Age UK has called on the Government to extend targeted support for older people on low incomes this winter.
New research for Age UK reveals that 60% of over 60s with a household income of £20k or less have recently cut back on heating or powering their homes in order to make ends meet.
For many older people, the cost of living crisis is far from over and Age UK is hearing from thousands who are struggling to cope with soaring prices and who are worried about another difficult winter ahead. New polling for the Charity with people aged over 60 found:
• 54% – equivalent to 8.9 million over-60s – are worried about being able to pay their energy bills.
• 44% – equivalent to 7.3 million over-60s – have cut back on social and leisure activities to make ends meet
• 16% – equivalent to 2.6 million over 60s – have cut back on other bills such as telephone, internet and water.
With industry analysts predicting that high energy prices are here to stay until at least the end of 2024, Age UK is particularly concerned for those older people who have depleted their savings, living on a low income but not claiming the extra financial support they are due, and those who face higher energy costs due to poor health and/or disabilities.
New Age UK analysis estimates that there are between 400,000 and 500,000 pensioner families receiving Housing Benefit and/or Council Tax Reduction, but not Pension Credit. Many will have meagre incomes that taken them just above the level to receive Pension Credit – perhaps because of a small private pension, or because the full new State Pension is set just above the basic Pension Credit rate. Not only do they miss out on extra weekly income and other discounts associated with claiming Pension Credit, they will also miss out on the £300 Cost of Living payment this autumn[iii] and £299 in spring next year.
Ahead of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, Age UK is calling on the Government to help more older people on low incomes this winter by:
• Expanding eligibility for Cost of Living payments to those on Housing Benefit and Council Tax Reduction
• Extending the Cost of Living Payments past Spring 2024
• Increasing the Household Support Fund to deliver an alternative route to help those just missing out on Cost of Living payments and Pension Credit
• Honouring their Triple Lock promise on the State Pension and fully indexing other benefits.
When asked by the Charity, 81% of over 60s agreed that the Government should provide additional support to ensure people on lower incomes can afford bills during the continuing cost of living crisis.
“The take-up figures for Pension Credit have remained stubbornly low at around two thirds for years. The Charity therefore believes that it’s time to reform the way this benefit is delivered so there is much more emphasis on the Government reaching people who need support rather than expecting individual older people to try to navigate benefit systems. There is scope for identifying older people who qualify through data matching – for example combining DWP, HMRC and local authority data.
To help older people cover the higher costs associated with ageing, Age UK would also like to see promotion of benefit take-up extend to other benefits including Attendance Allowance, which is a very important, non-means-tested pensioner benefit to help with the additional costs of disability in later life.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said: “After two tough years of this vicious cost of living crisis some older people say they are unsure how they’ll get through a third, having run down their savings and made all the economies they can. That’s why we are calling on the Chancellor to announce more financial support for those older people who really need it this winter in his Autumn Statement, to give them the confidence and wherewithal to stay warm through the chilly weather.
“Our top tip for any pensioner with money worries is to check if you are eligible for Pension Credit, because it makes a big difference if you are, but the truth is that at present there are too many with very small incomes who still find themselves above the line, disqualifying them from the additional support they badly need.”
“Anyone in this position will face enormous financial challenges and they can actually end up being worse off than another person whose income is slightly lower but which qualifies them for additional support. The Government needs to do more to help these victims of means-testing by expanding the eligibility criteria for extra financial help. That’s what we are asking him to do when he delivers his Autumn Statement, because it would be transformational for about half a million older people whose low incomes take them just above the line, and for whom the next few months will otherwise be extremely difficult.
“Unfortunately, the experts say that energy prices are set to go up in January, dip in April and remain at high levels for the rest of 2024. There is no certainty that bills will become manageable again in the near future and this is bound to have a detrimental effect on older people’s ability to stay warm and well. Given these forecasts, the Government must go further and do more to protect all the older people whose low and modest incomes place them in a precarious position this year and next.”