elderly womenTobias Hase/DPA/Press Association Images

Figures from Age UK have revealed that it would only take a £200 bill to push one million retirees into a financial crisis. For many of them this would mean they have to go into debt to pay the bill, and for others it would mean potentially life-threatening cutbacks.

So why are things on such a knife edge?


Crisis

The charity found that more than 12% of people aged 65 and over wouldn't be able to pay if faced with an unexpected £200 bill. That equates to roughly 1.245 million pensioners.

They have been dealing with spiraling costs for so long that now their finances are stretched to breaking point, with nowhere to turn and nothing left to cut back on if they have a bill out of the blue.

According to Age UK 26% of pensioner couples have less than £1,500 in savings. For single male pensioners, the figure is 37% and for single female pensioners, it is 43%. It means there's just no safety net any more.

In some cases, this has pushed them into debt. Debt among older people is a growing issue. Some 12% owe money on credit cards, and 3% have a bank loan.

Vulnerable

This vulnerability is particularly alarming given the shocking size of so many household costs at the moment. It means that nearly one in eight are living financially so close to the edge that just having to repair a broken boiler or even having pay an unexpectedly large heating bill could push them over the edge into debt or lead them to cut back on essential items.

Age UK's Charity Director General Michelle Mitchell said: "We mustn't forget, particularly at Christmas, that many older people are living hand to mouth and dreading the day when the cooker breaks down or energy prices rise again."

In some instances they will go into debt. However, this generation is less likely to opt for debt, and many will cut back on basic essentials, like keeping warm and fed at this time of year.

Help

Mitchell says that anyone in this position can get help. She explains: "Many of them may well be entitled to get benefits to help them make ends meet. We'd urge any older person who is finding it difficult to get by to see if they are eligible for additional income such as pension credit. It could make the difference between being able to pay a bill that arrives out of the blue and spiraling into debt."

Pension Credit provides a top-up to the state pension of £33 a week, which could make all the difference, and in the cold and wet weather, could make a life-or-death difference. At the moment between 1.2 and 1.6 million people who are entitled to the credit are not taking up their entitlement.