ELDERLY people living in fuel poverty have told how receiving a charity’s Surviving Winter grant helped keep them warm and eased their fears about bills.
Over the last five years an average of 590 people have died in Dorset from cold-related illnesses, the majority over 65, because they cannot afford to keep their heating on. Dorset Community Foundation’s Surviving Winter appeal, run in partnership with Citizens Advice offices across the county, gives grants of £200 to help with the bills.
The charity is asking people who receive the government Winter Fuel Payment and feel they don’t need all or part of it to donate it to the appeal, which is in its 11th year. Last year it raised £102,000 and helped more than 450 households across the county.
Pat Turkiss, 83, said before having the grant she used to fear putting on the heating for long and just kept one room warm. “There were days when I used to think ‘shall I have a hot meal or shall I have the heating on?’,” she said.
“I’m very frugal and I try to keep my bills as low as I can. I worry that this winter is going to be a real trial because everything is going up.”
Mrs Turkiss, who lives in Christchurch, has been on her own since Bernie, her partner of 30 years, died two years ago. She said: “My daughter is very good to me but I still worry a lot about the bills. I just have the heating on for a couple of hours and I make sure I am wearing plenty of layers and woolly socks. I can’t move around as much now so I’m sat in the same chair most of the day.”
There were days when I used to think ‘shall I have a hot meal or shall I have the heating on?
Sadie Dunsdon, 80, lives alone in a park home in Swanage and says the grant has stopped her worrying about the heating bills, but she is still sparing with it. “I’m not so good on my legs any more but being at home means I have the heating on longer. I put it on for two hours a day and the hot water on every other day, I have to be really careful,” she said.
“I’m really glad I have the grant because it is a weight off my mind. I get all worked up about things and I worry about the heating bills. I try to keep the heating as low as I can but it can get very cold here.”
Citizens Advice project manager Kate Pryce said this winter, with the cost of heating and food rising, is a worry for her and her team of advisors. “Although we are not in a lockdown situation now, the lunch clubs and drop-ins where people might have gone to keep warm during the day are still not all up and running so older people are still forced to stay in their homes – and that increases their bills.
“Older people will just put up with things and accept the situation. That’s why it is great we have Surviving Winter because it enables people to get the help they need.”
She said her team had met one older lady who insisted she didn’t need help with her heating bills but when they rang her a few days later to see how she was they heard a different story. “We spoke to a relative who told us the lady had £4 left on her key meter to last the rest of the week and no money to top it up,” said Mrs Pryce.
“She’d tried to tell us everything was fine because she didn’t want to ask for help and wanted to try and manage – and she would have managed by sitting in a cold room.”
She said the mental toll of having to eke out pensions to cover bills and food is evident in the people the charity’s advisors help. “We are pretty much their last resort and you can never overstate the undue stress having to manage puts them under.
“You can hear the relief in their voices when you say you can help them. It’s incredible that in 2021 we have got households in this situation.”
Dorset Community Foundation director Grant Robson said: “Each year we hear these heartbreaking stories of older people having to scrape by to afford so-called luxuries we take for granted, such as waking up to a warm house.
“It’s humbling how much of a difference our Surviving Winter grants can make. Every year we are amazed at how generous people are in helping us but we still see that same number of needless deaths. Anyone who feels they can donate will be helping us to reduce that grim total.”
Donate to Surviving Winter here.
Pictured: Pat Turkiss, left, and Sadie Dunsdon