Objectives: To describe the clinical characteristics of epilepsy in a representative sample of the UK population, including seizure frequency and severity; overall severity of epilepsy; patterns of anti-epileptic drug (AED) use; and the impact of epilepsy on patients’ lives. Secondly, to determine if these characteristics differ according to age. Method: A large, geographically comprehensive survey of people with epilepsy by means of a postal questionnaire distributed by general practitioners to 3455 unselected patients receiving AEDs for epilepsy, regardless of age or type of epilepsy and including all regions of the UK. Data were collected on age and gender; age of onset of seizures; seizure frequency and severity; AED use and adverse effect levels; and impact on life of epilepsy. Sub-analyses were performed with stratification by epilepsy severity and age-group. Results: There were 1652 completed replies. The mean age was 44.2 years; there were 47.2% males, 48.5% females (4.4% not recorded). The mean age at first seizure, 25.1 years, and the mean duration of epilepsy, 19.7 years, were comparable with previous studies. In the preceding one year, 51.7% of patients had no seizures; 7.9% one seizure, 17.2% 2–9 seizures and 23.2% 10 or more. Sixty-four percent of patients had epilepsy classified as mild and 32% severe. There was a marked and significant decrement of seizure frequency with increasing age. The most commonly used AEDs were carbamazepine (37.4%), valproate (35.7%), phenytoin (29.4%), phenobarbitone or primidone (14.2%) and lamotrigine (10.3%). Monotherapy was used in 68% of patients. Patients taking multiple AEDs reported significantly higher levels of adverse effects and worse seizure control. The major impacts of epilepsy on life were work and school difficulties, driving prohibition, psychological and social life. The impacts listed varied with the epilepsy severity and age. Conclusions: Seizures remain uncontrolled in up to half of all people with epilepsy in the UK with significant impact on work, family and social life. Previously, there has been a deficiency of data on the characteristics of epilepsy in older people, although it is recognized that the condition is of increasing epidemiological importance in this age group. We have found clear differences in the clinical characteristics of epilepsy in older people, particularly that seizure frequency appears to decline with increasing age.