Pensioners facing fuel poverty this winter

Soaring energy costs will push an estimated 150,000 older households into fuel poverty this winter without more government financial support.

A new ‘The Cost of Cold’ campaign from charity Age UK is warning about the likely impact of higher energy costs, with this stark warning.

As a result of higher prices for gas and electricity, the number of fuel poor older households is forecast by the charity to exceed 1.1 million by Spring 2022.

Around 1 million older households already live in fuel poverty.

Age UK is highly concerned about the impact of higher energy prices resulting in some pensioners being forced to ration their heating this winter.

The combination of rising living costs and escalating energy prices are threatening the standard of living for many low-income pensioners, creating uncertainty and anxiety at the start of the winter.

Because many older people live in harder to heat older homes, these rising energy costs are even more problematic.

Older people can find the cold weather especially dangerous, as it is harder to regulate and maintain our body temperature as we get older.

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.

Retirees can access government financial support, including Cold Weather Payments and the Warm Home Discount Scheme, but only if they claim Pension Credit.

An estimated 920,000 pensioner households are thought to be missing out on Pension Credit payments worth up to £1.6 billion a year, an average of £32 a week each.

Age UK is campaigning for the government to provide one-off £50 payments to all those eligible for Cold Weather Payments, making sure these arrive within seven days of a spell of cold weather.

They also want the government to double the Household Support Fund to £1 billion to help safeguard all those on low incomes this winter.

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.  

“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.”