CITIZENS Advice experts are warning more older people are at risk from freezing homes or lack of nutritious meals over the colder months as Dorset Community Foundation launches its annual Surviving Winter appeal.
Last year the community foundation helped a record number of people stay warm through £200 grants. But East Dorset and Purbeck Citizens Advice project manager Kate Pryce, who is co-ordinating the Citizens Advice response for the whole county, said a ‘perfect storm’ of rising energy and food prices will force older and vulnerable people to go without one or the other.
“We are dreading a prolonged cold snap this winter because we worry for the vulnerable households in poorly-insulated and hard-to-heat properties,” she said. “We wonder what older people are going to do because they will have really tough choices on what they spend their money on and what they go without.”
The community foundation works with Citizens Advice to identify older people and those aged 50 and over who meet the winter fuel poverty criteria, which includes significant health conditions, being on the highest level of benefits or having little current chance of improving their life circumstances.
Grant Robson, director of the community foundation, said: “This really is a crucial year for the appeal. We know that each year in Dorset more than 700 people die of cold or cold-related illness because they can’t keep their homes warm and the vast majority are over 65.
“We also know many people who receive their government Winter Fuel Payment, which can be as much as £200, feel they don’t need it, or at least all of it. In the past they have very generously donated that to our appeal so that it can be used to keep someone else warm. We are really hope they feel they can do the same this year.”
Mrs Pryce said the energy crisis, which has seen average yearly bills rise by up to £400, combined with the high number of poorly-insulated homes in Dorset and, for some, the removal of the £20 Universal Credit uplift, has kept the organisation’s energy advisors busy.
We are dreading a prolonged cold snap this winter because we worry for the vulnerable households in poorly-insulated and hard-to-heat properties
She said: “Our advisors are working flat out because we usually see a dip in energy advice queries during the summer but this year but because of the lockdowns, where people have been at home and the heating has been on for longer, they have got into more arrears.
“Last year we had a perfect storm with Covid and the lockdowns but we fear it is going to be even more the case this winter because the situation with the energy sector is going to put people on a limited income into a really vulnerable position and they don’t have the money to cope.”
Last year’s appeal raised a record £100,000, meaning more than 350 people received grants and energy-saving advice. Mrs Pryce said one avenue of help won’t be available this year. “A lot of the smaller energy companies have gone out of business which means there is no choice of tariff and people have to go on to the standard variable rate,” she said.
“Last year we were able to help people switch to a cheaper tariff but this year there are no more affordable options and that means people will be choosing between heating and eating.”
Mr Robson said: “It seems unusually cruel that in 2021 we are talking about people being alone and anxious, probably huddled in the one room they can afford to heat for part of the day, and worrying about either going without a proper meal or having the heating on a little longer.
“You would not believe this could be happening in a civilised country but we hear these stories year after year. It is wonderful we have Citizens Advice to work with us and provide this support but we rely heavily on the generosity of people in Dorset to make it all happen.”
Mrs Pryce added: “Thanks to the generous donations last year we were able to run the grants right up until April so that everyone who was eligible for a grant was able to be supported.
“We all have our fingers crossed for another successful campaign because we don’t want to be turning anyone away this winter.”
Donate to Surviving Winter here and find out more about applying for help by calling Citizens Advice on 01929 775500.