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A third of mixed age couples claiming benefits could lose out on up to £35,000 while waiting for their younger partner to reach State Pension age

By: Age UK
Published on 10 May 2019 01:00 AM

Almost a third of mixed-age couples who claim benefits could lose out on £35,000 in the time it takes for their younger partner to reach State Pension age (SPA), according to new analysis by Age UK.

Previous estimates have placed the annual loss of the Government's policy changes at up to around £7,000 per year. Yet with Age UK research showing that almost one in three couples (31 per cent) have an age gap of five or more years, these couples could be set to lose out on up to £35,000 while waiting for the younger partner to reach SPA. In fact for more than one in 12 couples (9 per cent) with an age gap of 10 years or more, the loss could be as much as £70,000 if the younger partner is unable to undertake paid work in the time before they reach SPA – for example due to ill health or caring responsibilities.

The new figures have been published by the Charity to coincide with the launch of its new Behind the Headlines report which takes a detailed look at the situation facing thousands of unsuspecting mixed-age couples. From next Wednesday someone reaching SPA with a partner of working age will no longer be able to make a new claim for pension-age benefits. These mixed-age couples will become ineligible for both Pension Credit and pension-age Housing Benefit – two benefits designed to support the very poorest of pensioners and help them stay above the poverty line.

The real-life case studies highlighted in the report shine a light on the actual impact of the Government's policy change. Many have health problems or caring responsibilities and are struggling to manage on the income they currently have. Age UK is arguing that people should not be denied the benefits designed to support pensioners once they reach SPA simply because they have a younger partner. The Charity is calling on the Government to urgently reconsider its policy change which will have a devastating impact on many older couples on a low income.

Mixed-age couples who would previously have been eligible for means tested benefits are more likely to be living in the most deprived areas of the country, and in the more deprived half of the country, men and women can expect to already be in poor health by the time they reach SPA. In fact, men and women living in the most deprived 10 per cent of areas have a healthy life expectancy of only 52 years – many years before they will reach SPA, meaning that many younger partners of mixed-age couples are also likely to be in poor health and finding it difficult to work.

Age UK is calling on all pensioners living on a low income with a partner of working age to urgently check their eligibility for Pension Credit and Housing Benefit and put in a claim before the Government changes the rules next month – though couples eligible before this cut-off date will still be able to make a backdated claim up to 13th August 2019.

The Charity's report highlights some of the consequences of the policy change, including:

  • Some pensioners could be forced to keep working far into their retirement while the changes could be a disincentive to taking a temporary job for couples already receiving Pension Credit.
  • The changes are a double blow to some couples who have already been affected by rises in SPA which, for many, came with as little notice.
  • Creating a situation where pensioners would be better off living alone and claiming Pension Credit than living as a couple receiving Universal Credit.
  • The change could put pressure on existing relationships and may affect the decisions of couples wanting to live together.
  • Although the intention is to protect those who are receiving pensioner benefits before 15th May, they could lose entitlement if their circumstances change – even if this is only for one day.
  •  The Universal Credit system was designed for people of working age, not pensioners. For example, it includes no additional financial support for a couple where one member is not expected to work because they are over SPA.

One of the case studies featured in the report is Martin, a 70 year old who receives a State Pension and Attendance Allowance. His wife works in a care home but he is scared of what the future will be if she has to stop.

Martin says: "I am 70 and my lovely wife is in her early 50s. I receive a state pension and the lower rate of Attendance Allowance as I am being treated for lung cancer and have COPD. My wife works full time on minimum wage so that we can afford our rent and bills.

"I'm concerned that my wife will have to stop work soon. Her health means that she is starting to struggle and eventually I know she'll have to stop to help care for me.

"I have looked into Universal Credit in case she has to stop after these changes. I think we'd find it really hard to afford any quality of life. We'd have to give up the car, the internet and landline meaning we wouldn't be able to see any of our family anymore or contact our grandchildren in Australia. The cost of train and bus fares would be prohibitive. My cancer care is also at a hospital some distance from me. It would be impossible to get there without a car. It's depressing to think about what our lives would be like. We might have to split up as we'd be better off single. How crazy that the Government would force us to make that decision."

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: "The stories of people like Martin, highlighted in our report, show the devastating impact of the Government's mean-spirited policy change on Pension Credit and Housing Benefit – two potentially life-changing benefits for some of the poorest and most vulnerable older people.

"It's not at all unusual for one partner to be older than the other so lots of older couples on low incomes could be affected by this policy change without even knowing it yet. There is no doubt in our minds that many unsuspecting pensioners will face a heavy financial penalty for having a younger partner and this will undoubtedly affect the health and wellbeing of many of those couples.

"Not everyone is able to carry on working until their State Pension age, not least because many of those in the most deprived areas in the UK are in ill health long before they can officially retire. We are deeply concerned that benefits designed to support exactly these type of people are being abolished without fully understanding the impact on older people's lives.

"We urge the Government to look again at the implications for the poorest pensioners and reverse its decision. In the meantime we're urging any pensioner who thinks there is even the slightest chance that they could be entitled to Pension Credit and/or Housing Benefit to put in a claim now – it could make a huge difference, potentially boosting their income by tens of thousands of pounds over the next few years."

Any older person who is worried about money and/ or who may be entitled to claim benefits should contact Age UK by calling its national advice line free of charge on 0800 169 65 65, visiting www.ageuk.org.uk/money or contacting their local Age UK for free information and advice.

Notes to editor

About Age UK

We work with our national partners, Age Scotland, Age Cymru and Age NI and our local Age UK partners in England (together the Age UK Family). 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 believes that everyone should have the opportunity to make the most of later life, whatever their circumstances. We provide free information, advice and support to over six 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.

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).

Age UK

We work with our national partners, Age Scotland, Age Cymru and Age NI and our local Age UK partners in England (together the Age UK Family). 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 believes that everyone should have the opportunity to make the most of later life, whatever their circumstances. We provide free information, advice and support to over six 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.

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).

For more information

Contact the Age UK Media team on 020 3033 1430 (out of hours: 07071 243 243).

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Last updated: May 28 2019

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