FUEL BILL CRISIS FOR ONE MILLION ELDERLY
ONE million pensioners expect their health to suffer this winter because expensive energy prices mean they cannot afford to heat their homes.
A third will be forced to ration their heating in a bid to keep the bills down, according to a survey.
Almost half (43 per cent) will have to dip into savings, while 38 per cent will be cutting back on food shopping to pay an increased energy bill.
As many as 90 per cent of the 2,000 pensioners surveyed by comparison site comparethemarket.com believe the high cost of gas and electricity presents a real health threat to elderly people in the UK.
There are 11.5million over-65s in Britain and nearly one in 10 (nine per cent) of those surveyed are anticipating either a new health problem or the worsening of an existing condition, such as arthritis, as they struggle with the cold.
As winter temperatures plummet and the amount of energy required to heat a home increases, the costs will add significant pressure to household budgets.
Only 36 per cent of the elderly surveyed said they could “definitely afford” an increase, and many admitted to taking extraordinary measures to keep their bills affordable.
The colder weather sees 40 per cent of pensioners worrying about their bills as soon as the temperature sinks.
Much of the stress is exacerbated by a lack of trust in the energy companies, the survey showed.
More than half (52 per cent) do not think energy companies will do the right thing if there’s a problem, including not resolving an issue with a bill or failing to offer adequate and prompt customer service if a person is left without energy in winter.
And 60 per cent do not believe that reductions in wholesale energy costs are passed on promptly to customers instead of lining the pockets of the big energy suppliers.
Peter Earl, head of energy at comparethemarket.com, said: “It’s worrying that a million elderly people in the UK have to sacrifice their health just to pay for their energy bills.
“Cold weather and the resulting health problems are a real issue for the elderly who fall victim to the cold temperatures every year.
“Given the vulnerability of the elderly, it should be an absolute priority to ensure that they are able to afford their energy costs and appropriately heat their home.”
The problems facing the older generation further highlight the importance of the Government’s tax-free Winter Fuel Payment, according to Mr Earl.
Two-thirds of respondents said the benefit helps pay for their energy bills, while 13 per cent could not pay the bills without the payment which is not means tested.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “The cold can have a devastating impact on older people’s health, increasing the risk of heart and respiratory conditions, so it’s vital older people keep warm and well during the winter months.
“Every winter tens of thousands of older people die or become seriously ill in the UK because of the cold, but this can often be prevented if their homes are adequately warm and energy efficient.
“We would encourage anyone, whether they are struggling to pay their fuel bills or not, to shop around to ensure that they are receiving the best deal that they can.
“Any older person who is worried about money should call our free advice line on 0800 678 1174 or speak to their local Age UK.”