Country dwellers eligible for a winter fuel allowance payment - worth £200 to £300 for anyone over 80 - could see their cash early, allowing them to buy off-grid fuel before winter prices start to bite.
The move is supported by energy minister Baroness Verma. If approved, it could help shave hundred of pounds off energy bills for many.
An advance in the timeline of the winter payment would help around 1m UK pensioners who live in rural areas, forced to buy their energy supplies off-grid (it's thought around 15% of consumers are not linked to the national gas grid).
The move is needed given that average energy bills now cost consumers around £1,400 a year. Yesterday British Gas saw an 11% hike in profits, helped by a 6% price rise in November (British Gas has also paid out £3.5bn in dividends paid out to shareholders in recent years).
The Oil Firing Technical Association, quoted in the Telegraph
, claims the average typical rural household could have recouped £170 if heating oil was bought forward to June 2010 compared with buying in mid-winter, due to seasonal shifts in energy pricing. The move is supported by Citizens Advice.
"People who are not connected to the gas grid," says Citizens Advice, "and therefore rely on heating oil or LPG to keep their homes warm in the winter have to pay for their fuel in bulk and up front. Our evidence shows that people on low incomes, including the elderly, can find it very difficult, or in some cases impossible, to afford to fill up their tanks ahead of winter."
To qualify for the payment in the winter of 2012-13, you have to be over 60. Or your birth date must be on or before July 5 1951. The Winter Fuel Payment is tax-free and not means tested, so it doesn't matter whether you are working or claiming benefits.
However there remains much debate over whether it should continue to be means-tested. Last winter, it was paid to almost 13 million people at a total cost of £2.1bn to the taxpayer. But senior Lib Dem Paul Burstow claims it should only to go those claiming pension credit - currently around 2m (even though 3m are eligible).
- 1. No savings
Figures from charity Age UK show that 29% of those over 60 feel uncertain or negative about their current financial situation - with millions facing poverty and hardship. Even though saving for retirement is not much fun, the message is therefore that having to rely on dwindling state benefits in retirement is even less so. To avoid ending up in this situation, adviser Hargreaves Lansdown recommends saving a proportion of your salary equal to half your age at the time of starting a pension. In other words, if you are 30 when you start a pension, you should put in 15% throughout your working life. If you start at 24, saving 12% of your salary a year should produce a similar return.</p>
- 3. Mortgage debts
Recent research from <a href="http://globalcare.aviva.co.uk/">Aviva</a> found that 17% of over-55s are still paying off a mortgage, with an average of £63,555 left to clear. And figures from equity release lender More 2 Life suggest that more than 100,000 over-65s are still struggling to pay off their mortgages. The pre-recession popularity of interest-only mortgages and the poor performance of linked investment vehicles, as well as the average age of a first-time buyer rising to 35, are among the reasons why. But meeting monthly mortgage repayments during retirement can have a big impact on day-to-day living costs such as food and household bills. Ways to avoid being caught out include taking out a mortgage over a shorter term that leaves you well clear by retirement age and overpaying on your mortgage when you can. If it is too late for that, downsizing could be an option, while equity release plans could also be worth a look.</p>
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- 4. Deal with default notices
<p>A default notice is note that a lender puts on your credit file if you fall behind with your payments. It is a warning sign to future lenders about your reliability to repay credit and could mean that they will be less likely to lend to you or will increase the interest rate.</p>
<p>If the default notice is incorrect, perhaps because you have repaid the loan in full or did not take out the credit and suspect that you have fallen victim to fraud, you can apply to have a default notice removed. A default notices will only be removed if it is factually incorrect – not simply because you are embarrassed by it.</p>
- 4. Huge care costs
The cost of a room in a care home in many parts of the country is now over £30,000 a year, according to figures from Prestige Nursing and Care. So even if the prime minister announces a cap on care costs - last year the economist Andrew Dilnot called for a new system of funding which would mean that no one would pay more than £35,000 for lifetime care - families will still face huge accommodation costs. Ways to cut this cost include opting for home care rather than a care home. Jonathan Bruce, managing director of Prestige Nursing and Care, said: "For older people who may need care in the shorter term, home care is an option which allows people to maintain their independence for longer while living in their own home and should be included in the cap." However, the only other answer is to save more while you can.</p>
- 5. Fraud
Older Britons are often targeted by unscrupulous criminals - especially if they have a bit of money put away. For example, many over 50s were victims of the so-called courier scam that tricked into keying their pin numbers into their phones and handing their cards to "couriers" who visited their homes. It parted consumers from £1.5 million in under two years. Detective Chief Inspector Paul Barnard, head of the bank sponsored dedicated cheque and plastic crime unit (DCPCU), said: "Many of us feel confident that we can spot fraudsters, but this type of crime can be sophisticated and could happen to anyone." The same is true of boiler room scams that target wealthier Britons with money to invest, offering "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunities to snap up shares at bargain prices. Tactics to watch out for include cold calling, putting you under pressure to pay up or lose the opportunity for good, and claiming to have insider information that they are prepared to share with you.</p>
- 6. Unpaid taxes
The average UK pensioner household faces a £111,400 tax bill in retirement as increasing longevity means pensioners are living on average up to 19 years past the age of 65, according to figures from MetLife. And every year in retirement adds an extra £5864 in direct and indirect taxes based on current tax rates to the costs for the average pensioner household. You can be forced to go bankrupt if you fail to pay your taxes, so it is vital to factor these costs into your retirement planning.It is also important to check that you are receiving all the benefits and tax breaks you are entitled to if you want to make the most of your retirement cash.</p>
- 7. Rule changes
Even the best laid plans can be derailed should the government change pension rules - especially for those already in retirement. Take income drawdown. About 400,000 individuals have set up their pensions on this basis that allows them to keep their fund intact while drawing an income, rather than buying a poor value annuity. The income they can take is therefore linked to the 'GAD rate' – set by the Government Actuary's Department and determined by the prevailing yield from a 15-year Government bond (gilt). But despite 15-year gilt yields falling sharply, the government last year slashed the maximum income that could be drawn down from 120% to 100% of the GAD rate due to fears that savers were depleting their pension pots too quickly. Many pensioners have seen their incomes plunge by more than 50% as a result - and there is very little they can do about it.</p>