Claiming a pension, 1908 style:

An application for a pension begins at the Post-office. Here forms of claim may be obtained, and if you cannot write very well or are not a good hand at
understanding print the postmaster will help.

The questions to be answered are fairly simple. They include name, position, place and date of birth, income, and particulars of residence outside the kingdom, if any. The form also states some of the grounds on which a person is disqualified for the receipt of a pension, among which are: the receipt of parish relief at any time since January 1, 1908; habitual laziness or improvidence; imprisonment without the option of a fine during the past 10 years; and the existence of an order of disqualification issued by a court. The applicant, of course, must have reached the age of 70, or reach it before the new year.

The Inland Revenue and the Poor Law officials first take steps to verify the answers given by the applicants as to age, &c. In cases where no birth certificate or other certain evidence is forthcoming this is often not an easy matter, and it is only by the exercise of a good deal of ingenuity that proof of the applicant’s bona-fides can be obtained. For example, one of the applications came from a Jewish resident in Cheetham, who claimed to be 70 years of age and a naturalised Englishman. But no naturalisation papers could be found. The applicant was asked if he had ever exercised the franchise, and he said he remembered voting for John Harwood in 1865. This was before the Ballot Act came into force. The papers for that year were turned up, and there it was found that the applicant had the right to vote.

After verification, in so far as that is possible, the applications are submitted to the Old-age Pensions Committee. This is split up into 15 sub-committees. At present three of these committees are sitting every day, considering cases and interviewing personally applicants. Only yesterday afternoon one of the committees had before them a Darby and Joan, very tidy-looking in their black clothes and respectable, who must both have been getting on for 80. It took them several minutes to get up the Town Hall steps. It seems that they had lived for some years in America – and absence from the country is in some cases ground enough to disqualify an applicant.

It is fairly safe to assume that if authorities administer the law in as broadly liberal a spirit as they can under the Act, but there is no doubt that a number of deserving old people have forfeited their claim unknowingly perhaps, through only slight failure to comply with the conditions.

From the Guardian of 11 November 1908, reprinted on the same day in 2005.