Despite encouraging results in previous years, the National Federation of Occupational Pensioners last year expected the number of ‘excess winter deaths’, (the number over and above what we’d otherwise expect in a season), to hit 40,000, the highest rate in 15 years.
Official figures are slow to emerge. The Office for National Statistics, however, reported 18,200 excess winter deaths in 2012-13 in England and Wales, down around 40% on the previous year, but still killing more women (57%) than men (43%). Clearly too much remains left to chance, depending on the mercy of a milder winter.
Those in fuel poverty are at highest risk, although different campaigners define it differently. It is usually described as when more than 10 per cent of a household’s income is spent on energy bills. Others say it is when people are living below the poverty line but experience higher than average bills. In February, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation posted that, based on the latter definition, 2.28 million households were affected – worst in the North.
So, what is there to do? Activity comes on three fronts:
- Encouragement for consumers to reduce their bills
- Campaigning for financial support for those in poverty
- Support and advice on keeping well and warm in the winter months
This month, Quids in! magazine launches 'Quids In! switch', and will promote it to the 150,000 social tenant households and the 5,000 web visitors it will reach in the next few weeks. The aim is to do something more proactive than just raise awareness about ways to reduce energy bills and stay well and warm over the winter. Steve Faragher, Director at the Social Publishing Project, which produces Quids in! magazine, said: “Comparison and switching sites may not be new but there’s a lot of cynicism about them. We hope to utilise the trust our readers have in us and create a bridge for nervous internet users, introducing them from a printed page to the financial benefits of getting online. The service is announced in our latest edition of Quids in!”
Beyond switching, consumers can be supported to reduce their bills with simple steps to reduce energy consumption around the home. The Energy Saving Trust’s website includes practical steps for householders with a page on ‘quick wins’, which includes videos (see right).
The Warm Homes Discount is now £140 and people on low incomes or the guarantee credit part of the Pension Credit should be notified automatically that they are entitled to claim it from their energy supplier. (See 'Signposting' below)
Energy suppliers are also under pressure to reduce bills too. In June, protestors from Reclaim the Power dressed as older people, arrived at British Gas offices in Didcot to present a bill for the cost of the funerals of customers they claimed had died as a result of fuel poverty (see right). They presented a ‘Bill of Wrongs’ and called on the ‘Big Six’ energy companies to reduce charges in line with a slump in wholesale prices.
A range of advice is available online, including from the NHS, which stresses the importance of staying warm in the Winter months: “Keeping warm over the winter months can help prevent colds, flu or more serious health conditions such as heart attacks, strokes, pneumonia and depression.” It reminds readers of the most vulnerable groups and the help that could be available, for example, free flu jabs.
In November, Quids in! published its Bill Buster guide to keeping well and warm this winter. Funded by Bath & West Community Energy, the 8-page A5 magazine was distributed to the lowest income areas of Bath. Maintaining the accessible, informal style of Quids in! magazine, it shares its top tips on simple ways to reduce bills around the home, as well as local support for people struggling.
- For information on what help water and energy suppliers are offering their customers, the 2015 ‘Help with Water and Energy Bills’ guide is available from Auriga, an agency supporting utility companies with administration of their trust and grant fund operations.
- Householders on a low income or claiming the guarantee credit part of Pension Credit may be eligible for £140 off fuel payments through the Warm Homes Discount Scheme, if their supplier is a member of the scheme. Most eligible consumers will be notified by letter by 24th December.
- The Energy Saving Trust’s website is packed with tips on saving energy and water. Your clients can also call the Energy Saving Advice Service in 0300 123 1234 for independent advice. (Monday to Friday 9am to 8pm, Saturday 10am to 2pm, national rate call). Its Quick Wins page includes simple steps to follow
- Turn2us has a detailed page of advice on fuel poverty and what to do if someone is struggling to pay their energy bills.
- Citizens Advice has pages of advice for those struggling with fuel bills. (Links below are for England, separate links for each country of the UK may be different and are accessed from the home page):
- Keep Warm, Keep Well is the online self-explanatory advice from the NHS about surviving the winter.