Benefits warning: 310,000 older people on low incomes miss out on help with housing costs as 'massive postcode lottery' unveiled

Couple at laptop

Nearly two million older people in the UK live in poverty

Temi Laleye

By Temi Laleye

Published: 24/05/2024

- 00:01

Nearly two million older people in the UK live in poverty and are likely to be missing out on benefits they are due

Thousands of low income older people are missing out on financial help because they are digitally excluded, a charity has warned.

Many are missing out on the benefits available to them as they do not know how to apply for them online.

The latest Government estimates indicate that 310,000 pensioner households who are entitled to Housing Benefit are not receiving it.

Older people who want to apply for Housing Benefit and/or Council Tax Reduction face "a huge postcode lottery" if they do not use computers.

A report from Age UK found it is those on low incomes who inevitably miss out which is "intrinsically unfair".

Their report follows complaints by older people and their families about the difficulty in accessing services and entitlements if they are offline.

Council tax bill in pictures

Around 1.9 million older people in the UK live in poverty and are often struggling to meet essential costs.


In total, the research showed that 220 telephone calls were made to 110 councils in England and Wales to find out what options were offered to people who wanted to apply for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Reduction, but who could not use online systems.

They found that people who called local councils were told they could get help at council offices or a library, but only once they persisted.

Worryingly, four callers could not get through to speak to a person at all, and 16 were neither offered a way of applying independently nor any help from the council.

There were also instances in which different employees from the same council said different things to the mystery shoppers about their offline options when more than one call was made - creating a "massive postcode lottery".

Around 1.9 million older people in the UK live in poverty and are often struggling to meet essential costs.

Many are unaware they could be eligible for financial support worth hundreds extra a month.

The Charity worries that being offline or not being comfortable using online systems creates an additional barrier for older people to receive financial help to which they are legally entitled.

As people get older, the levels of digital exclusion continue to increase.

Around 2.3 million over 65s do not use the internet at all and almost half (48 per cent) of these people are aged 75+.

Age UK is urging councils to offer at least one suitable offline option for those who cannot use offline services, as well as make their offline contact details easier to find.

It believes that central Government has a crucial part to play in ensuring that offline options remain available locally, as well as nationally. It is calling on the Government to:

  • Issue binding national guidance to all councils and other public bodies setting out minimum standards that they must meet in terms of ensuring there is good offline access to their services.
  • Provide local councils with enough funding to provide offline options, and
  • Lead on the development of a long-term, fully funded national Digital Inclusion Strategy, to support people of all ages who want to go online to do so.

Caroline Abrahams CBE, Charity Director at Age UK said: "It’s quite wrong that if you are an older person who is offline, your ability to apply for financial support you badly need depends so much on where you happen to live – it is clearly much easier to do in some places, compared to others.

"Some councils are doing a good job in supporting older people who can’t use online systems to apply for help in other ways... however in a minority of cases, no offline option was on offer at all.

"What would have happened to a ‘real’ older person who had rung up and asked to apply for Housing Benefit or Council Tax Reduction in another way in one of these localities? It seems to us that they would have been unable to do so, unless they had the support of a family member or friend who was au fait with computers, to help them get through the process online.


"Given that we know more than half (54 per cent) of people aged 65+ have paid council tax or other council services online and four per cent had not been comfortable doing so, it is unacceptable that there is no guarantee that offline older people will be able to apply for the financial help to which they are entitled, and which could make a valuable difference to their standard of living, without recourse to a computer.

"Older people often tell us they are completely fed up with the drift towards ‘digital by default’, without enough thought being given to where that leaves the millions who can’t or don’t want to use the internet, or whose digital skills are too limited to use online systems – some of which are not very user-friendly in any event.

"There's absolutely no problem in giving people the opportunity to access goods and services via the internet, that suits some of us of all ages very well – but this mustn't be at the cost of shutting out those for whom this doesn’t work at all"

What is housing benefit?

Housing Benefit can help people pay their rent if they're unemployed, on a low income or claiming benefits. It’s being replaced by Universal Credit.

People can only make a new claim for Housing Benefit if either of the following apply:

  • they have reached State Pension age
  • they’re in supported, sheltered or temporary housing
Council tax reduction

People could be eligible if they’re on a low income or claim benefits. Their bill could be reduced by up to 100 per cent.

People can apply if they own their home, rent, are unemployed or working.

On the Government website it states: What you get depends on:

  • where you live - each council runs its own scheme
  • your circumstances (for example income, number of children, benefits, residency status)
  • your household income - this includes savings, pensions and your partner’s income
  • if your children live with you
  • if other adults live with you

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