UK pension misery highlighted by national survey

13 November 2007
Poor state pensions and high fuel bills are causing misery for the elderly in Britain as older people struggle to cover winter costs and fuel benefits remain unclaimed thanks to complicated means tested application process.

The plight of the elderly in the UK has been brought into focus following the release of a new study by the British Gas Help the Aged Partnership which has revealed that one in five older people live in one room in their home to keep warm and cut costs in winter, while a further million pensioners already struggling to survive on a meagre state pension, cut back on food bills to make sure they can pay increasingly expensive winter energy costs.

Last winter more than 2.2 million older people turned off their heating because they were worried about the cost and a further two million pensioners wear outdoor clothes in their homes including gloves, overcoats and hats.

The results have also highlighted the Government’s failings to meet its statutory duty to eliminate fuel poverty in vulnerable households by 2010. One in three older people feel uncertain of whom to contact for help and advice on how to claim cash benefits and around £4.5 billion of unclaimed money is currently lying in Government coffers. Anna Pearson, British Gas Help the Aged Partnership spokesperson explains:

“Each year over 25,000 older people lose their lives to a preventable cold-related illness. The Government is literally gambling with people’s lives by not doing nearly enough to end fuel poverty. The Government has a potential jackpot of £4.5 billion waiting for older people, but it dangles this vital cash behind a complex maze of means-tested benefits and as a result, money continually fails to reach those who need it to survive.”

Furthermore, pensioners are finding it even harder to pay continually escalating living costs thanks to a failing pension system, which, according to new research is the worst out of all the European nations for the second year running.

The study commissioned by employee benefits firm Aon Consultants showed that an average earner retiring this year would receive a pension worth just 17 per cent of their salary, compared with an EU average of 57 per cent. The statistics are damning, in particular when compared with the Netherlands, who ranks as the country that pays out second lowest payment. Here the state provides a pension worth 30 per cent of the average retiree's salary - almost twice the figure in the UK.

However, pension credit is available to help subsidise the state pension yet a third of people are failing to claim despite the fact that it could top up their weekly income to a guaranteed minimum of £119.05 for an individual and £181.70 for a couple.

Helen Spinney, a spokesperson for Help the Aged comments: "We know that a lot of people reach retirement and are very shocked at how small their income is. Some people feel that they have to work over the state pension age because their income really isn't enough.

“There is a huge problem around older people not claiming the benefits they're entitled to. Of those benefits, pension credit is the main one. Some people may not have heard anything about it, some people may have heard about it but assume they're not entitled to the extra money. Other people may simply feel embarrassed about claiming. So, there are a whole number of reasons why people don't claim the benefits, and certainly lack of information is one of them."

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