A new campaign to raise awareness of how people can claim the benefits they are entitled to, has been launched by the Scottish Government this week.
A week-long series of radio and press adverts will run to highlight the range of support available - such as the Sure Start Maternity Grant, Carers Allowance and the Funeral Expenses Payment.
It is estimated that, in 2014/15, for tax credits and the main income-related benefits, there could be over 500,000 cases of individuals or families in Scotland not claiming benefits they were entitled to.
Social Security Minister, Jeane Freeman, said that the benefits system exists to help those in need and on low incomes and that people should not be worried about claiming what they are entitled to.
Ms Freeman said: “Claiming the benefits that people are entitled to will help maximise family incomes and can reduce poverty levels. For example, around a third of pensioners are entitled to Pension Credit but do not claim it. We want to help people to know what financial support is available that could make a difference to their lives.
“We also know that personal circumstances can change very quickly – whether it’s losing a job, a family bereavement, becoming a carer for a family member, or having a child.
“The evidence tells us that often many of us don’t realise that changes in our lives can mean we are entitled to additional support and that there is a range of benefits all of us are entitled to know about.
“Many of us will need that financial support at some point in our lives, whether we’re in work or not. So we all have stake in ensuring everyone is looked after properly and the social security system exists to help and support those who need it, when they need it.
“Making sure that everyone receives the financial help they are entitled to is one of the first steps towards putting dignity and respect at the heart of social security policy in Scotland.”
The Scottish Government is working with the Citizens Advice service in Scotland, who is providing a dedicated web page with all available information on benefits and tax credits, eligibility and how to access them, as well as a freephone benefits helpline (0800 085 7145).
The campaign features Dawn, a mum of two, who recently found out she could get some extra help to look after her son with suspected epilepsy and autism.
Dawn said: “If you need the help, go and ask for it because you’re entitled to it. It’s there to help people. There shouldn’t be a stigma against it, you shouldn’t feel bad – it’s there to help you.”
Citizens Advice Scotland spokesperson, Keith Dryburgh, said: “Many of the cases dealt with by the CAB service are people not claiming benefits which they are entitled to, and which could help them financially. Changes in circumstances, such as the birth of a child or an illness, can often change people’s entitlements so it’s important that people know this and access the support available.
“The benefits system is complex, and people don’t always know what they can apply for or how to go about doing it. The CAB service can do a benefits check, to see that they are getting all the help they are entitled to. It’s amazing how many times we find that they are in fact missing out on some money because they didn’t know about it. This can be just a few pounds a week, or it could be much more than that.”
Satwat Rehman, Director of One Parent Families Scotland, said: “Social security is an investment in everybody and is there to help when you need it. Lack of knowledge, complexity and stigma all impede families taking up their full benefit entitlement.
“Recent figures show, for example, that one in five eligible families do not receive child tax credit or housing benefit, while more than two out of every five eligible persons do not claim working tax credits. Having advice and advocacy support, to help people access what they are entitled to, is vital in stopping families falling through the safety net.”
Keith Robson, Age Scotland Chief Executive said: “It is so important that the Scottish Government is taking action to encourage people to get the help they’re entitled to. It is vital people recognise the system is there for anybody who needs it, and that this is support to which people are entitled.
“Every year we ensure older people claim hundreds of thousands of pounds in benefit payments they would otherwise not have received, and the charity provides information and advice on benefits specifically for older people. One recent caller to our helpline found she was eligible for more than £7,000 a year in benefits.”
For further information, visit: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/scotland/benefits/
One Parent Families Scotland provides specialist information for single parents. Visit www.opfs.org.uk or call the freephone Lone Parent Helpline – 0808 801 0323.
Age Scotland can help older people check whether they are missing out on payments - contact their helpline on 0800 12 44 222.