Cold homes are a public health emergency, according to fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA).
The NEA is calling for government action after figures from the Office for National Statistics showed 4,100 people in Yorkshire died needlessly due to the cold in 2014/15. It is estimated that around 240,000 households in the region are in fuel poverty, which equates to more than one in 10.
Jenny Saunders, NEA chief executive, says: “As well as it being completely unacceptable that in the 21st century people are still becoming ill and dying needlessly because they live in cold homes, treating health-related conditions is also placing a shocking strain on the public purse.”
Evidence suggests that living in poor housing, such as with damp and mould, can lead to an increased risk of heart disease and respiratory problems. Conditions such as asthma and arthritis are often worse when it is cold.
The NEA want the government to increase investment in national programmes to help increase the energy efficiency of homes.
Those on lowest incomes are entitled to some help in making their homes warmer. If you are in receipt of benefits, such as pension credit, you may qualify for ECO, Energy Companies Obligation scheme. This could pay for all or part of the cost of loft and cavity wall or replacing/repairing an inefficient boiler. Tenants can take advantage of this if they get the landlord’s permission.
Some local authorities provide energy-saving grants and offers, so it is worth checking what is available
For winter 2015 to 2016, you could get £140 off your electricity bill through the Warm Home Discount Scheme. This is a one-off discount on your electricity bill and applies to those on benefits. Check with your supplier if you are eligible to apply.
For further details on grants and support, contact the Energy Saving Advice Service, Telephone: 0300 123 1234. AgeUK also has helpful advice on grants and on keeping warm in its Winter Wrapped Up leaflet, www.ageuk.org.uk or tel: 0800 1696565
Meanwhile, Matt Philips, DIY expert at www.handy.com has some affordable ways to damp and draught-proof a home.
*Cover your windows with bubble wrap. By doing this you can double the insulation value of glass. All you need to do is fill a spray bottle with water, mist the window and push the wrap, with the bubble side facing the window, against it. Make it snug and trim any excess wrap using a Stanley knife. The water will keep it firmly in place all winter with the added bonus of leaving no staining once removed.
*Use a candle to detect gaps. Light a candle and move it slowly around your external windows and doors. If the flame flickers or dies, too much cold air is getting in. Once you have identified these gaps, you can fill them with a clear sealant.
*Draught-proof your doors. Most people don’t think to cover their keyhole and letterbox during the winter months. However, these gaps can let huge amounts of cold air into the home. Invest in low-cost keyhole and letterbox covers that can be screwed directly to the door.
*Move furniture away from the wall. Quite often, the radiators in our living spaces are hidden behind the sofa or chairs. To better enable the heat to circulate around the room, move your furniture forward a couple of inches.
*Boost radiator efficiency by placing a layer of aluminium foil on the wall directly behind them. In doing so, you are reflecting heat. Good quality kitchen foil works well on a temporary basis although for longer term use a special heat-reflective foil.
*Create thicker curtains for the cold months. Prevent heat from escaping by lining your curtains with cotton fleece. You can tack or peg the fleece lining in place. You can also buy thermal curtain linings.
*Temperatures drop at night so make sure your bed is warm. You can use a hot water bottle or an electric blanket, though not both at the same time as that would be dangerous. An electric blanket should be serviced every three years to check that it is safe.