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Last Updated: Monday, 22 September, 2003, 14:56 GMT 15:56 UK
Pensioners feeling the pinch
Pensioners protesting
Pensioners protesting recently in Westminster
Big council tax increases this year have squeezed the incomes of many pensioners.

Pensioners are often reluctant to claim additional benefits and, with fixed incomes, their living standards are very sensitive to small increases in the cost of living.

Evidence suggests many have found that above-inflation increases in council tax, water bills, insurance costs and other expenses are putting their incomes under increasing pressure.

BBC News Online spoke to three pensioners about how they are coping.

Ron Day, 75, from Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk

This year the government gave Ron and his wife Dorothy an extra 3.70 a week.

This brought their joint state pension to just over 175.

We are living on the breadline every week
Ron Day

But 3 of that increase was gobbled up by their council tax, which increased by 150 this year.

Their council tax bill last year was 748.16, but this year they are paying 898.10.

Mr Day does not have an occupational pension, and Mrs Day, 72, does part-time book keeping to make ends meet.

Do we pay too much council tax?

Mr Day say: "We haven't had a holiday for five years. We are living on the breadline every week.

"We are struggling. We don't have the extras we used to have. We used to entertain, for example.

"Next year it's going to go up. I think it should be stopped across the board, not just for pensioners - but for everyone."

Sylvia Hardy, 71, from Exeter in Devon.

Sylvia Hardy, 71, is a retired social worker, who used to work for Devon County Council and lives in Exeter.

But she is now involved in a campaign against the council's 18% increase in council tax.

Her council tax bill is now 644 a year - up from 544 in 2002.

I am prepared to go to prison
Sylvia Hardy

She says she will pay only 1.7% of this year's increase - the equivalent to this year's rise in the basic state pension - and is willing to risk going to jail over the issue.

"I am prepared to go the whole way....I am prepared to go to prison if that's what it takes," she says.

Ms Hardy, who took early retirement, says that over the last year she has really begun to "feel the pinch".

We think we should be treated better than this
Ms Hardy

"I have already had to sell my car and take out equity release on my own", she says.

With her 40 year-old boiler now needing to be replaced, she could soon be left with just 2,000 savings, she says.

"We have got enough to exist on, but we don't have enough money to have a social life.

"I can only afford to go to the theatre once a year - I used to love going to the theatre."

"We feel very angry about it. We think we should be treated better than this."

Roy Barratt,72, County chairman of the Royal British Legion, who lives near Penzance, Cornwall, says the situation is getting worse

Mr Barratt says he can easily manage his council tax increase of 8.55%, but he says many retired service people are struggling.

In his outreach work for the Royal British Legion, he says he is increasingly coming into contact with people who are worried and can not cope.

There is no margin to feel safe and secure
Roy Barratt

According to his calculations, council tax and other household expenses have risen by 5.52 a week over the last year.

Other expenses such as water charges have also increased, with an additional 30 being levied on houses in band C.

"Where are people going to find the money to pay for this is anyone's guess," he says.

But he says that people are often reluctant to ask for help - and many elderly could be suffering in silence.

"In many cases they have just shut their minds to it. They don't want to be seen not to be able to manage their own affairs."

One central problem, he says, is people do not have any spare cash for when something goes wrong - or they need to make an ad hoc payment.

"There is no margin to feel safe and secure."

Pensioners lobby MPs over incomes
10 Sep 03  |  Business
Referendums plan on council tax
22 Sep 03  |  Politics
Council tax protests spread
26 Jun 03  |  Business

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