Age UK calls for urgent action as new poll shows over 80 per cent of over-65s think the Government should step in to help poorer older people
Over 50,000 add their names to Charity’s letter to PM demanding action
More than three in five over-65s (62 per cent) – equivalent to 7.8 million older people – are worried about heating their homes compared to 43 per cent just six weeks ago, according to new research for Age UK.
Ahead of the widely anticipated price cap announcement from Ofgem next month, the new poll shows a sharp rise in concern over energy bills. Over half (52 per cent) of over-65s – 6.5 million older people – are worried about their energy bills now compared to just under a third (31 per cent) last month, and nearly half (45 per cent) – 5.6 million over-65s – are worried about having to reduce energy use due to financial concerns compared to under a third (30 per cent) in December.
Additionally, 82 per cent – equivalent to over 10 million over-65s – think the Government should step in to help poorer older people pay their energy bills.
The high levels of concern are reflected in a surge of support for the Charity this month, with over 50,000 people adding their names to a letter to the Prime Minister in the past week, urging him to act now to protect older people from unaffordable energy bills.
The Charity is warning that many older people are already feeling the impact of the rising cost of living, with basic household bills fast becoming unaffordable for many pensioners living on a low fixed income – many of whom have few, if any, savings to fall back on. With the latest projections suggesting that the energy price cap will nearly double to £2,400 a year from October, Age UK is deeply concerned that this colossal rise is likely to push tens of thousands more older people into fuel poverty and force huge numbers to start rationing their heating.
Age UK has been flooded with stories from thousands of older people who are already struggling and cutting back on heating, food and other essentials. People such as Carol who is 78 and says, “I simply cannot cope with even higher bills”, or Denise who says, “This is so scary.” Others have commented:
Celia, aged 66-74, said: “Like many elderly people, I’m rationing my heating and trying to think of more ways to keep my head above water financially. With the cost of food and most other necessities going up almost daily, the future, especially over the colder months, looks very bleak indeed.”
Sandra, aged 74, said: “I am a 74 year old pensioner living on the state pension in a privately rented house, If my energy bills increase as much as predicted, despite the help already given, I will not be able to heat my house, eat, feed my little dog, my only companion, and pay my bills without going into further debt as my savings have already been eaten away!”
David, aged 66-74, said: “I can barely afford the energy bills at the moment and have to keep cooking to a minimum in order to be able to heat my flat. As it is, many times I have to turn the heating down to the point where it feels cold because I can’t be sure I will have enough money to pay the bill. All prices seem to rise faster than any increase in my pension and this latest threat of energy bills rising by up to 50% will take many things beyond what I can afford.”
Financial support for older people during the colder months has remained broadly unchanged for years and is nowhere near enough to match the scale of the current problem. In its letter to the Government last week, Age UK urged Ministers to announce a financial package to support vulnerable older people through this crisis. The Charity believes the following two policy recommendations, if implemented immediately, could protect older people on low and modest incomes from facing unaffordable energy bills over the coming year and encourage them to keep their heating on this winter:
- Cut the 5% rate of VAT from all households’ energy bills from April till at least the end of 2022. If as expected, average bills rise to around £2,000, this would save a household just under £100. Ofgem must use the price cap to pass any VAT cut on to customers.
- Provide additional support (payments of up to £500) to older people on the lowest incomes. Using the eligibility criteria for the Cold Weather Payment would help guarantee automatic support to some of the homes that most need the help with their energy bills.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: “The number of older people who are worried about being able to heat their homes is staggering and should be a source of shame for this Government. Millions of older people across the UK are absolutely dreading the imminent price cap announcement and urgently need reassurance that help is on its way so they can keep their heating on. This is a national crisis which needs a swift and decisive response from Ministers.
“Every single day we are hearing heart-breaking stories from desperate older people who are being forced to choose between heating and eating. This isn’t a looming crisis, it’s already upon us – and while the Government is dithering, millions of older people are suffering and putting their health at risk because they can’t afford to keep warm. It is an absolute scandal and one that requires urgent government action.
“Energy price rises on the scale we are now seeing are unprecedented and the Government’s response must be equal to the threat they pose to older people, many of whom are vulnerable and struggling to afford exorbitant bills on a meagre state pension.”
While existing support such as Cold Weather Payments and the Warm Home Discount Scheme are vital for older people on a low income, they are only available to those who claim certain benefits such as Pension Credit. Pension Credit is the passport to a package of support that can protect older people from entering fuel poverty yet nearly a million (920,000) pensioner households are missing out and many more are struggling but have incomes just above the eligibility line.
Age UK is urging older people to call its free national advice line on 0800 169 65 65 before turning the heating off or down, to check they are receiving all the financial support available to them, including key benefits such as Pension Credit and Attendance Allowance. In addition, the Charity wants older people to be aware that energy suppliers have a duty to offer support if people are struggling with bills or debt, so is urging people to contact their supplier directly to ask about available support including an affordable repayment plan.
Anyone who is interested in adding their name to the Charity’s open letter to the Prime Minister can do so by visiting: ageuk-energy