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Age UK Warns of the Impact of Soaring Energy Bills on the Elderly

High energy bills will push 150,000 elderly Britons into fuel poverty this winter, with many forced to choose between heating and eating, charity Age UK warns as it urges the government to take action to “ensure that turmoil in the wholesale energy market does not translate into tragedy.”

One million older households already live in fuel poverty, meaning they struggle to afford to heat their homes to an adequate temperature. With energy bills the highest they’ve been since 2013, the charity warned that an additional 150,000 will be dragged into fuel poverty by the spring. Age UK is “extremely concerned” that some of those will ration their heat to afford their energy bills, with dire effects on their health and wellbeing.

Cold weather is particularly dangerous for older people, particularly those with pre-existing health conditions such as heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the charity says. Low temperatures at home can increase their risk of heart attacks and strokes, aggravate lung conditions, worsen arthritis, and undermine mental health. Older people also feel the cold more acutely than young people because it’s more difficult for them to regulate and maintain their body temperature.

Age UK also notes that elderly people often live in older homes which are more difficult and costly to heat. Pensioners on fixed incomes are also being hit by high inflation, which is driving up the prices of other essentials, including food.

“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,” charity director Caroline Abrahams said.

More than 25,000 pensioners have already contacted the charity expressing worry about rising energy bills. With some reporting they’ll have down their heating down or off, there is “a risk of older people freezing to death in their own homes,” unless the government “acts now to provide those at greatest risk with more financial support,” Abrahams said.

She says the energy price cap is providing “valuable protection" against energy bills that would otherwise be even higher this winter. The cap, which is due to lapse in 2023, should be enshrined in law, Age UK says. 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.”

Age UK is proposing the government hands one-off £50 payments to all those eligible for Cold Weather Payments, the charity proposes. Cold Weather Payments are handed to those on certain benefits, including Pension Credit, when temperatures dip below a certain level.

Age UK also urges the government to double the Household Support Fund to £1 billion. The £500 million support fund, announced by the government in September, will provide up to £285 in cash and vouchers to vulnerable households in certain council areas in England to help them pay for food, clothing and households bills, including energy, this winter.

Additionally, the government should ensure more older people claim the Pension Credit to which they are entitled. The benefit is a passport to vital payments, including Cold Weather Payments and the Warm Home Discount. However, nearly one million (920,000) eligible pensioner households aren’t claiming the benefit, missing out on a total of £1.6 billion each year. That’s an average of £32 per week per household or £1,600 annually being left on the table.

Age UK also wants the government to work to introduce a social tariff in the energy market to protect vulnerable households from a projected 18 months of high energy bills.

The charity encourages older people to contact its helpline before they turn their heating down or off, to ensure they’re receiving the full package of financial support available to them, including Pension Credit. It reminds pensioners that energy suppliers have a duty to offer support to people struggling with their energy bills or debt, including affordable repayment plans.

Meanwhile, energy bills will rise even further in April, when the price cap is adjusted to reflect the cost of sky-high wholesale natural gas prices. Forecasts put the new level of the cap at over £2,000 per household per year, an unprecedented price rise that would push overall fuel poverty to six million households, or one in five, charity National Energy Action (NEA) said.

Lauren Smith
Lauren Smith

Lauren Smith has worked as a journalist and copywriter for most of the last decade, covering technology, energy, and consumer rights, in the US and UK.

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