Even in its earliest form, when the state stepped in to replace a punitive and widely disliked ‘poor law’, the UK state pension could never be described as generous.

According to professor Pat Thane of the University of London, while the state sought to improve conditions for the elderly by introducing an ‘old age pension’ in 1909, the payment “didn’t provide enough to live on and was [subject to] a very stringent means test”.

Civil servants known as ‘pensions officers’ visited people in their homes to assess claimants’ entitlement before making recommendations to a pensions committee. Only after the committee approved a claim was the applicant, who had to be aged at least 70, authorised to receive the princely sum of five shillings (25p) each week. Married couples were entitled to receive a maximum of seven-and-sixpence (37.5p).

Bizarrely, the pension could be reduced if an applicant owned too much furniture. Payments could be denied altogether if the applicant was habitually drunk, had never worked when able or was considered to be of bad character.

The modern-day state pension was introduced in 1948, automatically payable to males aged 65 and females aged 60, so dispensing with the intrusive-sounding ‘pension officers’. While men could reasonably expect to receive it for around a dozen years and women for approximately two decades, by 2020 the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated that retirees could expect to draw a state pension well into their 70s and early 80s.

Not surprisingly, as life expectancy rises, pressure on the state pension system also increases, ostensibly because it is funded by the working population on a pay-as-you-go basis – a system which, as the elderly population grows, is unsustainable over the longer term if fewer workers are making National Insurance contributions.

Governments of every hue have regularly tinkered with the state pension and plans are afoot to extend the official retirement age over the next 20 years. However, with the current full pension worth just £185.15 a week, many people are understandably concerned about how they may beat a burgeoning pension squeeze.

The importance of pension planning is not lost on many people in their 50s and 60s. And for those considering equity release the smartER search engine, developed by Equity Release Supermarket, can undertake great tracts of useful, bespoke research.

In many instances, the results delivered by smartER could indicate that for homeowners aged over 55, a solution to the pension squeeze could be locked in their homes.

“By releasing a proportion of the often significant equity built up within their property over many years, people over the age of 55 could find they have access to a substantial tax-free cash lump sum,” says Mark Gregory, chief executive of Equity Release Supermarket.

The most popular method of releasing equity is to use a lifetime mortgage secured against the homeowner’s property. Unlike a regular mortgage, which most people use to buy their home, a lifetime mortgage features no end date. Instead, it runs for the duration of the homeowner’s life (and that of their spouse, if applicable) or until they both enter permanent, long-term care. At this point, the property is sold and the proceeds are used to pay off the initial lump sum and any accrued interest.

It follows that, as a lifetime mortgage features no required monthly payments, those aged over 55 could find the answer to the pension squeeze tied up in their home. After all, the money released can (once any existing debt secured against the property is cleared) be used for anything the homeowner wishes. For most folks, this means improving their quality of life with home improvements or reducing worry by giving their finances a necessary boost.

A lifetime mortgage can affect entitlement to means-tested benefits and will reduce the value of the estate. Accordingly, one of Equity Release Supermarket’s qualified equity release advisers will complete a benefit assessment and provide you with a personalised illustration of the features and risks prior to entering into any agreement.

Britain’s ongoing pension squeeze is a genuine problem, but the value accumulated in the homes of many people aged over 55 could provide the savings they need to enjoy retirement free from financial worry. For that reason alone, it could be worthwhile exploring the smartER search engine to determine whether equity release could help overcome financial hurdles in later life.

For more financial advice, check out Peter Sharkey’s regular blog, The Week In Numbers.

This column is for general information only and cannot be relied on as financial advice for individuals. Consult your professional adviser.