Housing

I'm 67 and working as a cabby. Rent and cost of living means I'll never be able to afford to retire

Rob Trewhella, 67, works 25 hours a week to top up his pension because renting would leave him on just £15 a month to feed himself if he didn’t drive his taxi

Pensioner Rob can't retire because he's renting

Without the money that he earns as a taxi driver in Penzance, Rob would be struggling to make ends meet. Image: Independent Age

Rob Trewhella should be retired but he works as a taxi driver around the scenic Penzance coastline because the cost of private renting risks driving him into poverty.

The 67 year old has been working 25 hours a week as a cabby for a year after admitting he would be living on between £6 and £15 a month if he wasn’t topping up his earnings with taxi fares.

Trewhella said the rent for his one-bedroom flat swallows up £675 of his £815 monthly pension and the cost of bills leaves him with little left at the end of the month.

Local housing pressures in Cornwall from holiday homes and short-term lets are adding to the record-high rents being seen around the UK and for people like Trewhella the impact of the housing crisis is postponing retirement.

Trewhella has been supported by Independent Age. The charity has warned of rising pensioner poverty with almost half of people aged 50 and over who are not yet fully retired concerned about living in economic hardship after they stop working.

“If I wasn’t working my state pension would be £815 a month. My rent is £675, my council tax is £104 and my electric is between £30 and £40 a month so if I wasn’t working I’d have between £15 and £6 a month left to feed myself,” said Trewhella.

“So I have to work. Some days I feel like I would like to retire. I like keeping busy but some days I’d love to say I don’t want to do anything today.”

The instability of the costly private renting is well-documented for young people but it is also having an impact on older people too.

The Renters Reform Bill is intended to scrap no-fault evictions – which allow landlords to evict tenants without giving a reason – as well as tipping the power balance back towards renters if it survives efforts to water it down.

Trewhella told the Big Issue he was feeling the insecurity of renting property from his landlords, especially after facing a fight to find a new home last time round.

He fears facing another search in the future after one of his landlords – an ‘elderly’ couple – died before Christmas.

“So what happens if anything happens to her?” he said.

“It’s a situation that 20/30 years ago I never saw myself in. You don’t realise how things can change.”

Like more than 1.2 million households across England, the pensioner is also on the council waiting list for a social home.

More social housing is often cited as a solution to the housing crisis. Research from Shelter and the National Housing Federation last month found building 90,000 social homes a year could boost the economy as well as solving the UK’s housing woes.

With the extra money he is spending while private renting blocking his retirement, Trewhella also sees the economic impact of social housing on the ground.

Pensioner Rob can't retire because he's renting
The charity that is supporting Rob, Independent Age, has sounded the alarm over rising pensioner poverty. Image: Independent Age

He would also like to see tax changes to prevent his pension from being included with his work income and taking him over the taxable threshold.

“Last week there were 31 properties available in Penzance where I live and it had 122 people going for a one-bedroom flat. There’s a massive shortage because it’s a holiday area. I’m very lucky that I’m able to work but there are an awful lot of people who aren’t that lucky,” said Trewhella.

“It’s scary being in this situation. If I could get into a housing association property I could save myself a couple of hundred quid a month so that could potentially be the time that I could retire.

“I was lucky to find where I am now but it still took six months of trawling around. I think one of the places I found was an old workshop being converted very quickly into living accommodation. It was awful. I had to sound enthusiastic about it because I was getting a bit desperate but part of me was saying, ‘Please don’t let me have it’.”

Trewhella is far from alone with his money and housing worries in later life.

Among those polled who are not yet fully retired and who do not plan on fully retiring, 39% said told Independent Age this is because they cannot afford to stop working.

Housing costs were another issue, of those polled who are not yet fully retired and renting, a staggering 67% said they were not confident that their retirement income would cover their rent.

“Governments across the UK must take notice of the warning signs,” said Joanna Elson CBE, chief executive of Independent Age. 

“There are already 2.1 million older people living in poverty and a further million teetering on the edge. Now we have more evidence that many people approaching retirement are struggling financially and could soon be living in poverty. More needs to be done to ensure everyone receives the financial support they are entitled to so that no one experiences financial insecurity in older age.”

But at least Trewhella can take solace in the fact he enjoys his work.

“I love being a cabby. It’s given me my confidence back,” he added. “I never know who I’m going to get in the cab. I can have a laugh with people. We can have serious discussions. If it can continue, I’ll continue doing it.”

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