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At 66 my husband can’t afford to stop working because of ‘cruel’ pension rules

Colin and Paula Burnett have given up hope of stopping work any time soon – despite the health problems which have hit them both in recent years.

The Hull couple, aged 66 and 59, have fallen foul of a benefits rule change which denies some pensioners the extra financial support offered by pension credit.

So-called “mixed-aged” couples like the Burnetts – where one is of state pension age and the other is not – have been blocked from claiming pension credit since 2019.

Mr Burnett began getting his state pension, worth just over £700 a month, after his last birthday. But he and his wife have not found it enough to retire on.

So the 66-year-old still gets up at 3am to do cleaning shifts at a local pub, despite his asthma and issues with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

And Ms Burnett continues her work as a self-employed home help carer and cleaner – despite high blood pressure and osteoarthritis in her fingers and toes.

“We both have to keep working to exist,” she told i. “Colin’s pension isn’t enough for either of us to stop. It’s impossible situation. We don’t want to work ourselves into an early grave.”

Colin and Paula Burnett, from Hull (Photo: supplied)
Colin and Paula Burnett, from Hull, have fallen foul of age-related rules on benefits

She added: “My husband still gets up at 3am to work. It takes its toll. Him alone being able to stop and look after his health – that would mean the world to us.”

The 59-year-old is angry that Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) rules stop them claiming pension credit, which is supposed to be aimed at helping older people struggling with their income.

Single pensioners can claim up to £218. Couples where both are of pension age can claim up £332. Yet nothing at all is available to mixed-age couples.

“It’s mean and cruel, because so many couples do have this age gap,” said Ms Burnett. “Pension credit would be our salvation.”

She added: “The Government is telling us, ‘Claim your pension credit’. But they know that there is this caveat about ages. If they would change this rule, it could benefit the lives of thousands of people.”

Ms Burnett said they had struggled with increased food and energy bills in recent years. “We’ve cut down on using the gas and electricity, put extra layers on. We’re buying cheaper things at the supermarket, not buying any treats. It’s soup and toast some nights for tea.”

The 59-year-old has checked with their GP and the charity Turn2us, but the couple’s health problems are “not bad enough” to be eligible for any sickness benefits, she said.

And universal credit would not be available to her if she stopped working.

“I’m not entitled to universal credit as they tell me my husband’s pension is over the monthly income cap that a couple needs to live on,” said Ms Burnett.

“I dread to think what the Government thinks you need to live on. The cost of living over the past couple of years has been tough – but we’re no different from a lot of people.”

Age UK has warned that pension credit rules were causing “real hardship” for some older couples.

The 2019 rule change by the DWP stopped an estimated 60,000 mixed-age couples from being able to access the benefit.

i analysis has showed that mixed-age couples like the Burnetts are now missing out on up to £9,900 a year, in comparison to the lower amounts available to some couples able to claim universal credit.

The Government has argued that restricting pension credit this way provides better “work incentives” for the young partners of pensioners.

A spokesperson for the DWP said: “This policy ensures that if someone is of working age in a couple, the law applies to them in the same way it does for other working age people – regardless of their partner being older, giving them the same incentives to work and save for retirement.”

Ms Burnett said: “I remember when uncles retired, stopped working and played golf. That doesn’t exist anymore. People can’t afford it.”

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