Without more Government financial help, fuel poor older households will top a million by the spring, new analysis shows
By: Age UK
Published on 21 December 2021 12:01 AM
Charity warns soaring energy costs will push an estimated 150,000 extra older households into fuel poverty this winter, as it launches new ‘The Cost of Cold’ campaign.
Launching its new The Cost of Cold campaign, the Charity issued a stark warning that the number of fuel poor older households could reach over 1.1 MILLION by the spring[iii] unless the Government takes urgent action.
With around one million older households already living in fuel poverty[iv] and tens of thousands more teetering on the brink, the Charity is extremely concerned that rising energy prices and living costs will lead to some of the poorest pensioners rationing their heating this winter in order to afford higher energy bills.
Age UK believes that rising inflation and escalating prices are now threatening the standard of living of many pensioners on low incomes, creating uncertainty and anxiety as winter begins to bite. Part of the problem is that many older people are living in hard to heat, older homes and, as a result, often need use a lot of energy just to stay warm.
The cold can be dangerous for older people, especially those with pre-existing health conditions. Older people tend to feel the cold more than younger people, as it is harder for them to regulate and maintain body temperatures. Low temperatures can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes in an older person, exacerbate lung conditions and worsen arthritis. Living in a cold home can also undermine an older person’s mental health, contributing to anxiety, depression and loneliness.
Extra support such as Cold Weather Payments[v] and the Warm Home Discount Scheme[vi] are vital tools in the fuel poverty armoury for those on a low income, yet they fail to reach many of those who need them the most because they are not claiming Pension Credit. This crucial benefit opens the door to these and many other benefits, but nearly a million (920,000) pensioner households are missing out on Pension Credit payments worth up to £1.6 billion every year[vii] – that’s an average of £32 a week, or over £1,600 a year, per recipient going begging.
To safeguard the most vulnerable this winter and beyond, Age UK is campaigning for the Government to:
- Provide a one-off £50 payment to all those eligible for Cold Weather Payments and expedite existing payments so they arrive no later than seven days after a period of cold weather.
- Double the Household Support Fund to £1billion to help safeguard all those on low incomes this winter.
- Take urgent action to get Pension Credit – a vital benefit and passport to a package of extra financial support – into the pockets of all those who are eligible.
- Ensure the energy price cap is enshrined in law in the shorter term, and then move to re-introduce a social tariff into the energy market to offer protection against high energy costs in the medium term.
As part of Age UK’s The Cost of Cold campaign 25,681 people[viii] have contacted the Charity to express anxiety about their energy bills and over 6,500 people have written to their local MP to raise concerns about escalating prices and their fears for the months ahead.[ix]
Peter, aged 75, told Age UK: “It's a simple choice, heat or eat. I already confine myself to one room and stay in bed as long as possible. If I cut down any further there won't be any point in living.”
Geraldine, aged 77, said: “I have arthritis which is worse when it is cold. I will have to keep my heating low now. Already I wear gloves on my hands and a heat pack inside my leggings to help my back.”
Sheila, aged 81, said: “We will have to have the heating off, as the bills are scary.”
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: “There’s no doubt that media reports about rising energy bills are filling pensioners on low fixed incomes with absolute dread. More than twenty-five thousand people have told us how worried they are, and it is clear that as things stand, some fully expect to have to choose between cutting down on food or turning down their heating, once the cold weather sets in. Doing either is a potential risk to their health, especially if they are living with serious underlying health conditions like heart disease or COPD.
“At Age UK our greatest concern is that some older people will not even try to keep their homes adequately warm this winter, for fear of incurring big bills they cannot afford to pay. Many older people are brilliant at making a small budget go a long way, but that’s unlikely to be enough to protect them from the impact of rising household bills and soaring energy costs this time round.
“New Age UK analysis suggests that another 150,000 older households could be dragged into fuel poverty by the spring, unless the Government acts now to provide those at greatest risk with more financial support. We are calling for a package of measures to be brought in immediately, targeted at the older people who need extra help the most. The package should include a £50 grant to those eligible for Cold Weather payment, and a big boost to the Household Support Fund that councils distribute to tackle fuel poverty in their areas. We are also calling for a renewed push to get more older people to claim the Pension Credit they are due.
“We must do everything possible to safeguard the health and wellbeing of pensioners on low fixed incomes. The energy price cap offers valuable protection against prices going through the roof, and the Government should move quickly to enshrine it in law, but Ministers have to go further to give the poorest pensioners the confidence to keep their heating turned up high enough when temperatures are cold.
“Above all, we must ensure that turmoil in the wholesale energy market does not translate into tragedy for any older person this winter. In most years it would be hyperbole to suggest there was a risk of older people freezing to death in their own homes, but the risk cannot be completely discounted this year. That’s why we need Government action to ensure every older person comes through safe and well.”
Age UK is urging older people to call its free national advice line BEFORE turning the heating off or down, to check they are receiving the full package of financial support available to them, including key benefits such as Pension Credit and Attendance Allowance. In addition, energy suppliers have a duty to offer support if people are struggling with bills or debt, so the Charity is urging people to contact their supplier directly to ask about available support including an affordable repayment plan.
Age UK’s advice line is open every day (365 days a year) from 8am to 7pm. Information and advice is also available on www.ageuk.org.uk or via a local Age UK.