One in four people older than 65 are struggling to cope financially, yet up to £5.5bn in state financial help is going unclaimed each year, new figures reveal today.
There are two key reasons. First, some people are simply too proud or embarrassed to claim for benefits. But others don’t know that they can apply for financial help and in some cases are wrongly told by officials that they aren’t eligible.
Typical are i readers Linda and David, who live in Norfolk. “We aren’t what you may call badly off. But we aren’t wealthy either,” David, 71, says.
But in a revealing sign of how tight their finances had become, David, who suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, says: “We had to cancel our home insurance because we couldn’t afford it any more.”
The couple relies on a small private pension David built up as a bus and coach driver, plus a state pension that he and Linda, 66, get. But with the need to cut back growing, they spoke to social services about their situation. They were told they weren’t eligible for any extra help.
They struggled on until, by chance, they saw an ad about claiming benefits from Age UK. They got in touch with the charity and it sent someone round. “Before they left we had been awarded extra money,” David says.
“They managed to get a reduction on my council tax, cutting the monthly cost in half, plus pointed out that Linda was entitled to a carer’s allowance, as she has to help look after me and ensure I remember to take the 17 tablets I’m forced to take each day because of my condition.”
He says the extra money has made a huge difference. “We’re able to afford to take the occasional holiday again. I’d advise everyone to check their entitlements and not take the local council or social service’s word for it.”
Age UK is warning that more must be done to get vital benefits cash to those who need it, as its new research reveals 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.
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.
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 boost to their weekly incomes. 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 – which would more than cover the average dual-fuel bill which currently stands at £1,271 a year.
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.
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. 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 charity’s updated More Money in Your Pocket guide or for further information and advice, call Age UK Advice free on 0800 169 65 65. You can also contact your local Age UK, or visit www.ageuk.org.uk/letstalkmoney, where there’s an online personalised benefits calculator to help you find out exactly what you are owed.