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Over one million older people have missed a direct debit or standing order payment in the past month

Emma Lunn
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Emma Lunn

Millions of older people are borrowing money, using credit and are not able to pay bills, according to Age UK.

The charity is particularly concerned about the effect of the energy crisis on the finances of over 50s and has warned that the energy crisis is “far from over”.

Age UK found that one in five (3.4 million) people aged 50 to 69 and one in 12 of over 70s (670,000) in the UK have had to borrow more money or use more credit than usual in the past month compared to a year ago.

It also found that 1.3 million over 50s had a direct debit, standing order, or bill they have not been able to pay in the past month.

Sky high bills

Age UK’s snapshot survey of over 50s is supported by Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures showing 45% (11.3 million) of people aged 50 or over are currently finding it difficult to afford their energy bills, while a quarter of those over 50 could not afford an unexpected expense of £850.

The charity said 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 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 are struggling.

It found that 9 million people aged 50 and over have seen their cost of living go up compared to just a month ago. More than two in five over 50s are spending less on food and other essentials.

Four in 10 (42%) of those over 50 don’t think they’ll be able to save any money in the next 12 months, while one in five (19%) over 70s and 49% of 50 to 69-year-olds who rent or have a mortgage are struggling to pay it.

Charity calls for Government action on energy

Age UK is calling on the government to reduce energy costs by introducing a social energy tariff for disabled people, unpaid carers and those on lower incomes by April 2024 at the latest.

It said this must be government-funded and provide support to those in or at risk of fuel poverty, not just those on means tested benefits.

Age UK is also calling for a “prepayment meter (PPM) amnesty” to give all households with a PPM the opportunity to have it uninstalled and to receive adequate compensation.

It also says the 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. Energy regulator Ofcom announced a new code of practise regarding PPM earlier this year.

Energy bill crisis ‘far from over’

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.”