week State Pension, my £10 Christmas Bonus, and my £300 Winter Fuel Payment. There's Good News and Bad News here.

If you recall, I was getting concerned about exactly when my State Pension was going to start, not having heard anything since August. Angie suggested it might be best to give the DWP a ring. I did. It's Strange News, but still Good News. Glossing over the matter of a letter telling me when the pension would kick off, I got the details I wanted over the phone. As I said, it's strange. I already knew that, although I reached State Pension age on 6 November, I wouldn't actually be paid anything on that date. I had a letter that said it would start on 8 November (two days later, which makes no difference to me) and then be paid every four weeks in arrears. So, I was anticipating a big dollop of £501.28 (four lots of £125.32) on 5 December, and then every four weeks thereafter until I keeled over and died. Well, if logic were applied, anyway!

But no. What they are going to do (and this isn't in the online guidance, so far as I can see) is give me an initial two weeks pension (£250.64) on 21 November, and then pay me every four weeks thereafter. So that I get £501.28 on 19 December instead, and then every four weeks till kingdom come. It's all to do with one of the several dates to be considered. I didn't catch which date, nor how it affects when the pension begins. But apparently a day or so either way would have meant getting five weeks pension in the first payment, which would have been either earlier or later...I don't know.

But the wonderful thing is that I now effectively get an extra £250.64 up front, as well as the December payment. Of course, this goes a long way to covering the cost of the dental work (a crown) lined up for next month. How serendipitous!

Ah, but what about the tax angle? Had the DWP included my name and pension details on a list to be sent to HMRC, so that the 2014/15 PAYE tax coding (for my main Civil Service Pension) could be revised to recover the tax due on my untaxed State Pension? If not done, I'd end up with an inconvenient tax underpayment next April. Well, they couldn't say. They supposed so. But to be sure, I'd best ring HMRC and check that all was in hand. I did, speaking to a girl with a lovely Welsh voice at Cardiff.

You've already guessed it. She couldn't see anything on my tax record about my State Pension, and my 2014/15 coding hadn't yet been revised. The list is an electronic one, and doesn't require human intervention. Once the information is received and fed into HMRC's computer, things happen automatically, and I'd be sent a new Notice of Coding. She thought it best to wait until the end of the week, just in case, but then recode me manually if still no joy, on the basis that I'd been missed off the list. Not unlikely, I thought - after all, I was a Restricted Records case at the DWP, and probably wouldn't end up in a general list for the current cohort of State Pensioners. (Cohort: it sounds very Roman!)

So she took my State Pension details, for that manual recoding. I know what's going to happen. A manual recode will be necessary, and it will be too late for my next Civil Service Pension payment date (22 November). That'll mean a minimum tax underpayment of £150 or so, and next April I'll have to pay that off specially. Which should be a simple matter, and no big deal - but I bet it'll be a frustrating palaver involving letters and phone calls. Remember, I know the Revenue. I used to work there. So this is Bad News.

Thus far the roller-coaster has taken me up to a dizzy high point, then plunged me into the pit. Next, a blip upwards again! The chap I spoke to at the DWP (actually he was a very nice man called Jim) mentioned that an extra £10 would be paid to me in December - my Christmas Bonus! I had completely overlooked this. It's Good News. I intend to blow it all on a riotous pre-Christmas bacchanalia in Brighton, no expense spared. To hell with it. Whatever £10 will buy, I shall glut myself on, with utter selfishness and abandon. No inhibitions. No conscience. No remorse.

Onward the roller-coaster. I'd recently been reminded about the Winter Fuel Payment. £300? Lovely jubbly! But not for me, not this winter, even though I am but a poor pensioner, shivering away in my humble abode, mittens on my wrinkled old hands. Guess what, to qualify for the 2014/15 payment you have to be born before 5 July 1952. And, would you believe it, my date of birth was 6 July 1952! Bugger. It's Bad News. I think we can say the roller-coaster has crashed. And if the payment is still available next year, I'll eat my hat.

Here is fact is a hat that looks edible! It was created for Ladies Day at Ascot in 2008, and it's meant to be a gigantic (but wearable) Stilton cheese. I saw it a year ago in the town museum at Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire:

I was wondering how I would ever show this in a post, but happily the chance has come! Bliss.

The letter detailling my first State Pension payments finally arrived on 14 November. It was dated 10 November. It was nice to have it all in writing!


  1. I'm chuffed to have played a small part in unravelling the great State Pension puzzle for you.

    I qualified for Winter Fuel Allowance at 60 but, like you, missed the cut-off date first time around. Since then, it's bought a CD/Digital Radio, deposits on a couple of holidays and helped towards knocking our house into shape. Thankfully, fuel poverty isn't an issue for us as fuel bills are the same every month (paid by direct debit), so it never gets used for that, A nice little tax-free gift, though, that's not means tested... so I'm never heard to complain.

  2. Tax offices and governments love cut off dates and huge steps causing joy or misery. Applying a formula which made even predictable changes, clearly a concept way beyond their reasoning...

    £10, wow, you could probably park Fiona for a couple of hours in Brighton for that!


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