Elderly will get free heating systems

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The Independent Online

The Government is to spend more than £250m on free central-heating systems for thousands of older people on low incomes.

The Government is to spend more than £250m on free central-heating systems for thousands of older people on low incomes.

The high-efficiency systems, worth up to £2,000 each, will be installed without charge for people over 60 in receipt of an income-related benefit. They are available over the next two years and the Government is setting aside funding of £260m for them under the new Home Energy Efficiency Scheme.The scheme applies only to England but others will be available in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Besides getting a free home improvement, people who take up the new systems will also be able to look forward to a big reduction in heating bills, the Government says. It thinks the modern new systems will bring down a £1,500 cost of heating a home over 12 months to below £500. Grants for cavity wall insulation and loft insulation will also be available to households of all ages.

The grants are designed to combat "fuel poverty" - where a household needs to spend more than 10 per cent of its income to maintain satisfactory warmth. There are thought to be nearly four and a half million such households in England and nearly 70 per cent of them are those most vulnerable to cold-related ill health: pensioners, families with children and the disabled.

The Energy Efficiency minister, Lord Whitty, said: "Fuel poverty is a blight on society today. Vulnerable households have struggled for too long to keep their homes warm, paying a heavy price in ill-health and social exclusion as a result."

The Government is setting up local networks, engaging the help of GPs, nurses, council staff, social workers and voluntary agencies who come into contact with older people, to encourage them to apply.

Emerging research from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine suggests that over-sixties living in older, energy-inefficient homes are at much more risk of heart disease than those living in modern homes.

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