Kate Hughes: Why it's so vital to keep the home fires burning

With winter approaching the cost of staying warm can mean life or death for the elderly

People seem to be dropping dead around me at the moment. Not in any comic sense, just literally crumpling. First it was the little old lady in the queue at the coffee shop. One minute she was there, the next she just wasn't. Then a woman was run over in the street yesterday. Whipped up in an air ambulance, I only realised she hadn't made it when a bouquet appeared on a nearby railing this morning.

I guess there wasn't anything that unusual about either event – happens every day – but it gets you thinking about the stuff that actually matters doesn't it? And clearly things like securing the best possible mortgage deal or the market-leading savings rate don't immediately spring to mind. Seeing as this column is usually reserved, rightly, for highlighting financial injustice or flagging up unseen money risks, it's may be all a bit personal.

But money is deeply personal. It is an unspoken definition of our successes and failures. It regularly sets the limits for our exploration of the world, can determine when, or if, we have children and often fundamentally affects our state of mind. Especially when there isn't any. And that's the point that the personally important becomes the financially important and financial difficulty becomes so personal it's literally life threatening.

It's way down at the bottom of the pile of things for our attention, somewhere underneath the PPI scandal, the state of the housing market, and whether or not criminals have been stashing cash in tax havens, but nowhere is this relationship between money, life and death thrown into starker relief than when it comes to poverty among the elderly.

As we approach another winter, the full effects of fuel poverty in particular are kicking in. With an estimated six million households in the UK facing bills that account for at least 10 per cent of income, its tough enough if you're relatively healthy and mobile. But figures from the Office for National Statistics show that 25,000 older people die due to the extreme cold each winter in the UK, a far higher number than in other, colder European countries.

And yet the Warm Front scheme, which offers government-funded grants of up to £3,500 (or more for those with no mains gas) for low- income homeowners and private tenants in England, has dramatically underspent its budget. Currently being phased out, there is a finite amount of time to get an application in before the money runs dry. More information is available from Citizens Advice, Age UK, and direct.gov.uk.

But there are other channels that can help. Energy suppliers provide assistance for some older customers such as the Warm Homes Discount scheme, which could be worth £130 for those on certain benefits.

Plus, of course, there's the winter fuel allowance that gives everyone born on or before 5 July 1951 an annual payment of between £100 and £300 tax free to help pay heating bills, with an extra £25 more if it gets really cold for a week or more. It's usually paid automatically if you get the state pension, but the system doesn't exactly work perfectly and claims for the payment can be made via the Directgov website if you think you're eligible.

The scheme has been criticised for being a blanket payment to all older Brits regardless of personal wealth, and charities, financial services companies and community groups are now revving up to launch this year's Surviving Winter campaign to "redistribute" the allowance. The brainchild of a group of Somerset pensioners who didn't feel they needed theirs, the campaign raised more than £2.5m last winter.

For some people, the extra funds provided access to a regular lunch club which provided warmth, company and a hot meal. For others, it provided crucial changes to their homes or help with fuel bills.

There's no doubt it's needed. While dropping dead in a coffee shop or on the street may not be ideal, freezing to death for fear of the cost of it all must be so much worse. This year, with the average fuel bill set to increase to £1,334 a year by this time next month, according to uSwitch.com figures, the situation can only get worse.

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

    £15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Austen Lloyd: Law Costs HOD - Southampton

    £50000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: An outstanding new...

    SThree: Recruitment Resourcer

    £20000 - £21000 per annum + uncapped commission: SThree: As a graduate you are...

    Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn