The WHO recommends limiting non-milk extrinsic sugars (NMES) consumption to ≤ 10 % energy to reduce the risk of unhealthy weight gain and dental caries, and to restrict frequency of intake to ≤ 4 times/d to reduce risk of dental caries. Older adults, especially those from low-income backgrounds, are at increased risk of dental caries, yet there is little information on sugars intake (frequency of intake and food sources) in this age group. The aim of this report is to present baseline data from a community-based dietary intervention study of older adults from socially deprived areas of North East England, on the quantity and sources of total sugars, NMES, and intrinsic and milk sugars, and on frequency of NMES intake. Dietary intake was assessed using two 3-d estimated food diaries, completed by 201 participants (170 female, thirty-one male) aged 65–85 years (mean 76·7 (sd 5·5) years) recruited from sheltered housing schemes. Total sugars represented 19·6 %, NMES 9·3 %, and intrinsic and milk sugars 10·3 % of daily energy intake. Eighty-one (40·3 %) exceeded the NMES intake recommendation. Mean frequency of NMES intake was 3·4 times/d. The fifty-three participants (26·4 %) who exceeded the frequency recommendation ( ≤ 4 times/d) obtained a significantly greater percentage of energy from NMES compared with those participants who met the recommendation. The food groups ‘biscuits and cakes’ (18·9 %), ‘soft drinks’ (13·1 %) and ‘table sugar’ (11·1 %) made the greatest contributions to intakes of NMES. Interventions to reduce NMES intake should focus on limiting quantity and frequency of intake of these food groups.