Surge in number of calls to Age UK advice line
Published on 23 October 2013 12:00 AM
Age UK has seen a 42% annual increase in calls to its advice team for help with financial difficulties, highlighting the struggle millions of older people are facing.
Overall the charity received 63,000 enquiries to its advice line on money matters in 2012/13.
Of these, 5,287 calls were to its specialist advice team specifically about pensions and benefits, compared to just 3,737 over the same period in 2011/12. The number of benefit enquiries at local Age UKs across the country also jumped from 263,800 in 2011 to 276,468 in 2012 - a 5% increase.
In addition, 1.2 million financial self-help guides were distributed to older people in 2012-13. In total, Age UK helped put a massive £145 million back into the pockets of older people through unclaimed benefits.
Many older people struggling to stay afloat
The majority of calls dealt with focused on how people can maximise their incomes through Pension Credit, targeted at low income pensioners, and Attendance Allowance, for pensioners aged 65 plus suffering with long-term illness and disability.
Up to 1.6 million older people in Britain eligible for Pension Credit are missing out on the benefit, which equates to an average of £33 a week per person.
Age UK is concerned that many older people are facing difficulties paying for the basics such as food and fuel, having been hit hard by spiralling energy bills through last year's long, cold winter.
At the same time, 2 in 3 English councils have reduced funding for older people's home care and more than 22,000 fewer older people are receiving home care support from their local authority.
It's more important than ever for older disabled people to claim Attendance Allowance, if they are struggling to afford care support privately and need help to boost their incomes.
Older people ‘remain reluctant to seek financial help'
Past research for Age UK shows that the main uses for the extra money claimed were practical help around the home, such as cleaning and buying essentials such as extra heating or food.
Despite the increase in calls to Age UK, many older people still remain reluctant to seek financial help, with up to £5.5 billion of money benefits going unclaimed each year.
While the introduction of additional support such as Pension Credit has contributed to a fall in relative poverty among pensioners over the last decade, worryingly the number of very poor pensioners has not reduced in the same way.
900,000 pensioners live in severe poverty
The figures show that older people living in severe poverty - on incomes below 50% of median income or below £107 a week - is increasing as a proportion of those in poverty.
There are currently 900,000 pensioners living in severe poverty - or 8% of all pensioners.
The concern over older people facing financial difficulties follows a report by Age UK earlier this year that showed 1 in 3 older people (32%) admit they are struggling financially, and well over half (56%) of those surveyed worried about even the most basic living costs, such as buying food and keeping warm.
‘Sadly, we know that many don't have the funds to meet all their needs'
Caroline Abrahams, Age UK's Charity Director, said: ‘The increase in calls to our advice line throws a spotlight on the high numbers of older people who are worried about mounting living costs and are struggling to stay afloat.
‘Rising energy bills, low returns on savings, as well as cuts to public transport and social care services, have stretched poorer and middle income pensioners' budgets to breaking point.
‘Sadly, we know that many don't have the funds to meet all their needs and are simply going without, putting their physical and mental health at risk.
‘We are really pleased older people are contacting us about their financial difficulties, but we know that huge numbers are still missing out on money which could make a real difference to their lives.
'We want any older person who is worried about money to contact us to find out if they could be entitled to some extra help.'