A campaign to encourage older people to claim pension credit has resulted in one Swansea household becoming £101 better off each week, councillors have been told.
Swansea council's welfare rights team, along with third sector groups and Neath Port Talbot Council, began the campaign when evidence emerged that a sizeable number of pensioners weren't, for various reasons, applying for pension credit - a top-up for eligible people on a low income.
Jane Storer, of the welfare rights team, said it had helped four households in Swansea to date claim £222.83p per week collectively - the highest being £101 per week.
The four households, she said, had also received £2896.79p in arrears. She said this was money to which they were entitled, and money they were likely to spend in the local economy.
"I have had two cases in the past couple of weeks where people are entitled, in my opinion, to claim additional benefit but won't because of fear of losing what they've got," she said. This fear, she said, usually related to disability benefits.
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Ms Storer added that around £16 billion of means-tested benefits went unclaimed every year in the UK, which did not include Universal Credit, income tax credit or council tax reduction.
"The system isn't geared up for the claimant," she said.
Speaking at a council poverty reduction committee meeting, she said benefit fraud and error represented 0.7% of the UK's benefits budget, which was a much smaller proportion than tax evasion.
A number of councillors said the media focused on benefit fraud stories and not on tax evasion and avoidance, or encouraging people to apply for benefits.
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Another committee member, who is not a councillor and has a disability, said she had been called a "scrounger" many times. She also said her heart was in her mouth every time a letter arrived to inform her whether her disability benefit would continue.
"Seeing everything in the media is just so disheartening," she said.
Many of her friends, she said, "had not got the fight left in them" to claim what they were entitled to.
Cllr Christine Richards said she'd seen both sides of the equation first-hand when she worked for the former Department of Health and Social Security.
She said there were "minimal amounts" illegally claimed compared to "vast amounts" from companies and individuals which didn't get collected or were avoided.
She added: "We had people called visiting officers who used to go out and visit every claimant every so often. And their job was to make sure that people were receiving the benefits to which they were entitled. Over the years, of course, it's changed."
Tax avoidance isn't illegal, although in some instances it can resulted in heavy penalties, whereas tax evasion is.
Committee members recommended that information about claiming benefits should be included when the council sent out council tax bills to householders across the city. They also suggested that a leaflet could be given to elderly people after they'd had their coronavirus vaccine.
A working group will look at what other benefits could potentially be the focus of future take-up campaigns, and how a more pro-claiming culture could be fostered.
The meeting also heard that the majority of people who claimed benefits were in work. Committee chairwoman, Cllr Mary Sherwood, said it shouldn't be a shameful or embarrassing thing to do.
"The thing is we are fighting against a massive tide of anti-claimant rhetoric and messaging all the time from the media as well as the Government," she said.