‘It’s heat or eat’: 7m older Britons worried about cost of energy

More than 7million older people across Britain are worried about heating their homes this winter, amid soaring energy bill costs.

Nearly half of people aged 60 or over are concerned about the cost of keeping warm, with some having to choose whether to ‘eat or heat’, according to charity Age UK. 

One participant in Age UK’s ‘The Cost of Cold’ report, Chris, 75, said: ‘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.’ 

Concerning: More than 7million older people across Britain are worried about heating their homes this winter amid soaring energy bill costs, the charity Age UK said

Another respondent, Geraldine, 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 said he was over 75, told Age UK: ‘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.’

The toll fuel poverty is taking on many vulnerable older people is clear, with living in a cold home having an impact on people’s health and mental wellbeing.

Low temperatures can be particularly dangerous for those with respiratory diseases, arthritis, or heart problems. 

The cold tends to increase blood pressure across all age groups, but in older people this increase can last for many hours after being in the cold, Age UK said. 

Worried about the cost of heating your home?

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

Age UK will be able to check you are getting all the financial support you are entitled to, including things like Attendance Allowance and pension credits. 

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. 

You can also read a This is Money guide to dealing with soaring energy bills here. 

If your energy provider has collapsed, find out what to do here. 

With around 1.4million older Britons already living in fuel poverty, Age UK is concerned that rising bills will lead to many thousands more suffering over the coming months. 

It has said that some of the poorest pensioners will be rationing their heating this winter and thinks the Government needs to step in. 

In its report, 32 per cent of older people said they would be forced to reduce their energy usage due to financial constraints. 

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.’

With many Britons spending more time at home amid the increase in the Omicron variant of Covid-19, some elderly and disabled people are using even more energy than they normally would at this time of year, further driving up their bills. 

Dire situation: One participant in Age UK's 'The Cost of Cold' report, Chris, 75, said, 'It’s a simple choice, heat or eat' and that he had confined himself to one room  to stay warm

Dire situation: One participant in Age UK’s ‘The Cost of Cold’ report, Chris, 75, said, ‘It’s a simple choice, heat or eat’ and that he had confined himself to one room  to stay warm

Age UK wants the Government to provide an additional one-off payment of £50 to everyone eligible for the Cold Weather Payment to help with their energy bills and give people the confidence to stay warm without fretting about money. 

The charity also thinks existing Cold Weather Payments should also be expedited to ensure that payments in arrears arrive no later than seven working days after a spell of cold weather.

It also wants to see the existing Household Support Fund double 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.’

For longer term protection against soaring energy bills, Age UK wants the Government to ensure the energy price cap is enshrined in law. 

It also wants to see the reintroduction of a social tariff into the energy market to offer protection against high energy costs. 

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