Millions of pensioners cut back on heating as bills soar, Age UK warns

Three in five over-60s with a household income of £20,000 or less have cut back on their home’s heating or energy supply to make ends meet, research has found.

As the cold weather sets in, 8.9 million people (54 percent) of those over 60 are worried about being able to pay their energy bills this winter, according to Age UK.

Not all government financial support is open to every retiree, and eligibility criteria often apply, particularly for pension credits.

An unnamed 72-year-old man, who is not eligible for pension credit, told Age UK: ‘I don’t know how I’m going to manage.

Tough times: Millions of over-60s worried about being able to pay their energy bills this winter, says Age UK

‘I applied for a pension reduction but was rejected and therefore I am not eligible for living expenses this year.

‘The only additional money I have received is a discretionary payment of £200 from the council. I do receive housing allowance, but that still leaves me €200 short because my rent has increased.’

Meanwhile, a 67-year-old woman told Age UK: ‘I’m constantly cutting back.

‘I wear extra clothes, but notice that my hands tingle when I’m cold. I don’t drive and can’t travel easily due to ill health, and now can’t afford taxis to get around or socialize. I’m trying to shop around but can’t keep up with price changes in different stores. Money decisions make everything more stressful.”

A 79-year-old man said: ‘The entire increase in this year’s state pension, plus my savings, is simply disappearing due to the huge range of price increases and costs in gas and electricity, council tax, home insurance and the absolutely shameful continued rises in all types of food.

Are you older and worried about bills?

Age UK is calling on any older person struggling with bills, or friends and family concerned, to contact its helpline on 0800 169 65 65.

It’s open every day of the year from 8am to 7pm, or you can drop by Age UK’s help page here.

Age’s British staff will check that you are getting everything you are entitled to, including pension credits.

Find out more here about pension credit. You can register by telephone on 0800 99 1234, do it online or request a form to do this after. A friend or family member can submit an application on behalf of an older person.

Age UK also has a free, anonymous one benefits calculator who can provide an estimate of what you may be entitled to if you want to know this information privately.

‘Absolutely everything has gone up in price.

“Millions of retirees simply exist or live in fear of the future.”

The average home currently pays an energy bill of £1,834 a year, in addition to skyrocketing costs for food, fuel and other essentials.

Age UK said 7.3 million people, representing 44 per cent of over-60s, have already cut back on social and leisure activities, amid higher bills for basic needs such as energy and food.

It claimed that 2.6 million over-60s have cut back on their phone, internet and water usage in a bid to keep costs down.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK said: ‘There is increasing concern about how some older people will cope when temperatures drop and they need to turn up the heating.

‘Our new statistics reflect what we are also hearing on the Age UK Advice Line: many on low and modest incomes are already worried about how they will keep their heads above water when the winter bills arrive.

‘As always, our biggest concern is that they will be so afraid of not being able to pay that they will turn the heating down too low, if they turn it on at all, during the colder months, putting their health at risk.

‘After two difficult years of this brutal cost-of-living crisis, some older people say they are unsure how they will get through a third year, having depleted their savings and made every possible cutback.

‘That’s why we’re calling on the Chancellor to announce more financial support in his autumn statement for older people who really need it this winter, to give them the confidence and tools to stay warm during the cold weather.’

She added: ‘Unfortunately, experts say energy prices will rise in January, fall in April and remain at high levels for the rest of 2024.

‘There is no certainty that bills will return to manageable in the near future and this will undoubtedly have a detrimental effect on the ability of older people to stay warm and healthy.

“Given these predictions, the government must go further and do more to protect all older people whose low and modest incomes put them in a precarious position this year and next.”

In October, Age UK said that 4.2 million, or almost a third, of Britain’s older people had cut back on food and other groceries as stubbornly high costs continue to impact living standards.

What financial assistance is available?

Pension credit

Pension Credit tops up weekly income to a minimum of £201.05 for singles and £306.85 for couples.

Having savings can affect how much people receive in pension credit, but a rainy day fund of up to £10,000 is disregarded if your income is low and other eligibility criteria are met.

Age UK believes there are between 400,000 and 500,000 households in Britain who are eligible for a pension credit and receive housing benefit or a council tax reduction, but are not claiming a pension credit.

Bill woes: Rising energy bills have hit many retirees hard this year

Bill woes: Rising energy bills have hit many retirees hard this year

Perhaps even more important are the people who continue to have a low income, but just do not meet the criteria to qualify for a pension credit.

Age UK said: ‘Many will have meager incomes, putting them just above the level at which they can receive a pension credit – perhaps because of a small private pension, or because the full new state pension is just above the basic pension rate.

‘Not only will they miss out on extra weekly income and other reductions that come with claiming pension credit, they will also miss out on the £300 cost of living this autumn and £299 in the spring of next year.’

Winter fuel payment

The Winter Fuel Payment is worth £100 to £300 and is paid to those born before 25 September 1957.

How much you get depends on factors such as when you were born and which benefits you claim.

Payments are typically made in November or December, with eligible households receiving confirmation letters in October or November.

If you think you are eligible for the winter fuel payment but have not received a letter, You can register by post or telephone.

Cost of living

The £300 cost of living for pensioners will be paid out in the same way as last year to all households receiving winter fuel payments.

The Government said this week: ‘Pensioner households will also receive £300, which will be paid to top up those eligible for the winter fuel payment in November and December.

‘Combined with the one-off living allowance earlier this year, some households will receive a total of £1,350.’

Warm Home discount

The Warm Home Discount is a compensation of € 150 for energy costs.

It applies to two groups, namely those who receive the guarantee credit element of the pension credit and those who receive certain income-related benefits.

Households with standard meters will receive the £150 as a discount on their bills, while households with prepayment meters will receive a voucher.

The money will not be paid to you. It is a one-off discount that will be applied to your electricity bill between the beginning of October 2023 and March 31, 2024.

Those who may be eligible will receive a letter in early January 2024.

If you do not receive a letter and you think you are eligible for the Warm Home Discount, please contact the Warm Home Discount Scheme before February 29, 2024.

Subsidies from energy companies

Customers struggling with high energy bills can get help from energy companies, including grants of up to £1,500, free electrical goods and better insulation.

British Gas, for example, has subsidies of up to £1,500, for both its own customers and customers affiliated with another energy company.

Other energy companies such as Octopus Energy and EDF also have their own schemes.

But most will require successful claimants to be on a low income or otherwise unable to pay utility bills, and may have other criteria as well.

Cash or vouchers from the Household Support Fund

Households struggling with the cost of living can apply for money and vouchers from the Household Support Fund.

This is a pot of government money that is distributed by municipalities to people in their region.

The scheme was topped up by £842 million in April this year and will run until April 2024.

The scheme is a postcode lottery, with each municipality determining how the money is distributed – and to whom.

For example, some municipalities hand out vouchers, others give cash.

Local authorities have provided cash and vouchers worth several hundred pounds per home.

Anyone can apply, but he or she may have to meet eligibility rules, such as having a low income.

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