Jeff Prestridge  

Time to scrap this tax trap

Jeff Prestridge

Jeff Prestridge

Given the political shenanigans of recent days, it is amazing anything has happened in London SW1 – home of our country’s parliament – that is not connected to Brexit.

But, amazingly it has, both for good and for bad.

On the ‘bad’ front, we have seen the government sneak out a nasty rule change that will result in many households up and down the country losing their entitlement in the future to means-tested pension credit.

From May, only households where both partners are of retirement age will be eligible to make a new claim for the credit – as opposed to the current position where only one partner need be of pension age to trigger a successful claim.

Although the announcement was sneaked out the day before Prime Minister Theresa May lost the vote on her Brexit deal (January 15) it still attracted the attention of some.

Stephen Lloyd, a former Liberal Democrat who is now an independent MP for Eastbourne, accused the government of burying “bad news by surreptitiously releasing it when the bedlam caused by their own Brexit incompetence is at its height”.

For clarity’s sake, Mr Lloyd resigned the Liberal Democrat whip late last year because he said his party’s position on Brexit was at odds with his pledge to constituents to honour the result of the Brexit vote in June 2016.

Stealth cut

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age Concern, said the rule change was “very bad news” and a “substantial stealth cut” given that a couple claiming pension credit in the future could receive £140 less a week than an elderly couple currently in receipt of the credit.

On the ‘good’ front, we have at long last seen a ‘ban’ on pension cold-calling introduced.

I use the word ban lightly because such calls will still be able to be made by fraudsters.

But as a result of the new legislation, cold callers now face fines, if caught, of up to £500,000 from the Information Commissioner’s Office – an organisation set up to uphold information rights in the public’s interest.

A penalty that may get some scammers – not all – to think twice before picking up the phone and searching out targets.

While the new legislation represents a good start in attempting to eliminate pension fraud, what is more imperative is that the law is actually used and offenders hit with fines.

Only over the coming months will we learn whether the ICO has the courage and the resource to go after cold callers and hold them to account.

Will they be more like a bungling inspector Jacques Clouseau in exercising their powers under the new legislation? Or will they be as zealous as Jack Regan was in The Sweeney?