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Author: Belfast Telegraph
Published on 20 December 2012 09:00 AM

Pensioners in Northern Ireland are collectively spending almost £27m more than the government is giving them.

New research shows that an average senior citizen receiving a state pension of £102.50 is going over budget by up to £88.55 (or 87%) every single week.

And with around 300,940 people currently drawing state pensions here, according to Stormont figures, that adds up to a massive shortfall.

It also helps reinforce the sentiments of the Belfast Telegraph’s Feel the Benefit initiative, which is an integral part of Age NI’s Spread the Warmth campaign, and aims to encourage at least 100 pensioners to contact the organisation’s helpline to get a benefits check.

Age NI has calculated that a successful benefits check can boost an older person’s weekly income by £62 — or £3,224 a year.

It is hoped, therefore, that this week’s initiative will unleash payments totalling, on average, £6,200 per person per annum, and £322,400 overall.

Many of our senior citizens are living on the breadline, facing stark choices between heating and eating, as the cost of living continues to rise.

But there could be help at hand — particularly for the elderly with no savings or other income — and people are being encouraged to claim their legitimate financial entitlements.

Age NI chief executive Anne O’Reilly said that almost half of pensioner households in Northern Ireland have a weekly income of less than £300, while more than a fifth have under £200.

She added: “Single female older people are even harder hit, with 79% existing on £300 and 45% with a budget of under £200.”

The recent research, carried out by retirement specialists LV=, also found that the average retired couple in the UK spends £17,922 a year to live — up from around £13,500 in 2000. In real terms that means the cost of living has risen by a third for retired people since the turn of the millennium.

Matt Trott, head of annuities at LV=, said the living costs for senior citizens in Northern Ireland are similar to the rest of the UK.

“Low interest rates and rising inflation has hit pensioners hard, with the cost of living dramatically increasing over the last decade,” Mr Trott said.

It means pensioners are having to spend significantly more than what they’re getting from the state just to make ends meet.

A significant proportion of the rise in spending can be put down to rocketing utility bills.

Indeed, UK pensioners are spending an average of £918 on gas and electricity, compared with £635 12 years ago.

However, that figure will probably be higher in Northern Ireland where 64% of households are dependent on expensive home heating oil.

The biggest dent in older people’s budgets is caused by food and non-alcoholic drinks which, according to LV=, cost £1,411 annually. In 2000 a single person’s pension was £67.50.

It will rise by 2.5% to £110.15 from next April, however, following Chancellor George Osborne’s autumn budget on Wednesday.

Other research this year, by Age UK, said the “Silver inflation” rate, specific to pensioners, has risen by just under 19% in the last four years. This compares with the average UK inflation of 13% over the same period, and equates to a pensioner requiring an extra £1,111.26 just to maintain the same lifestyle.

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For more information: Call Age NI Advice: 0808 808 7575