A new report from Independent Age lays bare the often-hidden experiences of how pensioners facing financial hardship are being impacted by increasingly high household costs, across water, energy, broadband, and Council Tax.
Yet many know nothing about the financial support they could be entitled to from their utility companies or local authority, and their health and lives are suffering as a result. Independent Age has developed a series of policy recommendations which they hope the Government and other stakeholders will act on to reduce the pressure on pensioners on a low income.
What needs to change?
In today’s society, access to the internet has become an essential part of everyday life. It enables people to stay connected with loved ones, access essential services and carry out day-to-day tasks including paying bills, or shopping.
However, a broadband connection at home is not something that every older person on a low income has access to and the option to use. For some, the cost involved in getting online is too much, while for others they are at risk of having to cancel their current services because they can no longer afford them.
Affordable access to water is crucial for everyone to live healthily. Yet, many pensioners in financial hardship told us they were struggling to keep up with their water bills and were faced with impossible choices and sacrifices to reduce their water costs.
While companies offer schemes to support people struggling with their water costs (like WaterSure), and for those on low income (like social tariffs), eligibility criteria and levels of discount vary depending on companies. These differences create a confusing postcode lottery of support.
Whether someone rents or own their home, they are responsible for paying their Council Tax. But for older people on a low income, this is yet another cost many can barely afford.
To help people manage these costs, local authorities administer Council Tax Reduction schemes designed to lower the amount of Council Tax someone on a low income pays. If someone receives Guarantee Pension Credit, for example, they are entitled to the maximum Council Tax Reduction available in their local area, which can equate to 100%.
With energy costs still considerably higher than they have been in recent years, we heard how many older people have no other option but to try and manage, for example, by wearing extra clothes, going to bed early, spending time in public places to keep warm, reducing their use of the cooker, and keeping the lights off in their homes to save on electricity.
The drastic action people are being forced to take is having a considerable physical and mental impact.
What is Independent Age calling for?
1 National and local governments and utility providers should more proactively promote social tariffs and other support targeting areas of deprivation and all eligible groups, including older people who receive Pension Credit.
2 All broadband providers, supported by network providers, across the UK should offer tariffs designed to support those on a low income, including by having Pension Credit in their eligibility criteria.
3 The UK Government should remove VAT on broadband social tariffs
4 The UK Government should stop the postcode lottery of water social tariffs by creating a single social tariff for water.
5 Central government and local authorities should work together to create more automated processes so that everyone over pension age who is entitled to Council Tax Reduction, including those receiving Guarantee Pension Credit, gets it.
6 The UK Government should introduce an energy social tariff to provide a long-term solution that protects those who are vulnerable, including older people on a low-to-modest income.
7 To support the most vulnerable through the winter of 2023/24, the UK Government should introduce additional financial support for those in greatest need, including older people on a low income, to reduce the impact of high energy prices.
You can download the all report here: https://www.independentage.org/sites/default/files/2023-09/Household_costs_report_2023_Independent_Age.pdf