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

Sport
Floyd Mayweather will relinquish his five world titles after beating Manny Pacquiao
boxing
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
News
Tottenham legend Jimmy Greaves has defended fans use of the word 'Yid'
people
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
News
Florence Welch from Florence + the Machine
people
News
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
News
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
news
Arts and Entertainment
film
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

    £16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior SEO Executive

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior SEO Executive is requi...

    Recruitment Genius: Online Customer Service Administrator

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Online customer Service Admi...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Executive

    £18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global, industry leading, ...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living