Age UK predicts by spring there will be 1.1m older households struggling to pay their energy bills
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Rising energy prices will push an estimated 150,000 older households into fuel poverty this winter, Age UK has said.
The charity has warned the stark rise could mean that by spring there are 1.1m older households struggling to pay their energy bills and poorer pensioners rationing their heating.
Extra support such as weather-payments-2019-what-13874235>Cold Weather Payments and the Warm Home Discount Scheme are vital but fail to reach many of those who need them most because they are not claiming Pension Credit, Age UK added.
Nearly a million (920,000) pensioner households are missing out on Pension Credit payments worth up to £1.6 billion every year – an average of £32 a week.
The charity is campaigning for the Government to provide a one-off £50 payment to all those eligible for Cold Weather Payments, double the Household Support Fund to £1billion and enshrine in law the energy price cap.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: “There’s no doubt that media reports about rising energy bills are filling pensioners on low fixed incomes with absolute dread.
“More than twenty-five thousand people have told us how worried they are, and it is clear that as things stand, some fully expect to have to choose between cutting down on food or turning down their heating, once the cold weather sets in. Doing either is a potential risk to their health, especially if they are living with serious underlying health conditions like heart disease or COPD.”
Ms Abrahams said she was most worried about pensioners not turning the heating on for fear of big bills they cannot afford to pay.
She 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. In most years it would be hyperbole to suggest there was a risk of older people freezing to death in their own homes, but the risk cannot be completely discounted this year. That’s why we need Government action to ensure every older person comes through safe and well.”
It came as fuel poverty campaigner Mike Foster, who is also Chief Executive of the trade body, Energy and Utilities Alliance (EUA), called for Ofgem to clamp down on suppliers blocking measures to tackle fuel poverty.
He said firms were delaying installing metres for the fuel poor, despite getting funding via the Warm Homes Grant to do so, and that the energy regulator should step in.
He said: “The gas networks are obliged to provide free connections to the fuel poor, providing other parties could install the gas central heating systems. Schemes like The Warm Homes Fund do just that. But both rely on the energy supplier to fit the meter and agree the tariff. It seems they don’t want to, or are making it difficult for the new customer to sign up to the protected price cap, despite them being in fuel poverty.”
“It is time Ofgem bared some teeth and reminded the energy suppliers of their legal and moral obligations.”