‘Heat or eat’ - Call to help elderly facing soaring energy bills

A generic stock photo of an elderly lady with her electric fire on at home in Liverpool.

Some people face difficulty paying their heating bills in the winter - Credit: PA

Urgent extra help is needed to stop soaring energy costs pushing thousands more older households into fuel poverty this winter, campaigners have warned.

Rapidly rising fuel bills have left the anxious pensioners and those on fixed incomes across Norfolk concerned about the cost of keeping warm, with some having to choose whether to 'eat or heat', according to Age UK.

A poll conducted by the charity found almost half of over 60s are worried about heating their home this winter, while a third may have to reduce the amount of energy they use as they can’t afford it.

Gas bill

Many Norfolk older residents are anxious about energy bills this winter following the rise in gas prices. - Credit: PA

It comes amid our There With You This Winter campaign, which aims to highlight the issues faced by those living in fuel poverty and to offer support.

Claire Cullens, chief executive of Norfolk Community Foundation, said older people across Norfolk had been left feeling “very frightened, but there is very little in their power to change anything”.

“This is undeniably going to affect the vast majority of people but for those who are living on the margins it is very scary to know how to make ends meet,” she said.

Claire Cullens, chief executive of Norfolk Community Foundation

Claire Cullens, chief executive of Norfolk Community Foundation - Credit: NORFOLK COMMUNITY FOUNDATION

Older people are facing a catch-22 situation, she said, with the rising energy and higher food prices colliding with the cold weather and Covid.

She added: “It is very acute at the moment. Post-Christmas a lot of people are very worried, particularly as they are not able to be out and as socially connected at the moment. 

Most Read

“It’s a double whammy of staying at home and needing to keep warm but being worried about fuel bills.”

The stark realities facing many struggling pensioners is revealed in Age UK’s new report The Cost of Cold.

One case study, Tony, 80, said: “I feel scared at how to meet my gas bill for central heating. I’ve already been told I am over £250 in debt, and the monthly standing charges are about to double."

“It’s a simple choice, heat or eat,” said another, Peter, 75.

Mrs Cullens said a scheme to distribute £50 food and fuel vouchers before Christmas had identified 11,000 households across Norfolk that needed urgent support.

“And it is across Norfolk,” she said. “We tend to think about the pockets of deprivation in Norwich or King’s Lynn or Great Yarmouth but actually we were finding rural parishes across Norfolk applying for funding for families who were really struggling.”

Rik Martin, chief executive of Dereham-based charity Community Action Norfolk 

Rik Martin, chief executive of Dereham-based charity Community Action Norfolk - Credit: Community Action Norfolk

Rik Martin, chief executive of Dereham-based Community Action Norfolk (CAN), said: “There has been some extra help with the Household Support Fund but it is a one-off payment. The difficulty is this issue with energy prices is an ongoing problem.

“It is no good doing a simple fix with a £50 voucher because it doesn’t do anything for the next time the bill comes around.”

The charity is hosting free energy advice sessions on January 11 and 25 for those worried.

Mr Martin said: "There are a few things the government could do. They could relook at the energy price cap that they increased by £300 last year which hasn’t helped."

Fuel Poverty
Heating bills
Heating
Bills
Byline: Sonya Duncan

Fuel Poverty Heating bills Heating Bills Byline: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Age UK is calling on the government to implement emergency measures to protect older people, including providing an additional one-off payment of £50 to all those eligible for cold weather payments and bringing forward existing payments so they arrive no later than seven days after a cold snap.

It has also called for the doubling of the existing household support fund to help those on low incomes forced to make the difficult choice between heating and eating.

Norwich Age UK is hosting a special event on January 24 offering advice and information on what benefits and allowances are available and how to keep your home energy efficient.

Charity director Caroline Abrahams said: “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.”

EMBARGOED TO 0001 WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 16 File photo dated 31/10/13 of a gas central heating thermosta

Energy bills could rise by up to £100 in April due to Ofgem raised its price cap. - Credit: PA

The government has previously said: "We regularly engage with the energy industry and will continue to ensure that consumers are protected through the Energy Price Cap, which is insulating millions from record global gas prices."

What's causing the crisis?

The price of wholesale gas has surged by 250pc since the beginning of the year.

Worries have been mounting since rising gas prices began bankrupting suppliers in September, but since then prices have risen still higher from 54p per therm of gas to £4.50.

Crunch talks between energy suppliers and business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng this week agreed on the need to "ensure UK customers are protected" from soaring gas and electricity prices but failed to deliver a breakthrough.

The project will require a a Development Consent Order from Secretary of State for Business, Energy

Secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy Kwasi Kwarteng - Credit: PA

Labour and a boss of a major energy provider have called on the government to step in over fears of runaway household bills in the new year.

Stephen Fitzpatrick, chief executive of energy supplier Ovo, said that household bills will “almost certainly” double in April.

Consumers are protected from big rises in wholesale costs by a price cap set by the regulator Ofgem. However, the cap is due to change in April.

Where you can go for support

If you are an older person worried about the cost of heating your home, call Age UK on its free national advice line at 0800 169 65 65.

Advice and support can be found on the Citizens Advice website, including information on grants and benefits for those struggling with bills at citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/energy

A woman warming her hands by a plug in electric fire

Our campaign called There With You This Winter aims to raise awareness of the support available - Credit: PA

Energy suppliers have a duty to offer support if people are struggling with bills or debt, so you should also contact your supplier directly to ask about available support including an affordable repayment plan.

Local groups are offering support and advice to those struggling with their bills, including CAN on 01362 698216 or office@community actionnorfolk.org.uk

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter