One in five older households not eligible for council tax rebate to help with energy bills are already living in poverty or financial hardship, says Age UK
By: Age UK
Published on 23 March 2022 12:00 AM
New analysis from Age UK[i] shows that among older households who won’t be entitled to the £150 Council Tax rebate in April, one-in-five (21 per cent[ii]) are living in poverty or just above the poverty line and/ or are in receipt of income-related benefits. The Charity is warning that these older households, which include some of the poorest and most vulnerable older people in England, will miss out on much-needed financial help as their property is not in Council Tax band A to D.
There are 4.3m households in England that will not be eligible for the Council Tax rebate because they live in properties with Council Tax band E to H, among whom half (2.1m) include at least one person aged 60+.
The analysis, published ahead of the Chancellor’s Spring Statement, highlights the cracks in Government support for older people living in poverty or financial hardship who happen to live in the ‘wrong kind of homes’. With many already struggling to manage the escalating cost of living, Age UK is warning that basics such as food and heating are fast becoming unaffordable for many pensioners living on a low fixed income – and that’s before energy tariffs skyrocket in the weeks ahead.
Age UK is deeply concerned that the support package announced by the Government last month falls badly short of what is needed to protect older people on low and modest incomes from unaffordable energy bills and other rising prices. With wholesale gas trading at record prices and analysts estimating that average energy bills could rise to over £3,000 a year, the Charity believes the Chancellor needs to urgently set out further targeted support for less well-off older households in his Spring Statement today.
To help these older people through the current crisis, Age UK is calling on the Government to urgently direct more funding support to them by:
- Introducing a targeted package of support which mitigates the whole Price Cap rise this April for lower income households.
- Providing direct payments of up to £500 to people who are eligible for the Cold Weather Payment.
- Doubling the discretionary fund to £288 million to support those missing out on the Council Tax rebate.[iii]
- Helping all those entitled to Pension Credit to claim it.
- Consulting on a new energy social tariff with Ofgem and legislating to extend the Price Cap beyond 2023.
The cold can be dangerous for older people, especially for those with pre-existing health conditions. Older people often live in homes that are difficult and expensive to heat, leaving them at greater risk of developing health complications because of the cold. Living in a cold home can also undermine an older person’s mental health, contributing to anxiety, depression and loneliness.
Additional research for Age UK shows that one in six (16 per cent) over-65s worry that their health has been worse [this winter] because they have been too cold, with over two in five (44 per cent) over 65s worrying that their health could be harmed by being too cold – rising to almost half of older women (49 per cent).[iv]
Norma, 81, told Age UK: “The uncertainty regarding the energy bills along with increases in food and clothing is stressful and the future is looking bleak. I never imagined that this country would leave me, at 81 and disabled, feeling helpless and insecure.”
Rachel, who is a carer for her husband, commented: “My husband has advanced Alzheimer’s, is totally bedbound, doubly incontinent and my daughter and I care for him completely at home. He has to be washed and changed at least three times a day and consequently my washing machine and dryer are permanently in use. We have to keep the heating on most of the time as his temperature quickly drops if the house gets cold. Our fuel bills are currently £270 per month. These latest increases will make an enormous difference to our expenses but we have no choice because of my husband's health.”
Margaret, who already claims Pension Credit, said: “I am 72 and on a low income. The rises will affect me personally because I am on Pension Credit and already ration my energy use so that I can afford the bills. I feel very anxious about it.”
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: “It was already clear that the support announced by the Government last month was insufficient to protect older people on low and modest incomes from the impact of inflationary price rises. Now, deepening our concerns, our new analysis shows that one in five of the older population who are already hard-pressed are set to miss out on the £150 council tax rebate. The Government must do more to help them by expanding eligibility for the rebate scheme, or through some other mechanism that puts additional cash into their hands.
"The Chancellor paused the triple lock guarantee to the State Pension this year on the basis that the increase in average earnings at the time was a temporary blip due to the pandemic. Since then, prices have soared so next month’s planned 3.1% increase is only a drop in the ocean compared to the sharp rises in energy and other costs confronting us all. As things stand, at Age UK we simply cannot see how older people who have no other sources of income besides their State Pension and benefits will be able to pay the higher prices they face. Those with few if any savings are out of options and their only hope now is that the Government will recognise their difficulties and extend a helping hand.
“At the very least the discretionary fund for those who don’t qualify for the Council Tax rebate should be doubled. Access to this fund must be easy, quick and timely, and the amounts available must be enough to make a difference – otherwise significant numbers of older people in England really will be in dire financial straits from April.
“The Spring Statement is the Chancellor’s opportunity to demonstrate he understands how inflation is overwhelming the best efforts of older people on low incomes to stay afloat, and is willing to send them a life raft. We are hearing from many older people who never dreamed that they would find themselves in such deep financial trouble at this stage of their lives, and who are frankly terrified about the bad news on prices the rest of the year may bring. It’s an absolute nightmare for them.”
As part of its ‘The Cost of Cold’ campaign, Age UK is urging anyone who is struggling to get in touch for a full benefits check in case they are one of the many who are missing out on vital benefits such as Pension Credit, which opens the door to a wide range of other support.[v] People can call Age UK’s Advice Line on freephone 0800 169 65 65, contact their local Age UK office or visit www.ageuk.org.uk.
To make a claim for Pension Credit, people should call the Pension Credit claim line on 0800 99 1234 or visit www.gov.uk/pension-credit/how-to-claim.