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Millions of older people borrowing money, using credit and not able to pay bills due to the cost of living crisis

By: Age UK
Published on 04 July 2023 11:01 PM

1 in 5 (3.4 million) people aged 50-69 and 1 in 12 of over 70s (670,000) in Great Britain have had to borrow more money or use more credit than usual in the last month compared to a year ago[i].

1.3 million over 50s in Great Britain had a Direct Debit, standing order, or bill they have not been able to pay in the past month[ii].

In a new report out today, Age UK warns that millions of older people are struggling to keep their heads above water and afford to pay their bills, fearing further strain is to come in the winter months ahead.

New research for Age UK revealed that 70% (10,388) of the Charity’s older campaigners are very worried because their finances or those of a loved one had been seriously affected by energy bills.  This snapshot survey is supported by national ONS statistics showing, 45% (11.3 million) of people aged 50+ in Great Britain are currently finding it difficult to afford their energy bills and a quarter of those over 50 could not afford an unexpected but necessary expense of £850[iii]

Sky high energy bills have depleted older people’s savings and left many less resilient to high inflation, which is impacting everything they buy.

Age UK’s new report, Tackling the Cost-of-Living Crisis: What the Government must do, highlights the most recent ONS statistics with an age breakdown on how older people in Great Britain are struggling:

  • 9 million people aged 50 and over seen their cost of living go up compared to just one month ago. Over 2 in 5 of over 50s are spending less on food and other essentials.
  • 42% of those over 50 don’t think they’ll be able to save any money in the next 12 months.
  • 68% (5.8 million) of people aged 70 and over have experienced an increase in their cost of living compared to one month ago.
  • 19% of over 70s and 49% of 50–69-year-olds who rent or have a mortgage are struggling to pay it.

Age UK’s report also highlights other research which suggests that 1.7 million over 55s expect to have to keep working indefinitely[iv].

Not surprisingly, the Charity’s new report reveals that older people on very low fixed incomes are among the worst affected, but so too are the estimated 450,000 pensioners with an income up to 10% higher than the Pension Credit threshold.[v] This takes them just above the income line to qualify for Pension Credit and the additional support that goes hand in hand with it, so that they often can end up with even less to spend – a situation they often feel to be extremely unfair.  Another group Age UK is especially worried about are those whose incomes aren’t quite as low, but whose costs are especially high, usually due to disability or chronic ill health. 

With the Government expected to consult on an energy social tariff before the end of the summer, the Charity says that now is the time to ensure that they fully commit to this targeted discount energy deal and ensure it works for all who are struggling. This will mean ensuring the tariff is available for unpaid carers (who claim Carer’s Allowance), disabled people, means tested benefit recipients and those in poverty or just above the poverty line, shielding all these vulnerable groups from the threat of unaffordable energy bills.

To achieve this, the Government must improve the effectiveness of the systems used to deliver support to people both on and off the benefits system. Age UK analysis shows that if the Government base the social tariff eligibility criteria solely on access to the benefits system, then around 2.7 million households on the lowest fifth of incomes will miss out.[vi] To make matters worse, if the Government opts to place the full cost of a social energy tariff onto consumer bills, then these same households would be missing out on much needed support as well as being faced with paying hundreds of pounds extra on their bills.

That’s why Age UK is calling on the Government to act now and reduce energy costs by:

  • Urgently introducing a discounted energy deal (social tariff) for disabled people, unpaid carers and those on lower incomes by April 2024 at the latest. This must be Government funded and provide support to those in or at risk of fuel poverty, not just those on means tested benefits.
  • Announcing a prepayment meter (PPM) amnesty to give all households with a PPM the opportunity to have it uninstalled and to receive adequate compensation. In addition, the discredited energy company practices of switching customers to a prepayment meter under warrant, and of switching smart meters to PPM mode, should be banned for good.
  • Improving funding for energy efficiency improvements to housing stock, targeted at lower income households.
  • Expanding the eligibility criteria for the next income-related Cost of Living Payments to those on Housing Benefit and receiving Council Tax Reduction qualify too, to help more people in need.
  • Delivering wider support payments such as through an improved Energy Bills Support Scheme and a more generous Energy Price Guarantee, to ensure those struggling financially but still missing out on welfare benefits are adequately supported.

Through it’s It Doesn’t Add Up campaign, Age UK continues to hear from thousands of older people who are depleting their savings and struggling to keep up with rising costs, with some going back to work and falling into debt. 

Older people are worried about the months ahead:

A 65 year-old disabled man told Age UK: “I’m chronically disabled and have very little by way of savings but I have had to spend most of what little I have to keep me warm this past year.  I can probably only manage one more winter without freezing in my own home.”

A 63 year-old woman commented: “I am £1500 in debt with my energy bills and I cannot see a way out of it.  My arthritis and polymyalgia are getting worse, plus my mental health has deteriorated as I’m constantly worried about how I’m going to pay my bills.  We have reached a point where we don’t have enough money left for food.”

A 68 year-old man said: “Due to the constant pressure on finances, I ended up in hospital last year with a serious lung condition that was likely to have been avoided had I been able to keep my house a bit warmer.”

An older person shared their experience of last winter with Age UK: “I was in arrears from last year, so I didn’t put the heating on at all this winter.  I was freezing, using hot water bottles and blankets and it created damp and mould in my rented flat.  My asthma has worsened, and I was breathing out white breath for months.”

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: The energy bill crisis is far from over.  It’s true that we’re not hearing as much about it at the moment because far less energy is used through the summer, but the fact is that some older people are still struggling to pay their energy bills from last winter and many more don’t know how they will cope in a few months’ time, when the temperatures fall once again. 

“Millions of older people whose careful budgeting has been overwhelmed by soaring energy bills desperately need the certainty of a discounted energy deal to help them through the coming winter.  A Government funded energy social tariff available to everyone in or at risk of fuel poverty would make a huge difference to their ability to make ends meet, and to their peace of mind. We also think it’s crucial that the scheme is open to a bigger group than just those entitled to means-tested benefits, because we hear from so many older people in financial difficulty whose meagre private pensions disqualify them from Pension Credit, or whose energy costs are unusually high – for example, because they have serious health problems that mean their heating has to be turned up high. 

“It’s crystal clear is that we need a permanent solution to the energy bill crisis - one that provides older people with the reassurance that they will never face that terrible ‘heat or eat’ dilemma again.  If the Government does not provide urgent financial support to help those most in need, we have no doubt that many older people will face unacceptable levels of hardship again this winter. And worryingly, we know they are often less well placed to withstand it than they were last year, having run down their savings in the meantime.”

Age UK know what to do. Find out more by visiting Older people, their families and friends looking for support should visit or call the Age UK Advice Line on 0800 169 65 65. The Age UK Advice Line is open 365 days a year (8am – 7pm) offering advice on a range of issues, including benefits checks and obtaining additional support for anyone who is worried or struggling to pay their bills.

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Last updated: Feb 05 2024

Notes to editors:

Age UK is a national charity that works with a network of partners, including Age Scotland, Age Cymru, Age NI and local Age UKs across England, to help everyone make the most of later life, whatever their circumstances.

In the UK, the Charity helps more than seven million older people each year by providing advice and support.  It also researches and campaigns on the issues that matter most to older people. Its work focuses on ensuring that older people: have enough money; enjoy life and feel well; receive high quality health and care; are comfortable, safe and secure at home; and feel valued and able to participate.

Age UK’s subsidiary charity, Age International, supports older people globally in over 30 developing countries by funding programmes such as vital emergency relief and healthcare and campaigning to raise awareness and change policies.

Age UK is a charitable company limited by guarantee and registered in England (registered charity number 1128267 and registered company number 6825798). Charitable services are provided through Age UK and commercial products are offered by the Charity’s Community Interest Company (CiC) (registered company number 1102972) which donates its net profits to Age UK (the Charity)


For more information

Contact the Age UK Media team on 020 3033 1430 during office hours (Mon-Fri 08:30-17:30) or for out-of-hours media support please email 

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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).

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