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Cost of cold highlighted in new campaign

An estimated 150,000 older households are likely to be plunged into fuel poverty this winter because of soaring energy prices, according to new analysis by Age UK.

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 unless the Government takes urgent action.

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 and the Warm Home Discount Scheme 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 – that’s an average of £32 a week.

Age UK, which is a member of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, 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. 

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.

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.

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.

Mass fuel poverty protest planned for Westminster

Rising public anger at the levels of fuel poverty have seen two members of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition call a mass protest on 26 November 2021.
Led by the National Pensioners’ Convention and Fuel Poverty Action, the protest will highlight the excess winter deaths caused by fuel poverty.
Protestors will demand immediate action from the Government to address rising levels of fuel poverty that were failed to to be addressed in Chancellor’s “bleak” Budget earlier this year.
The action will take place in Westminster on 26 November 2021 (12 noon, assemble at George V statue, Old Palace Yard) and after a rally outside Parliament, protesters will march on Downing Street to demand immediate support for those in fuel poverty.
One of the organisers, Ruth London, said:
Deaths from fuel poverty in this wealthy country are not an act of God but an obscenity. They’re a result of deliberate policies on housing, fossil fuels, pensions, benefits, taxes, and wages, that cannot be allowed to stand.

Jan Shortt, General Secretary of the National Pensioners’ Convention said:

No one should die in this country – one of the richest in the world – from the cold related illness in the 21st century.  Yet millions of people on low incomes will already be having to choose whether to eat or heat their homes this winter.

We need the Prime Minister to recognise the death penalty awaiting our poorest, oldest and most vulnerable this winter, and personally step in with measures to regulate prices and most importantly help those in need afford the basics he and the more well off take for granted.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition added:
People are so desperate and scared at the prospect of not being able to heat their homes this winter that they are now taking to streets in the hope the Government hears their concerns and takes the urgent economic steps necessary to halt a public health crisis.

Bleak budget blasted by fuel poverty campaigners

Campaigners have reacted to the Government’s “bleak” budget which failed to help people facing fuel poverty this winter.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition commented:

This is a budget that has plenty for champagne swilling, jet-set bankers. But there is nothing for people facing the choice between heating and eating this winter.

The Chancellor’s cold words for people in fuel poverty will be heard in millions of households across the country.

Coming on the back of the pitiful Winter Support Fund, revelations that funding is not helping those most in need and missing billions from the promised support for energy efficiency improvements, this is a bleak budget from the Government.

Adam Scorer, Chief Executive of Coalition members, National Energy Action, tweeted:

Campaigners at Scope, tweeted:

Ruth London from Fuel Poverty Action added:

Zero on fuel poverty, and zero for the climate – two sides of the same filthy coin.

This budget was a chance to finally fund repair and insulation of the  UK’s cold damp housing.

Instead of domestic warmth and health, we got more, polluting and domestic flights.

The Centre for Sustainable Energy’s response to the Heat and Buildings Strategy is also now available online.

A petition for the public to sign is now available on Action Storm: https://actionstorm.org/petitions/fuel-poverty-crisis

Government must fund missing billions from energy efficiency programmes

The Government’s new Heat and Buildings Strategy has had a mixed reaction, with many anti-poverty and climate change campaigners pointing to significant shortcomings in the final announcement.

The headline announcement in the strategy is a grant to help cover costs of heat pumps up to £5,000. The current cost of a heat pump is between £6,000 and £18,000.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, commented:

For millions of households who desperately want and need to improve their energy efficiency by switching to heat pumps, the promised government money won’t be enough. While costs for heat pumps will come down in time, the level of grant available at present is nowhere near enough for households already in fuel poverty.

Coming on the back of the damning Committee for Fuel Poverty report, which suggested that government investment is not targeted at those who need it most, it would appear that the Government has yet to learn lessons from the past.

The government also needs to confirm what has happened to the missing billions, which is the gap between the investment announced today and the levels of investment promised in the Conservative Party Manifesto at the last election.

We hope the Comprehensive Spending Review will offer more support for families in fuel poverty and plug the gap between funding that has been promised and that which has been delivered.

Reports highlight growing fuel poverty crisis

Two reports have highlighted the gulf between rhetoric and reality in the fight against fuel poverty.

The latest BEIS Committee on Fuel Poverty report revealed that only 15% of funding to improve energy efficiency and help with fuel bills actually went to households in fuel poverty.

Commenting, a spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition said:

This is a devastating report which highlights just how much work the government has to do to alleviate the rapidly growing fuel poverty crisis.

Improved financial assistance this winter must be matched by rapid and targeted investment in improving energy efficiency of homes in the long-term. The Budget later this month simply cannot ignore introducing urgent measures to help people.

Meanwhile a report by AgilityEco and Gemserv reveals that current funding and policy to relieve fuel poverty will help only a fraction of the 3.2 million homes that were in fuel poverty in 2019. 

The legally binding target to all but end fuel poverty by 2030 requires a further £18 billion to be spent in fuel poor homes across the rest of the 2020s. Even if some proposed action is taken, double the amount of current funding is still required for energy efficiency programmes.  

A spokesperson for Coalition members, National Energy Action, commented:

The urgent need to provide additional support to fuel poor households has never been greater. We know what needs to be done and how far current policies will take us. We also know all too well the consequences of not meeting our legal duties to help the poorest households who live in the least efficient homes.

Beyond directly supporting the most vulnerable households through this winter and better targeting of current policies, we need to boost investment to improve home energy efficiency in fuel poor homes. Public investment in keeping people warm and well pays for itself and will deliver huge national benefits.

The Treasury’s upcoming Budget and Spending Review provides a vital opportunity to protect health outcomes and support the most vulnerable people across the United Kingdom as well as delivering the Government’s levelling up agenda.

Image: Mike McBey / Flickr / Creative Commons

Coalition responds to ongoing energy crisis

The Coalition has been quoted in The I and the Morning Star, responding to the ongoing energy crisis.

A spokesperson said:

While there seems to be plenty of political support for subsidies for high energy use firms, there is silence on supporting the millions facing fuel poverty this winter.
Of course there is a balancing act to play between calling for an increased payments and extending the scope of existing schemes.
But we know there is a crisis facing the country this winter and so in addition to extending existing schemes, additional short-term energy debt relief measures will be needed.
As a starting point everyone who is eligible for the cold weather payment should also get the winter fuel payment.
This would mean extending the payment to broadly the same cohort who are eligible for the Warm Home Discount, this includes households in receipt of Pension Credit, Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance as well as Universal Credit.
This should help an additional 2.6 million households across the UK. If paid at the higher level this would help counter the recent rise in energy prices covered by the Ofgem price cap.
These short term changes will buy the government time to work out a longer-term solution which will be needed from 1 April when the price cap is increased again.

Media reacts to End Fuel Poverty Map of England

The media and the public have been reacting to the publication of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition’s new Index revealing the areas worst affected by fuel poverty.

Media coverage for the launch of the map has been widespread with Sky News leading on the story alongside coverage in the Big Issue, The Guardian, The i, Politics.co.uk, ITV, LBC and Yahoo! The story even got international attention with broadcasters in Japan, Germany and the Netherlands talking about the issue and EuroNews running an in-depth look at the crisis.

As the number of households in fuel poverty is expected to pass 4m this winter, the Government and councils are feeling the heat to act.

A petition has been launched by campaign website Action Storm so people can send a message to the UK Government.

Meanwhile, local authorities have been put under pressure to pass the End Fuel Poverty Coalition motion to take action on the ground.

The motion can be read online (http://www.endfuelpoverty.org.uk/end-fuel-poverty-councillor-pledge/end-fuel-poverty-council-motion/) and the public can write to councillors to ask them to table the motion at a session of the council.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said:

Councils play a hugely important role in the fight against cold homes. They work with landlords and housing providers to ensure that all rental properties in the area are let to a decent standard. By working with local health bodies and community groups, they can identify and support those most at risk from the negative impacts of fuel poverty.

Local authorities must have the resources needed to properly enforce energy efficiency regulations which keep older people and families safe. As we approach the winter, no one must go cold and unwell for fear of the cost of turning the heating on. Longer term, we need to see greater investment from the government in energy efficiency programmes, which will help lower bills, reduce anxiety for those in cold homes and protect people against any future surges in fuel costs.

Fuel poverty map of England revealed

A new map of England has laid bare the stark reality of the high number of people living in fuel poverty, with millions of households affected. [1]

The Fuel Poverty Index has created a league table of local authority areas by combining fuel poverty figures with data on measures improving energy efficiency and therefore reducing fuel poverty.

The worst place in England for fuel poverty is Barking & Dagenham, followed by Stoke-on-Trent and Newham. [2]

But it’s not just inner city areas which are badly ranked in the map with Shropshire, Herefordshire and King’s Lynn and West Norfolk all struggling with fuel poverty.

Meanwhile Bracknell Forest, Runnymede and East Hampshire are among the areas least affected by fuel poverty.

The map has been released as the ongoing energy crisis could see fuel poverty becoming endemic in society, according to campaigners.

The latest calculations [3] have revealed that rising wholesale energy prices could see the number of households in the country rise from the current estimate of 4.1m to 5.3m. This would equate to 22% of all households in England classified as being in fuel poverty.

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition recently launched a petition with campaign website Action Storm to call on the government to take immediate action to avert the fuel poverty crisis this winter. [4]

Simon Francis, co-ordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, said:

The latest rises in wholesale prices means that we face the possibility of more households facing fuel poverty than ever before. And with fuel poverty comes increased risks of suffering the worst effects of respiratory illnesses, such as Covid-19.

Indeed, when combined with the increase in general prices caused by inflation and Brexit supply issues we face the real possibility of fuel poverty becoming endemic in our society.

Local authorities who want to understand more about what they can do have been encouraged to pass the Coalition’s fuel poverty motion [5]. William Baker from Solutions to Tackle Energy Poverty (STEP) said:

Local authorities are responsible for some of the most innovative and far-reaching initiatives to tackle fuel poverty.

However, the UK government must give all local authorities the powers and resources to make sure such initiatives are standard practice across the country.

Ruth London from Fuel Poverty Action, which is currently Crowdfunding to continue its grassroots campaign to tackle fuel poverty, said:

It cannot be those who have least already who end up paying the price for the UK’s dependence on gas. Total UK wealth increased by £900bn [6] over the pandemic yet people will die from cold this winter. We need a transformed pricing system and sustainable energy, housing and heating so all can keep warm and dry.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK [7], said: 

This map reveals stark inequalities in rates of fuel poverty across England. Many areas in the North are particularly affected, as well as Stoke-on-Trent, Birmingham, and London. The problem is that too many older people are living in energy inefficient cold homes, guaranteeing that they will be facing sky high bills.

Keeping warm through the winter is an annual challenge for older people on low fixed incomes. It’s vital that they keep the heating on as the cold can make many pre-existing health conditions worse. To avoid the knock-on impact on the NHS, older people who are worried about making ends meet must have the confidence to keep their heating turned up when the temperatures drop, so they can stay well.

The Government must provide support for households who are struggling the most. Longer term, we need to see greater investment in energy efficiency programmes, which will help lower bills, reduce anxiety for those in cold homes and protect people against any future surges in fuel costs.

Peter Smith, Director of Policy and Advocacy at National Energy Action, said:

This toxic cocktail of challenges will leave millions of households struggling to cope with less income and higher costs. For many it will be an impossible task.

We need immediate support for those on lowest incomes, we need to clear levels of household energy debt fast, we need to give more protection to the fuel poor from future price rises and we need to reduce people’s exposure to high prices by making homes more efficient.

The Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) has published energy saving advice and top tips for people worried their energy supplier is about to go bust or thinking of switching as prices soar. Ian Preston, Head of Household Energy at the CSE, said:

Keeping healthily warm is a basic human right and it’s wrong that so many people are struggling with cold homes when living in a developed country like the UK. Cold homes cause misery, ill-health and social exclusion.

Many government and industry support programmes, like furlough, are due to end soon and the energy advice sector will face a tsunami of demand from people needing support. We need urgent action from the government to maintain support for people in vulnerable circumstances.

Paul Dixon, from Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE), commented:

The energy crisis will plunge many more rural households into fuel poverty this winter.

Rural homes are some of the most difficult to keep warm. Whilst immediate measures must be found to alleviate financial pressures facing the most vulnerable, there must be a longer-term commitment from government to insulating homes and supporting communities to generate their own local renewable energy solutions.

Christine Nicholls, Community Development Officer for Community Action Northumberland, added:

The timing of this increase will hit vulnerable families hard, families already struggling with the impact of the pandemic.

Guy Stenson, Director of Housing Operations – Customer Experience at Stonewater, said:

We recently appointed a fuel poverty specialist to provide advice and alleviate the pressures faced by our customers, tackling the energy crisis will require working with Government, partners and the wider sector to develop more rapid solutions.

To address the immediate challenge we are offering flexible rent payment arrangements and working closely with our voluntary sector partners and charity partner, Longleigh Foundation, to support those most in need.

ENDS

[1] For sources, calculations and methodology, please visit: 

http://www.endfuelpoverty.org.uk/english-fuel-poverty-index-2021/.

[2] The ten local authorities worst affected by fuel poverty, according to the End Fuel Poverty Coalition Index:

– Barking and Dagenham

– Stoke-on-Trent

– Newham

– Waltham Forest

​- Kingston upon Hull

– Sandwell

– Wolverhampton

– Birmingham

– Manchester

– Norwich

The ten local authorities least affected by fuel poverty, according to the End Fuel Poverty Coalition Index:

– Bracknell Forest

– Runnymede

– East Hampshire

– Torridge

– South Hams

– Hart

– Wokingham

– Fareham

– Surrey Heath

– Spelthorne

[3] For detailed calculations and methodology statement visit: http://www.endfuelpoverty.org.uk/price-cap-methodology/

[4] Petition: https://actionstorm.org/petitions/fuel-poverty-crisis 

[5] Motion: http://www.endfuelpoverty.org.uk/end-fuel-poverty-councillor-pledge/end-fuel-poverty-council-motion/ 

[6] Report in: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/jul/12/uk-wealth-gap-widens-in-pandemic-as-richest-get-50000-windfall 

[7] Age UK’s Advice Line is available 8am-7pm 365 days a year and can be reached on 0800 678 1602. Age UK provides information guides on staying warm this winter and reducing energy bills as well as a factsheet on the help available to consumers to meet their energy costs. The organisation also provides a free benefits calculator which helps older people to find out what benefits they could be owed.

Coalition comments on new Winter Household Support Fund

The Government has announced an emergency Winter Household Support Fund to be delivered via local authorities.

However, a spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, commented:

This panic response to negative headlines about rising levels of fuel poverty is a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed.

The fund has the potential to provide some short-term relief. But it is no replacement for a comprehensive investment and spending plan to end this winter’s fuel poverty crisis and improve the energy efficiency of our homes in the long-term.

Coalition members National Energy Action have called on the Government for comprehensive emergency provision to help fuel poor households to stay warm at home this winter, including:

  1. Providing additional funding towards the Warm Home Discount scheme this winter as an emergency provision to guard against significantly increased gas prices
  2. Supporting more households with the Winter Fuel Payment, especially for those eligible for the Cold Weather Payment in Northern Ireland
  3. Helping accelerate the repayment of utility debts across the UK by enhancing Fuel and Water Direct
  4. Continuing the Winter Grant Scheme through this winter

Additionally, through the Spending Review, it is proposed that the following longer-term actions to ensure that fuel poor households can be warm at home for years to come:

  1. Fully implement the Conservative Manifesto for the Home Upgrade Grant Scheme (HUG) and Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF)
  2. Ensure the Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF) helps end cold homes across the UK
  3. Extend and strengthen the £20 a week uplift in Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit for low-income households.  

Fuel poverty increases on horizon due to energy crisis

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition has warned of a drastic rise in the number of households affected by fuel poverty unless urgent action is taken.

With wholesale energy costs increasing, experts are increasingly concerned at the impact this will have on fuel bills.

Simon Francis, Co-ordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, said:
Where wholesale energy prices rise, consumer prices follow – usually with a six month lag due to the Ofgem price capping process.
The latest rises in wholesale prices means that we face the possibility of more households facing fuel poverty than ever before. And with fuel poverty comes increased risks of suffering the worst effects of respiratory illnesses, such as Covid-19.
Indeed, when combined with the increase in general prices caused by inflation and Brexit supply issues, we face the real possibility of fuel poverty levels increasing drastically.
The Government must take urgent action to ensure people don’t have to choose between heating and eating this winter while rapidly deploying programmes to improve the energy efficiency of homes.
Coalition members have also highlighted the problems caused by rising energy prices. Peter Smith, Director of Policy and Advocacy at National Energy Action, said:
This is the toughest start to an autumn that I can remember. This toxic cocktail of challenges will leave millions of households struggling to cope with less income and higher costs. For many it will be an impossible task.
We need immediate support for those on lowest incomes, we need to clear levels of household energy debt fast, we need to give more protection to the fuel poor from future price rises and we need to reduce people’s exposure to high prices by making homes more efficient.

Ian Preston head of household energy at CSE said:

Heating your home isn’t cheap and with the price of energy sky rocketing right before winter, it is going to be a difficult time for many people. Keeping healthily warm is a basic human right and it’s wrong that so many people are struggling with cold homes when living in a developed country like the UK.

CSE has energy saving advice and top tips for people worried their energy supplier is about to go bust or thinking of switching as prices soar.

Cold homes cause misery, ill-health and social exclusion. Many government and industry support programmes, like furlough, are due to end soon and the energy advice sector will face a tsunami of demand from people needing support. We need urgent action from government to maintain support for people in vulnerable circumstances.

A spokesperson for Age UK added:

Lots of older people will have seen the reports about the possibility of energy shortages & price hikes coming soon and will be extremely anxious as a result. It’s hard enough for many to keep warm through the winter as it is, but now it seems this annual challenge could become tougher still.

We urge older people not to be overly concerned at this stage, pending more information from Government, which we hope will be published very soon. In the meantime, if you are having problems paying your energy bills, or repaying a debt, it is the duty of your energy company to help you so it’s worth getting in touch with them, though at present their phone lines are likely to be busy.  Any older person is also welcome to call the Age UK advice line. Hopefully we can assist you, for example by checking you are receiving all the financial help to which you are entitled.

If these reports about soaring energy bills turn out to be true Age UK will certainly be calling on the Government to take action so that a problem in the energy sector doesn’t translate into a tragedy for millions of older people who can’t keep their homes adequately warm.