Britons who have reached the state’s retirement age can receive assistance throughout the winter months via winter fuel payments and some will also receive cold weather payments. Despite these programs, Age UK has warned that millions of retirees are expected to struggle in the coming weeks. Fuel poverty is wreaking havoc among older people, and as such, the charity has written to MPs calling for change.

Almost half of those over 60 (45%) are worried about heating their homes this winter, which equates to around 7.4 million people, according to a study by Age UK.

Almost a third (32%) fear that they will have to reduce the amount of energy they use to survive, with a similar proportion (33%) worried about paying their energy bills.

As temperatures drop and the new Omicron Covid variant looms, Age UK has warned millions of older people face a catch-22 situation this winter as the coronavirus threat collides with cold and cold. soaring energy costs.

With around 1.4 million seniors already living in fuel poverty, the charity said it fears rising bills will cause thousands more to join them in the coming months, some of the poorest retirees rationing their heating this winter, unless the government intervenes urgently. to help.

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Age UK’s new report, The Cost of Cold, sheds light on the realities of many struggling retirees. Geraldine, 77, said: “I have arthritis which is worse when it’s cold. I’m going to have to keep my heat down now. Already I wear gloves on my hands and a heat pack inside my leggings to help my back.

Christopher, who is over 75, said: “We’ll just have to turn the heat down and not use it that much. We only have it at 16 ° C now for a few hours a day. So sweaters and coats. inside. time in bed, fearing the inevitable colds.

Meanwhile, Peter, 75, commented: “It’s a simple choice, heat or eat. I already limit myself to one room and stay in bed as long as possible. If I cut back any further, it won’t help. to live. “

The association calls on the government to implement two emergency measures to protect the elderly this winter. This includes making an additional one-time payment of £ 50 to all those eligible for cold weather payments to help pay their energy bills and give vulnerable older people the confidence to stay warm at home.

Age UK also argued that existing cold weather payments should also be brought forward to ensure overdue payments arrive no later than seven working days after a period of cold weather.

The association also called for doubling the existing Household Support Fund, to provide £ 1billion in funding so that fewer vulnerable households are forced to make the difficult choice between heating and eating during the colder months. .

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“The cost of cold has never been so high”

For longer term protection against unaffordable bills, Age UK has also urged the government to ensure that energy price caps are enshrined in law and to reintroduce a social tariff in the energy market. to provide protection against high energy costs.

The association said people living in fuel poverty find it difficult to afford to heat their homes to an adequate temperature, making daily life more difficult due to physical discomfort, health risks to long term and financial hardships that come with living in a cold house.

Cold temperatures can be especially dangerous for older people, especially those with pre-existing health conditions. Low temperatures can be especially dangerous for people with respiratory illnesses, arthritis or heart problems. Cold tends to increase blood pressure at all ages, but in older people this increase can last for several hours after being in the cold.

So even short exposures to the cold – like getting up in the middle of the night, for example, or feeling cold in bed in the wee hours of the morning – can have a lasting impact on blood pressure levels for the rest of the day. daytime. High blood pressure is a risk factor for stroke and heart attack.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: “As temperatures drop this winter, millions of vulnerable older people feel trapped at home, too scared to go out for fear of catching Covid, and too scared turn on the heat for fear of running up a bill they can’t afford.

“We cannot allow a situation to continue where people are so worried about rising bills that they are putting their health at risk by not keeping their homes warm enough or feeling pressured to cut back on meals to make ends meet. . No one should have to make the impossible choice between eating and heating.

“If the government does not provide urgent financial support to change this – at a time when new restrictions encouraging us to stay at home seem a distinct possibility – it could spell tragedy for many seniors. The cost of cold has never been higher.

Additional support such as Cold Weather Payments and the Warm Home Discount Scheme provide much needed help to low income people but fail to reach many of those in need because they do not have the pension credit. As such, Age UK has urged older people to call its free national counseling line on 0800 169 65 65 before turning off or turning down the heat, to verify that they are receiving all the financial assistance available to them, including major benefits such as pension credit and attendance. Allocation.

The seriousness of this situation was recently exposed by the DWP. At the end of November, the DWP released data which showed that around 1.47 million people were claiming a pension credit, but only about 60% of eligible recipients were claiming the allowance.

At the time, Helen Morrissey, senior pensions and pensions analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, warned how damaging this could be.

She said: “A lot of people don’t realize they qualify for retirement credit and are at risk of missing out on a much needed boost to their retirement income.

“The pension credit also acts as a gateway to other benefits, with those over 75 able to get a free TV license, for example. You can also get help with heating and municipal taxes, which can potentially be of tremendous help.

“Some people just don’t know there is a pension credit while others don’t realize they qualify. For example, you may still be eligible for the pension credit if you own your own home or have savings.

“With inflation really starting to show its teeth and energy bills on the rise, many retirees are facing a real drop in income over the next few months and any additional income is welcome. Anyone who thinks they can qualify for the pension credit should contact DWP. Even if you’ve been turned down in the past, a change in circumstances may mean you’re now eligible, so it’s worth checking out.