Eight million older people worried about heating their home

More than three in five over-65s (62 per cent) – equivalent to 7.8 million older people – are worried about heating their homes compared to 43 per cent just six weeks ago, according to new research for Age UK.

Ahead of the widely anticipated price cap announcement from Ofgem next month, the new poll shows a sharp rise in concern over energy bills.

Over half (52 per cent) of over-65s – 6.5 million older people – are worried about their energy bills now compared to just under a third (31 per cent) last month, and nearly half (45 per cent) – 5.6 million over-65s – are worried about having to reduce energy use due to financial concerns compared to under a third (30 per cent) in December.

Additionally, 82 per cent – equivalent to over 10 million over-65s – think the Government should step in to help poorer older people pay their energy bills.

The high levels of concern are reflected in a surge of support for the Charity this month, with over 50,000 people adding their names to a letter to the Prime Minister in the past week, urging him to act now to protect older people from unaffordable energy bills.

The Charity is warning that many older people are already feeling the impact of the rising cost of living, with basic household bills fast becoming unaffordable for many pensioners living on a low fixed income – many of whom have few, if any, savings to fall back on.

Age UK has been flooded with stories from thousands of older people who are already struggling and cutting back on heating, food and other essentials. People such as Carol who is 78 and says, “I simply cannot cope with even higher bills”, or Denise who says, “This is so scary.”

Financial support for older people during the colder months has remained broadly unchanged for years and is nowhere near enough to match the scale of the current problem.

In its letter to the Government, Age UK echoed concerns of other members of the Coalition and urged Ministers to announce a financial package to support vulnerable older people through this crisis.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said:

The number of older people who are worried about being able to heat their homes is staggering and should be a source of shame for this Government. Millions of older people across the UK are absolutely dreading the imminent price cap announcement and urgently need reassurance that help is on its way so they can keep their heating on. This is a national crisis which needs a swift and decisive response from Ministers.

Every single day we are hearing heart-breaking stories from desperate older people who are being forced to choose between heating and eating. This isn’t a looming crisis, it’s already upon us – and while the Government is dithering, millions of older people are suffering and putting their health at risk because they can’t afford to keep warm. It is an absolute scandal and one that requires urgent government action.

Energy price rises on the scale we are now seeing are unprecedented and the Government’s response must be equal to the threat they pose to older people, many of whom are vulnerable and struggling to afford exorbitant bills on a meagre state pension.

Anyone who is interested in adding their name to the Charity’s open letter to the Prime Minister can do so by visiting: bit.ly/ageuk-energy. Sources for the press release are available from the Age UK website as well.

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.