Age UK renews calls for social tariff

A cold old woman trying to keep warm
Image © Shutterstock

A new report from Age UK has highlighted the need for a social tariff with discounted energy costs for those of all ages at greatest risk from the cold.

The report – Cold at Home: How winter cost of living pressures continue to impact older people – highlights Age UK’s concerns about the ongoing impact on older people who are not receiving support from the benefits system.  Many of these people are likely to be eligible for support but will still be missing out for a whole variety of reasons. Government figures show that an estimated 800,000 pensioners are eligible for Pension Credit but are missing out.

In 2022/23 and 2023/24 not being in receipt of means tested benefits also excluded people from the extra Cost of Living Payments provided by the government. In total this represented £1,550 of additional support over the two years which would have gone a long way towards addressing the anxiety and financial strain faced by those on lower incomes.

Age UK’s latest estimates show that even with prices expected to come down slightly this year there will still be 1.9 million older households in the UK living in fuel poverty across 2024, representing around one in six (16%) of all older households in the UK.

A 73 year old woman told Age UK:

Our life this winter was miserable. I never thought I would get to 73 and forced to be freezing in our own home.

William, age 79, commented:

I have terminal cancer and live in an apartment. Although we only have two bedrooms and one living room, and we frequently use blankets to keep warm rather than put the heating on. We still have bills that we have difficulty in meeting!

Age UK is calling for all political parties to commit to raising the standards of living for those older people who are most disadvantaged – especially those who are not claiming means tested benefits. Everyone should be able to boost their income in order to meet the higher costs of essential goods and services.

The charity believes the following policies are necessary in order to give older people financial security and create a functioning energy market for those on lower incomes.  It calls on the next government to:

  • Directly fund a targeted energy deal, or ‘social tariff’, which markedly discounts energy costs for those of all ages at greatest risk from the cold.
  • Reintroduce the Household Support Fund, ensuring it becomes a longer-term support mechanism targeted at those in greatest need.
  • Maintain the State Pension triple lock for the duration of the coming Parliament.
  • Increase benefit take up, including Pension Credit, through publicity and changes which mean there is less reliance on individuals navigating complicated systems.
  • Ensure benefits are sufficient to cover essential costs for all groups and are increased annually at least in line with rising prices.
  • Radically expand and improve national insulation and heating system improvement schemes, with priority for those on lower incomes and with higher heating needs.
  • Extend the ban on forced pre-payment meter installations to anyone above State Pension age.
  • Create one Priority Services Register across all utilities to make it easier for people to register for priority support.

Caroline Abrahams CBE, Charity Director at Age UK, said:

Over the past few years spiralling energy prices have made life extremely tough for older people who face hardship because of unavoidably high energy bills. Those on lower fixed incomes, and anyone living with disabilities or long-term health conditions has been hit particularly hard.

Keeping warm at home is vital for a comfortable, happy, and healthy later life and something we thought we could all take for granted, but today it remains beyond the reach of millions of older people. Energy prices remain too high for many, and it seems there’s no prospect of a return to the much lower bills of a few years ago. The Government needs to face up to this reality, and to the distress and anxiety it is causing millions of older people, who now view each coming winter with dread.

It’s not surprising that a clear majority still support Government intervention to help people with their essential costs. More than 6 in 10 over 65s (63%) want the Government to introduce an energy social tariff so that they can be confident of staying warm at home during the colder months, and Age UK agrees with them.

We must not sleep walk into a situation in this country in which it is seen as ‘normal’ for an older person to have to shiver through the cold in their own home. If the Government brings in a funded social tariff for energy it can consign such misery to the past, and that’s what we think the Chancellor should do as part of his Spring Budget.