The Government has received a fresh appeal for urgent help for older people facing unaffordable increases in energy bills.
Give the elderly on the lowest incomes £500 payments and cut 5 per cent VAT from April until at least the end of the year, the charity Age UK urges ministers in a new letter warning of a mounting crisis.
Older people are already rationing food and energy use, and are too worried to use their oven and living on soup and sandwiches instead, it says.
Appeal for help: Age UK has sent two letters to the Government in recent months warning of a crisis for elderly people facing soaring energy bills
The move follows a call by former Pensions Minister and campaigner Ros Altmann for an emergency winter manifesto to save the lives of older people.
Age UK cites experts and industry data forecasting that energy bills could spike by up to 50 per cent this spring, and hit an average £2,000 a year after the price cap is reassessed in April.
It claims financial support for older people during the colder months has remained broadly unchanged for years and is nowhere near enough to match the scale of the current problem.
A government spokesperson says: ‘We are taking decisive action to help more than 11.4million pensioners with the cost of living by providing winter fuel payments of up to £300 per household.
‘This is on top of wider support which includes billions of pounds for households via the energy price cap, warm home discount scheme, cold weather payments, household support fund, and freezes to alcohol and fuel duty.
‘Domestic fuels such as gas and electricity are already subject to the reduced rate of 5 per cent of VAT.’ Read more from the Government about what it is doing to help below.
What has Age UK told the Government?
The charity has sent two letters to the Government in recent months warning of a crisis for elderly people facing soaring energy bills.
This week’s letter, sent to the Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng and Work and Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey, calls for immediate action to protect vulnerable older people from the cold this winter.
It says the potentially devastating impact of the escalating crisis will be nothing short of catastrophic for many older people without intervention.
Age UK adds: ‘The letter underscores the need for longer-term thinking about how older people with the least ability to pay can be protected from energy price rises in the future.
‘The unprecedented hike in wholesale energy prices will be totally unmanageable for those living on low fixed incomes – many of whom have few, if any, savings to fall back on.
‘Older people are typically at home more than younger age groups and feel the cold to a much greater extent.’
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, went on: ‘Older people, particularly those living on low fixed incomes, urgently need reassurance from the Government that they can afford to keep warm when low temperatures demand it, without going into debt – something most dread and will do anything to avoid.
‘Many older people are well practiced at making a small pension go a long way, but that won’t be enough to protect them from the impact of rising household bills and soaring energy costs this time round.
‘We are already hearing utterly heart-breaking stories from older people.
‘This isn’t a crisis that’s arriving in the spring, it’s one that’s here already for many older people because their fear of unaffordable bills is driving them to not even try to stay adequately warm this winter.’
What elderly people say about energy bills
Susan told Age UK: ‘We only put heating on now in the morning and before we go [to] bed, we just wear lots and lots of layers.
‘My daughter has brought us weighted blankets to use in the lounge to keep us warm. I have severe osteoarthritis that is affected by the cold and my husband has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He is 73 and struggles with the cold.
‘I am 94 years old with heart failure arthritis etc and feel the cold all the time. I am housebound and spend a lot of time in my bedroom
‘We no longer make meals that use the gas oven and just use hob to heat up beans and soup, otherwise we make sandwiches.
‘We were already struggling the past couple of years, but with the huge rise in the cost of living including food, petrol and cleaning products, we are finding ourselves in desperate times, it is so scary.’
Paulene said: ‘I am 94 years old with heart failure arthritis etc and feel the cold all the time.
‘I am housebound and spend a lot of time in my bedroom as it is warmer than the living room as I am scared what my next year’s outstanding bill will be. I don’t have the heating on very high.”’
Stephen says: ‘I’m already stressed and not putting heating on. My plan ends end of November and my direct debit increases from £59 to £75.
‘Lord help us all come next April with another round of energy increases on energy, water council tax. We will neither be able to eat or heat.’
What does the Government say about energy bills?
The current reduced rate of VAT already costs £5billion a year. Higher energy prices will increase the cost of this relief.
Freezes to alcohol and fuel duty and the reduction of the universal credit taper and increase in work allowances alone provide over £4.2billion of support per year.
This is on top of other support for living standards including:
– The Household Support Fund is worth £500million and will support millions of households in England with essentials over the coming months
– The Warm Home Discount which provides a £140 rebate on energy bills each winter to over 2.2million low-income households
– The Cold Weather Payment which provides £25 extra a week for poorer households when the temperature is consistently below zero.
– Winter Fuel Payments which are provided to over 11.4million pensioners – £200 for households with somebody who has reached State Pension age and is under age 80 or £300 for households with somebody aged 80 and over.
– Saving 15 million households £100 a year on average since 2019 through the Energy Price Cap
– Increasing the National Living Wage
The Energy Price Cap will remain in place at least till the end of 2022 to protect 15million customers and ensure they pay a fair price for their energy.
The price cap applies to default and standard variable tariffs. This means that any consumer who has come to the end of a fixed term tariff, has moved to a new home, or has been moved to a new supplier as part of the Supplier of Last Resort process will be protected by the price cap as long as they don’t actively choose another tariff.
The setting of the level of the price cap is a matter for Ofgem. Ofgem make clear that their methodology takes account of wholesale prices observed over several months. Their consultations are on issues that they have already recently outlined publicly.
The Government remains committed to seeking to legislate to extend the energy price cap beyond the existing longstop date of December 2023, when parliamentary time allows. It continues to reflect on the price cap’s effectiveness and will take this into account in the design of any future cap.