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Half of older people living on the breadline

Published on 13 April 2011 11:30 PM

Rising costs leaving half of older people living on the breadline

Age UK launches new campaign to encourage older people to claim their benefits

Rising living costs are causing significant hardship for pensioners with nearly half [1] saying they are just ‘getting by', and one in ten [2] admitting they are finding it difficult or really struggling, according to new research for Age UK.

The survey of over 1,200 over 60s also revealed that nearly one in five pensioners had cut back on their heating [3] over the winter months in order to make ends meet. This is particularly worrying in the face of the extra 25,000 older people dying during the winter months in recent years [4]. Among poorer pensioners, one in five say they are going out less in order to save money, and over a third are buying cheaper or less food [5].

These results highlight the importance of Age UK's ‘More Money in Your Pocket' campaign - which kicks off today - encouraging people in later life to claim the benefits they are entitled to. As much as £5.4 billion in pensioner benefits goes unclaimed each year, often because people are unaware of the help which is available [6]. Encouraging people to claim their benefits is a key part of Age UK's Let's Talk Money campaign, which is helping people maximise their income in retirement and reduce poverty.

Shockingly one in ten pensioners report having outstanding debts such as a mortgage, credit card or bank loan, with levels of debt being higher among younger pensioners [7]. These figures are slightly higher than results from a similar survey carried out in 2008, which showed one in twelve pensioners were in debt [8]. This is a worrying indication of the lengths to which many older people are going to stay afloat financially.

The majority of pensioners live on low to middle incomes [9] and many have been hit hard by the rising cost of food, which has shot up by 6.2 per cent and energy which has increased by 4.2 per cent over the last year [10]. Pensioners are hit particularly hard by climbing inflation rates because they spend a larger percentage of their budget on food and fuel, as shown in Age UK's Enterprises Silver RPI [11].

Despite just under half of all pensioners being entitled to pension credit [12] - a top up for people on low incomes - a third of people don't claim it. Our survey shows that overall only 22 per cent are claiming it [13] although this rises to just under half for poorer pensioners. The vast majority of people surveyed said that claiming pensioner benefits had improved their quality of life or helped them worry less about making ends meet.

Much more needs to be done so that all pensioners receive the money to which they are entitled. 1.8 million pensioners live in poverty, and many thousands more are living just above the breadline as indicated in this survey - yet millions of pounds of pensioner benefits goes unclaimed each year. This is because many people are unaware of the range of benefits available or don't realise they are eligible, think the claiming process is too complicated and intrusive, or simply feel too proud to make a claim.

Up to 1.97 million pensioners are still missing out on council tax benefit worth £1.5 billion per year - if claimed this could boost their income by an average of £728 a year. Yet with homeowners making up the vast majority of pensioners missing out on the benefit (83%) [14], Age UK is worried that many who are struggling to pay their bills don't realise they are entitled to extra help.

Launched today, the charity's nationwide More money in your pocket campaign is aiming to get an extra £120 million into the pockets of 500,000 older people over the next year. Age UK is calling on older people to get in touch with their local Age UK or Age Concern, or call Age UK Advice, the charity's free national advice line, on freephone 0800 169 65 65.

Michelle Mitchell, Age UK's Charity Director, commented: 'At a time when so many people are struggling financially, it is unacceptable that vital benefits are failing to reach some of the poorest and most vulnerable older people in our society. This is money that could make a huge difference to people's quality of life.

'Ultimately the best way to ensure that people receive the benefits they are entitled to is for them to be paid automatically. But in the meantime, the evidence shows that clear, independent information and advice and face-to-face communication are key to improving the take-up of benefits. The ‘More Money in Your Pocket' campaign is working to break down the barriers that stop older people claiming benefits such as people not realising that they are entitled to the money or feeling reluctant to claim.

Any older person who is worried about money should contact their local Age UK or Age Concern, or to call Age UK Advice on 0800 169 65 65 for free information and advice.'

Age UK has launched an online benefits checker which is a quick and easy way to find out if you might be entitled to any benefits. It only takes five minutes and could result in some extra income. Go to www.ageuk/benefitschecker

Age UK has also published the ‘More money in your pocket' booklet which is a handy guide to claiming benefits for people over state pension age. To order the booklet, please call Age UK Advice free on 0800 169 65 65 or visit

More Money in Your Pocket is part of the Let's Talk Money Campaign which is running throughout April and May. It's focused on helping people maximise their income through claiming the benefits they are entitled to and making the most of Age UK's products and services. It is also highlighting the problems faced by millions of women as a result of planned changes to the basic state pension. To find out more go to or call Age UK advice line to order your free Let's Talk Money booklet.

Top 5 myths preventing pensioners from claiming benefits

  • I don't think I'll be eligible for Pension Credit
    Don't rule yourself out. Around 88% of claims are successful and 2.7 million households across the UK receive it.
  • I'll get so little it's not worth me claiming
    Even if you only get a little extra each month, receiving Pension Credit may help you get money for other things, such as rent, council tax or towards the cost of keeping your house warm.
  • I have some savings so I won't get anything
    Having some savings or another pension doesn't necessarily rule you out. In fact, if you're aged 65 or over you might be entitled to extra money for having saved some money towards your retirement.
  • I own my own home so I won't get anything
    Owning your own home doesn't rule you out. Nearly half of families who get Pension Credit own their own home.
  • I've been turned down for Pension Credit before. It's not worth applying again
    Personal circumstances could have changed and there's been a change to how entitlement is worked out which means even more people could now be eligible. The first £10,000 of your savings will now be ignored when working out if you can get Pension Credit.

- ENDS -

Notes to Editors

  • The Age UK Advice line is free to call and open 365 days a year, from 8am to 7pm on 0800 169 65 65.
  • Case studies and spokespeople are available for interview - please contact Vicky Smith to arrange.
  • Age UK: For media enquiries relating to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland please contact the appropriate national office: Age Scotland on 0131 668 8055, Age Cymru on 029 2043 1562 and Age NI on 028 9024 5729.
  • TNS carried out polling on behalf of Age UK in March 2011, questioning more than 1,200 over 60s UK wide.


  1. TNS Benefits Omnibus Study: March 2011:  47% say they are ‘getting by'
  2. TNS Benefits Omnibus Study: March 2011: 7% say they are finding it difficult and 4% say they are really struggling 
  3. TNS Benefits Omnibus Study: March 2011:19% say they cut back on heating over the winter
  4. Over the last 5 years on average an extra 25,000 people aged over 65 die each year (Office of National Statistics)
  5. TNS Benefits Omnibus Study: March 2011:35% say they are buying cheaper or less food and 21% are going out less.
  6. DWP estimates
  7. TNS Benefits Omnibus Study: March 2011:11% say they are in debt
  8. Flagship or Flagging (Age Concern 2008)
  9. Households Below Average Income: An analysis of the income distribution 1994/95 - 2008/09
  10. Office of National Statistics: CPI February 2011
  11. Latest Silver RPI
  12. DWP estimates roughly 45% of pensioners are entitled to pension credit
  13. TNS Benefits Omnibus Study: March 2011:22% people overall say they claim pension credit but this rises to 42% for lower income pensioners.
  14. DWP estimates IRB estimates

About Age UK

Age UK is the new force combining Age Concern and Help the Aged, dedicated to improving later life.

We provide free information, advice and support to over five million people; commercial products and services to over one million customers; and research and campaign on the issues that matter to people in later life. Our work focuses on five key areas: money matters, health and well being, home and care, work and training and leisure and lifestyle. We work with our national partners, Age Scotland, Age Cymru and Age NI (together the Age UK Family), our local Age UK partners in England and local Age Concerns. We also work internationally for people in later life as a member of the DEC and with our sister charity Help Age International.

Age UK is a charitable company limited by guarantee and registered in England (registered charity number 1128267 and company number 6825798). Age Concern England and Help the Aged (both registered charities), and their trading and other associated companies merged on the 1st April 2009. Together they have formed the Age UK Group ("we").  Charitable services are offered through Age UK and commercial products are offered by the Charity's trading companies, which donate their net profits to Age UK (the Charity).

Media contact: Vicky Smith
Telephone: 020 8765 7515
Out-of-hours: 07071 243243

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Last updated: Oct 06 2017

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