Pensioners forced to choose between eating and heating due to rising bills, charity warns

OVER-65s are being forced to choose between keeping their homes warm and buying food, a charity has warned.

AGE UK is urging pensioners to check whether they qualify for pensions credit, which opens the door to other benefits including Cold Weather Payments and the Warm Home Discount Scheme.

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Pensioners are being forced to choose between heating and eating due to expensive bills[/caption]

Energy bills are expected to go up by as much as 50% from April, when the new price cap comes into force – leaving many families unable to make ends meet.

Many older people are reliant on the state pension as their main source of income and do not have the flex in their finances to cope with such enormous price rises.

Age UK found that 24% of older people say they will be forced to choose between heating their home and the food they buy if their energy bills increase substantially.

Just over two-fifths (43%) said they would have to cut back, go into debt or simply will not be able to afford to pay their bill.

One 69-year-old woman told Age UK: “I am currently in bed keeping warm today as it’s so cold and I can’t afford to have my heating on for the whole day.

“I’m reduced to showering on alternate days, which I hate, and I’m eating food that’s microwaveable to avoid heating my oven.”

Inflation jumped to a near 30-year high of 5.4% in December, further stretching the finances for British families.

Age UK warned that many older people are missing out on extra income because they are not receiving Pension Credit, despite being eligible.

It said many older people on low incomes are unaware that they qualify for Pension Credit, and that a successful claim opens the door to a wide range of other support, including help with energy bills.

As part of its campaign The Cost Of Cold, Age UK is urging any older person on a low or modest income who is struggling with their bills to have a full benefits check.

This is easy to do, and the charity will even help you to work out what you could get.

You can call the charity’s advice line on freephone 0800 169 65 65, contact your local Age UK office, or visit the Age UK website.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “We are being contacted every day by desperate older people in this position, people for whom there are only ‘bad choices’ – ration your energy use, cut back on food or other essentials, or go into debt.”

“Any older person who is finding it difficult to pay their bills, or who is worried about staying warm, can call us today – if we help you to submit a successful claim it could make all the difference.

“There really is no downside to checking you are receiving everything you are entitled to, so please come forward and let us help you make sure.”

There are two elements of Pension Credit to consider, and you could be eligible for either one. These are:

  • Guarantee credit – tops up your weekly income to a guaranteed minimum level.
  • Savings credit – provides extra money if you’ve saved money towards retirement.

Both open the gates to lots of help including council tax bill reduction, free TV licences for the over-75s and even reduced costs for heating your home.

Over a million people are thought to be missing out, so it’s definitely worth checking if you qualify.

The full list of benefits you could get by putting in your Pension Credit application include:

  • Housing Benefit if you rent the property you live in
  • Support if you own the property you live in
  • Council Tax Reductions
  • A free TV licence if you’re aged 75 or over
  • Help with NHS prescriptions, dental treatment, glasses and free transport costs for hospital appointments
  • Help with your heating costs including cold weather payments.

To get the guarantee credit element your income needs to be less than £177.10 if you’re single and £270.30 combined if you live with a partner.

If you have a disability, caring responsibilities, or housing costs you might still be eligible if your income is above these thresholds.

You can get savings credit if you reached state pension age before April 6, 2016 and you saved some money towards your retirement.

A Government spokesperson said: “We know this has been a challenging time for many people, which is why we’re providing support worth around £12 billion this financial year and next to help households across the country with the cost of living.

“Our winter fuel payments are supporting over 11 million pensioners with their energy bills and we are continuing to encourage those eligible for Pension Credit, and the wide range of other benefits it can provide, to make a claim.”

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