A coalition of charities has called on the Government to improve the take-up of benefits.

The 27 charities, which include Citizens Advice, Save the Children, Age Concern and Help the Aged, say more than £16 billion of means-tested benefits and tax credits goes unclaimed each year (see the Benefits Check-up guide).

In a letter to Work and Pensions Secretary Yvette Cooper, the groups call on the Government to do more to ensure money earmarked for the children, families and pensioners in greatest need reaches them.

Millions unclaimed

The charities list numerous benefits that go unclaimed and just how many people are missing out:

  • Four out of five low-paid workers without children miss out on tax credits worth at least £38 a week
  • Half of working households entitled to housing benefit, worth an average of £37.60 a week, do not claim it.
  • Up to three million households are also thought to be missing out on council tax benefit
  • Some 1.7 million pensioners are thought not to be claiming pension credit, which would boost their income by an average of £31 a week.

The coalition adds that take up of housing benefit and council tax benefit have both fallen during the past decade, while take up of child tax credit is lower in London than other parts of the country and is around 10% lower among those from ethnic minorities.

David Harker, chief executive of Citizens Advice, says: "The Government has made a serious commitment to eradicate child and pensioner poverty, and to help the working poor, yet up to £10.5 billion of means tested benefits and £6.2 billion of tax credits remain unpaid each year.

"This is bad news at any time, but it's especially worrying when so many are still feeling the impact of the recent recession.

"It's absolutely vital the Government sets ambitious take-up targets for means-tested benefits and tax credits as an important step towards tackling poverty and providing adequate incomes for all."

Too complicated

He says the benefits and tax credit system is extremely complicated, and the reasons people do not claim range from not knowing about the benefit, to being daunted by the process, to thinking the amount the gain is negligible.

He says Citizens Advice Bureaux deals with 8,000 new benefit inquiries each working day and could help people navigate the claims process.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman says: "We want to make sure that everyone is getting the help that they're entitled to.

"We've made it more simple and straightforward to claim pension credit, housing benefit and council tax benefit together in just one free phonecall. We make 13,000 home visits every week to ensure vulnerable pensioners are getting the help they need.

"HMRC has set up an online calculator so that people can find out quickly if they are eligible for working tax credits with the goal of getting 100,000 more claiming this support by next year."

Further reading/Key links

Boost income: Benefits Check-up, State Pension Boosting, Top Savings