As the temperature plunges below zero around the UK, research by a leading poverty charity has found that many people are living in cold homes because they struggle to pay their energy bills. Research by Turn2us found that almost half (46%) of those that come to the charity for support had cut back on heating their home because of the cost. The research also found that those over the age of 55, and people living with a disability, were more likely to have cut back on heating because they were struggling financially.
Representatives from a number of energy companies, including the ‘big six’, as well consumer organisations, are meeting with Turn2us in Parliament today to discuss the findings of the research and to discuss how economically vulnerable people can get better access to practical help with their fuel bills.
Exacerbating the impact of energy costs and living in a cold home on overall wellbeing, the research also found that it was causing one in five respondents (20%) stress and worry, and one in six (17%) were cutting back on food to pay their energy bills.
As well as the serious impact that struggling with energy costs has on people’s general welfare, the research also indicates that it can aggravate the financial situation of people already struggling. The research found that many resorted to using credit cards (14%) to pay their energy bills, and in some cases payday loans (8%).
Describing the impact that struggling with the cost of heating her home has had on her, Sheena Stephenson, from Darlington, said: “Worrying about fuel bills made me ill. I had to go to bed each Winter by 3pm to keep warm as I couldn't afford to keep my heating on more than an hour a day.”
Sarah-Jane Brownlie, from Surbiton in Surrey, said: “I have not put the heating on for years, continuously checking for the best deal does not make it easier when you’re watching the meter, choosing between keeping the light on and paying the rent.”
One of the most worrying findings from the research was that over half those surveyed (53%) were not aware that many energy suppliers offer support towards Winter energy bills to certain customers, such as those on low incomes. Similarly, two-thirds (66%) were not aware that some energy suppliers have charitable trusts to help certain customers who are struggling with their energy bills.
Turn2us is a charity that helps people in financial hardship gain access to welfare benefits and charitable grants. The charity is today launching the No Cold Homes campaign to raise awareness of the different types of support that are available.
Simon Hopkins, Chief Executive of Turn2us, said: “Today's research lays bare the extent to which people are needlessly suffering in cold homes this winter. Over half of people who have come to Turn2us looking for support, people who by definition are already taking that first difficult step and looking for help, do not have any awareness of the support that they can get towards fuel bills. What's even more concerning is that it is older people and those living with a disability that will be hardest hit.
"Having just had a record breaking cold November, it is absolutely imperative that people are made aware that help is available. That is why we are urging people to check with relatives and neighbours, especially those who are older or living with a disability, so that we can tackle this situation head on."