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20 October 2014

Older People's Housing Champion takes on fuel poverty fight

Each year in the UK, more people die as a result of the cold weather than from traffic accidents.

While there are numerous schemes including Winter Fuel Payments, Warm Homes Discount, ECO, Nest and Arbed, there is confusion about what is available and we are not reaching those who need it most.

This is the view of Care & Repair Cymru, the older people’s housing champion, who is today calling on the government to tackle one of the biggest winter killers in our society – fuel poverty.

Figures in Wales reveal that 140,000 pensioner households are in fuel poverty, meaning they are spending more than 10% of their household income on fuel costs.

Chris Jones, Chief Executive of Care & Repair Cymru said: “In 2012/13 there were almost 2,000 excess winter deaths in Wales. The majority occurred among those aged 75 and over. This simply isn’t good enough.”

“Many older people have difficult decisions to make about whether to heat their home or eat – the situation really is that bad for many older people across Wales.”

To help raise awareness about the help that is available, Care & Repair Cymru is running its “Fighting fuel poverty” campaign to provide older people who are most at risk with practical but vital advice about staying warm and well this winter.

Chris added: “As we head into winter, Governments need a rebalancing of policy focus to ensure that tackling fuel poverty and stopping winter deaths of older people receives as much attention as reducing C02 emissions.

“While there have been numerous successful grant schemes to help make energy improvements to people’s homes, many of the schemes are target driven but not always reaching those in greatest need. People are missing out. The current system isn’t working because we still have people dying in winter due to fuel poverty, who wouldn’t be dying in other months of the year.”

The head of Care & Repair Cymru added: “Care & Repair Agencies, housing associations and local authorities have carried out some great work with energy companies but more needs to be done for low income older home owners. Finding these people requires more up front effort and is not as attractive to energy companies who have legal targets on the quantity of carbon emissions they need to reduce, so instead they have targeted geographic energy efficient schemes at scale.”

In 2013/14 Care & Repair agencies provided energy related solutions to almost 2,000 older people and a further 1,000 older people were supported with issues of damp housing.

Care & Repair Cymru is also urging better off pensioners who don’t need their Cold Weather Payment, a payment of between £100 and £300 which is paid automatically to pensioners each year, to donate it to Care & Repair to provide more solutions to those in real need.

Chris Jones added: “There is also a lot of confusion among older people about what help and support is available. That’s why we are urging people who are worried about keeping warm this winter to call their local Care & Repair agency on 0300 111 3333”.

Case study

Mrs Valerie Howe lives in Cardiff and has a low income and no savings. She was referred to Care & Repair Cardiff by the Energy Saving Trust as she was struggling to keep warm in her home. The Energy Saving Trust/Nest had been unable to offer any assistance. Mrs Howe has depression, arthritis, macular degeneration and has suffered a number of falls.

She had a very old boiler which Care & Repair caseworker Beatrice Roberts arranged to be replaced via an ECO grant of £2,500. Care & Repair also obtained money from Npower’s Health Through Warmth Crisis scheme and other charitable sources to fit two extra radiators in Mrs Howe’s home at a cost of £575. Her kitchen and hallway had previously had no heating at all and her windows were 20 years old, so Care & Repair arranged for them to be replaced via a Council grant of £5,000. Care & Repair also referred Mrs Howe to their Occupational Therapist as she was struggling to get in and out of the bath. A Disabled Facility Grant (DFG) was also obtained to fund a new bathroom/level access shower plus new bathroom radiator at a cost of £5,000. Care & Repair also carried out a fire safety check and provided two smoke alarms

Due to the provision of new radiators, windows and a boiler, Mrs Howe is much warmer and comfortable in her home and her fuel bills are reduced. She is now able to wash independently and safely due to the provision of a new bathroom that suits her needs. She is now less likely to fall in the bathroom and is also safer in her home due to the provision of smoke alarms.

Caseworker Beatrice Roberts believes that Mrs Howe’s health and depression may have worsened due to being constantly cold in her home, worrying about fuel bills and worrying about the maintenance that needed carrying out in her home had Care & Repair not intervened. She was also at risk of falls in her home and her safety was jeopardised by not having any smoke alarms in her home.