CITIZENS Advice advisors have seen successful applications for Surviving Winter energy grants from older and vulnerable people in fuel poverty increase by four-and-a-half times over the same period last year.
The charity’s East Dorset and Purbeck’s office works in partnership with Dorset Community Foundation’s Surviving Winter appeal, representing Citizens Advice branches all over Dorset. Business development manager Katrina Ford said it has seen a huge spike in people needing help to keep their heating on in the face of soaring bills.
“Between October and December last year we had 49 applications, in the same period this year we have had 227 – that’s not just applications, that’s people who are eligible for the grant,” she said.
“This year has been crazy and I honestly don’t know what we will do in January because the real impact hasn’t really hit yet. January is usually bad because that’s when the bills land so it is slightly terrifying.”
The appeal works with Citizens Advice to distribute £200 grants to help to identify pensioners and vulnerable people aged 50 and over living in fuel poverty who often can only afford to heat one room for a few hours a day and routinely skip meals to save money for their bills.
Colder weather exacerbates respiratory and circulatory diseases and the most recent government figures revealed that in Dorset 260 people died of cold-related illness over the winter months.
Mrs Ford said this year people have told energy advisors they have been keeping their heating off altogether for fear of being unable to pay their bills and being cut off.
“People deciding not to turn the heating on is very dangerous, it’s the worst possible decision health-wise you can make in these conditions,” she said. “It’s the people who are being forced into this that the grants are directed at. The knock-on effect of not switching your heating on is huge, particularly with the new strains of bugs going round as well – it’s a perfect storm.”
She said advisors have seen a rise in the number of urgent cases, with people on pre-payment meters having no money to keep their power on. “The mental health issues people are experiencing, the anxiety, is massive. It’s particularly bad for people on pre-payment meters because they can go off supply,” she said.
“Surviving Winter grants are such a crucial tool for us because they are practical help that we can give. We can pass on energy efficiency advice but that only goes so far, – the grants are allowing people to maintain their energy supply. “
People deciding not to turn the heating on is very dangerous, it’s the worst possible decision health-wise you can make in these conditions
Dorset Community Foundation has run its Surviving Winter appeal for 13 years but Director Grant Robson said this year is shaping up to be the most needed.
“When we first began discussing this year’s appeal there was some apprehension that this year was going to be tough because of the volatile energy situation, but that was before the mini budget and further hikes in inflation and now the situation is far more dire.” he said.
“Our donors and supporters, many of whom pass on to us some or all of their government Winter Support Payment, have been incredibly generous this year and we have already raised almost £40,000 of the £100,000 target we set ourselves.
“But it is clear that the scale of the demand is going to need every penny we can raise this year so we are asking everyone to consider what they help they can give to keep someone warm this Christmas and into the New Year.”
Donate to Surviving Winter here and find out more about applying for help by calling Citizens Advice on 01929 775500.