A quarter of over-65s are struggling financially, according to new research for Age UK , despite up to £5.5 billion in financial help going unclaimed every year .
With new figures from its Chief Economist’s Report also revealing that a quarter of all over-65s feel financially worse off compared with this time last year, and a third are worried about the general cost of living (3), the Charity is warning that much more must be done to get vital benefits cash to those who need it.
The government’s own figures show that one in 10 pensioners would not be able to pay an unexpected expense of £200, to replace a broken washing machine for example, and half of those who could afford to pay would have to dip into their savings to do so (4). Yet millions of older people who are struggling to survive on a meagre income could be entitled to benefits such as Pension Credit which if claimed, could provide a much-needed boost to their weekly income. In fact, if everyone who is eligible for Pension Credit made a claim, it could increase their income by an average of £1,716 a year (5) – which would more than cover the average dual-fuel bill which currently stands at £1,271 a year (6).
Compounding the misery of living in poverty, many of the poorest pensioners also have to pay more for other services such as gas, electricity, insurance and banking, says Age UK. Living on a low income can be expensive – with those on pre-payment meters paying a higher energy tariff, those managing on a tight weekly budget unable to buy in bulk or benefit from cheaper direct debit rates, and those without access to the internet unable to take advantage of cheaper online deals.
Many pensioners live on low, fixed incomes and have been hit hard by the rising cost of food and energy over recent years. Yet despite 1.6 million pensioners living below the poverty line, with nearly a million of those living in severe poverty (7) and many thousands more struggling to pay basic bills, huge numbers of older people are missing out on vital support. Many are unaware of the help that’s available or reluctant to make a claim because they don’t realise they will be entitled to anything, others feel too proud or embarrassed to claim, and some believe the claiming process is too complicated or intrusive.
That’s why, as part of Age UK’s extensive national information and advice service, the Charity has updated its ‘More money in your pocket’ guide (8) which is specifically designed to help older people claim the benefits to which they are entitled, including Pension Credit, Housing Benefit, and help towards paying council tax. In addition many older disabled people could receive extra support by claiming the non-means-tested Attendance Allowance.
Age UK’s Charity Director, Caroline Abrahams, said: 'Managing on a low, fixed income is really tough, and many people face a daily struggle just to afford the basics.
'That is why is it so important that every older person who is entitled to claim benefits does so. Every day Age UK helps people to claim what they are entitled to, and every day we hear how much of a difference the money makes, how surprised people are by how straightforward the process is with the help of an adviser, and how much less they have to worry about everyday bills.
'We want any older person who is worried about money to contact us in case they are one of the millions who are entitled to extra help. Everyone should have the opportunity to be able to make the most of later life, whatever their circumstances.'
To order a free copy of the updated ‘More money in your pocket’ guide or for further information and advice, people can call Age UK Advice free of charge on 0800 169 65 65, contact their local Age UK, or visit www.ageuk.org.uk/letstalkmoney, where there is also an online personalised benefits calculator to help people find out exactly what they are owed, quickly and easily.
As well as publishing guides and factsheets, the Charity offers essential support via its website, free advice line and network of local Age UKs, on a broad range of issues such as claiming benefits and managing money, exploring housing options, paying for care and support, staying fit and healthy, and making the most of the internet.