More than a million pensioners are missing out on a vital £140 discount on their energy bills, as a “worrying number” ration their heating because of cost.
Some elderly people are not aware of the discount, while others are not signed up to an energy supplier that offers it, according to research from comparethemarket.com.
The Warm Home Discount (WHD) is a one-off £140 payment applied to eligible customers’ electricity bills sometime between October and April. It is designed to help reduce costs for those living on a low income or pension over the winter months.
Not all suppliers participate in the Warm Home Discount scheme, so Age UK has advised pensioners to bear this in mind if considering switching supplier. More suppliers are being brought into the scheme in 2019-20 and then again in 2020-21, but the charity said it was still important to check before switching.
Peter Earl, head of energy at comparethemarket.com, said: “The Warm Homes Discount is a lifeline for those elderly people who will struggle to afford to heat their homes this winter. Will the Beast from the East make a reappearance this winter? We cannot be sure, but with a worrying number of pensioners rationing their heating in order to cut down costs, it is vital that we raise awareness of the options available to them when they need it most. For starters, not all energy suppliers offer the discount. It is very important that energy customers eligible for the WHD regularly shop around and switch tariff or supplier, which is a tried and tested way for people to save money and secure a good deal.”
Over the last five years, more than 168,000 people died as a result of the cold weather, with the UK being the second-worst in Europe for excess winter deaths, after Ireland. This is roughly the amount of people as those who die from breast or prostate cancer.
Almost 17,000 of those are caused directly as a result of fuel poverty, while an additional 36,000 were as a result of conditions related to living in a cold home.
Falling temperatures and rising energy prices are placing a significant financial burden on elderly people. According to the research, nearly a quarter of over 65-year-olds rationed their energy usage last winter in order to afford their energy bills – equating to 2.7 million people nationwide. These figures become starker when looking at pensioners on lower incomes. More than a third of over 65-year-olds who earn less than £21,000 per year rationed their energy usage last winter.
Sophie Andrews, chief executive of the Silver Line Helpline, which gives support and advice to elderly people, said: "It is terrible that so many older people are potentially missing out on such an important benefit. Sadly it is not that surprising. Many people that call The Silver Line Helpline very rarely speak to anyone, often for days on end.
“As a society, we need to do more to tackle social isolation and ensure older people are better supported, better connected and better placed to access services and benefits of this nature, rather than leaving them to suffer in silence."
John Galvin, Chief Executive of the housing advice charity EAC called on energy suppliers to do more to help their elderly customers. He said: “One in seven older people who use our website tell us they can't afford to heat their homes properly. And we know that cold homes can lead to respiratory conditions, arthritis and rheumatism, and even mental health problems. So it's very important that all energy suppliers offer this discount to their older customers.”