Britons who have reached state pension age can receive support throughout the winter months via Winter Fuel Payments and some will also get Cold Weather Payments. Despite these schemes, Age UK has warned millions of retirees are set to struggle over the coming weeks. Fuel poverty is wreaking havoc on the elderly and as such, the charity has written to MPs calling for change.
Almost half of over 60s (45 percent) are worried about heating their home this winter, equating to around 7.4 million people, research by Age UK suggests.
Nearly a third (32 percent) fear they’ll have to reduce the amount of energy they use to get by, with a similar proportion (33 percent) worried about paying energy bills.
As temperatures drop and the new Omicron Covid variant looms, Age UK warned millions of older people are facing a catch-22 situation this winter as the threat of coronavirus collides with the cold weather and rocketing cost of energy.
With around 1.4 million older people already living in fuel poverty, the charity said it was concerned that rising bills will lead to many thousands more joining them over the coming months, with some of the poorest pensioners rationing their heating this winter unless the Government urgently steps in to help.
Age UK’s new The Cost of Cold report highlights the realities of many struggling retirees. 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.”
Christopher, who is over 75, said: “Quite simply we shall have to turn the heat down, and not use it so much. We only have it at 16C now for a few hours a day. So jumpers and coats indoors. Spend more time in bed. Dreading the inevitable cold snaps.”
Meanwhile, Peter, 75, commented: “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.”
The charity is calling on the Government to implement two emergency measures to protect older people this winter. This includes providing an additional one-off payment of £50 to all those eligible for Cold Weather Payments to help with their energy bills and give vulnerable older people the confidence to stay warm while at home.
Age UK also argued existing Cold Weather Payments should also be brought forward to ensure that payments in arrears arrive no later than seven working days after a period of cold weather.
The charity also called for the doubling of the existing Household Support Fund, to provide £1billion of funding so that fewer vulnerable households are forced to make the difficult choice between heating and eating during the coldest months.
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“The cost of cold has never been higher”
For more longer-term protection against unaffordable bills, Age UK also urged the Government to ensure the energy price cap is enshrined in law and move to re-introduce a social tariff into the energy market to offer protection against high energy costs.
The charity said people living in fuel poverty struggle to afford to heat their homes to an adequate temperature, making everyday living more difficult because of the physical discomfort, longer-term health risks and financial strain that come with living in a cold home.
Cold temperatures can be particularly dangerous for older people, especially those with pre-existing health conditions. Low temperatures can be particularly dangerous for those with respiratory diseases, arthritis, or heart problems. The cold tends to increase blood pressure at all ages, but in older people this increase can last for many hours after being in the cold.
As such, even short exposures to cold – such as getting up in the middle of the night, for example, or getting cold in bed in the small hours of the morning – can have a lasting impact on blood pressure levels for the rest of the day. Raised blood pressure is a risk factor for strokes and heart attacks.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: “As temperatures plummet this winter, millions of vulnerable older people are feeling trapped at home, too scared to go out for fear of catching Covid, and too scared to turn the heating on for fear of racking up a bill they can’t afford.
“We cannot let a situation continue where people are so worried about rising bills that they either put their health at risk by not keeping their homes warm enough or feel forced to cut back on meals to make ends meet. No one should have to make the impossible choice between eating and putting their heating on.
“If the Government does not provide urgent financial support to change this – at a time when new restrictions encouraging us to stay at home seem a distinct possibility – it could mean a tragedy for many older people. The cost of cold has never been higher.”
Extra support such as Cold Weather Payments and the Warm Home Discount Scheme provide much-needed help for those on a low income yet fail to reach many of those who need them because they are missing out on Pension Credit. As such, Age UK urged older people to call its free national advice line on 0800 169 65 65 before turning the heating off or down, to check they are receiving all the financial support available to them, including key benefits such as Pension Credit and Attendance Allowance.
The severity of this was recently laid bare by the DWP. In late November, the DWP released data which showed an estimated 1.47million people are claiming Pension Credit, but only around 60 percent of entitled recipients are claiming the benefit.
At the time, Helen Morrissey, a senior pensions and retirement analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, warned how damaging this could be.
She said: “Many people don’t realise they qualify for Pension Credit and risk missing out on a much-needed boost to their pension income.
“Pension Credit also acts as a gateway to other benefits with over 75s being able to get a free TV licence for instance. You can also get help with heating and council tax bills so it can potentially be a massive help.
“Some people simply don’t know Pension Credit exists while others don’t realise they qualify. For instance, you may still qualify for Pension Credit if you own your own home or have some savings.
“With inflation really starting to show its teeth and energy bills on the rise, many pensioners face a real squeeze in income over the coming months and any extra income is welcome. Anyone who feels they may qualify for Pension Credit should contact DWP. Even if you have been refused in the past a change in circumstances may mean you now qualify so it’s worth checking.”