Warning over energy bill debt as Wiltshire Community Foundation launches Surviving Winter appeal
WILTSHIRE Community Foundation has launched its annual Surviving Winter appeal to help older and vulnerable people stay warm as experts warn that more people than ever will be struggling with their bills.
The community foundation’s annual fund-raising appeal, set up in response to the average 300 cold-related deaths each winter in the county, works with Wiltshire Warm and Safe, Swindon and Wiltshire Citizens Advice and Age UK, which distribute £200 grants to help with fuel bills as well as provide energy-saving or benefits advice to older and vulnerable people in fuel poverty.
Last year the appeal’s partners helped 3,039 people across 1,892 households. This year a fifth partner, the Wiltshire Centre for Independent Living, has joined the programme.
Shareen Elnagy, a project manager for the Centre For Sustainable Energy’s Wiltshire Warm and Safe programme, is warning that although energy bills have fallen slightly, they are still significantly higher than two years ago and the government’s Energy Bills Support Scheme, which gave households £400 off their bills, ended in March.
The energy advice team fear a rise in the number of people falling into arrears because of high standing charges will see more coming to them for help.
Ms Elnagy said “It's hard giving energy advice at times, because there's only so much you can do and with the standing charge being such a large proportion of the bill you've already paid before using any energy.
“You're not getting rewarded for using less energy, it's like being penalised for having gas and electricity to the property. We have people on pre-payment meters call us and say ‘I put a tenner on but I've only got £3 on the meter’ and it's because such a huge chunk goes towards standing charge debt.
“I think without the help of the government and with the standing charge debt and the cost of living, everything is so expensive now, it's scary. We'll have even more people asking for financial help.”
Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Joint Chief Executive Fiona Oliver said harrowing stories of older and vulnerable people heating just one room for a few hours a day or skipping meals to save money for their bills have become commonplace since the appeal was first launched in 2010.
“Every year we hear heartbreaking tales that just shouldn’t be happening in a civilised country in 2023,” she said. “The fuel grants help provide people with peace of mind that they can have the heating on, which we are told by experts in geriatric health is essential for older and vulnerable people.
“Also the extra support and advice our partners supply can increase a households’ income through benefits they are entitled to but either didn’t know about or couldn’t understand how to apply for. We can help fix immediate problems but more importantly, we can leave people better equipped, safer and more hopeful for the future.”
She said any amount people can spare will make a huge difference and is asking people who receive the government’s Winter Fuel Allowance to consider donating all or part of it. She said: “This year everyone is under extra financial pressure but support for those who see the colder months as a time of worry and dread has never been more needed – or appreciated.
“We have always been so thankful for the amazing generosity of our donors and if anyone feels they are in a position to pass on some of their Winter Fuel Allowance – or just wish to donate, we will redirect it to where it is needed most.”
Donate to the appeal at www.wiltshirecf.org.uk/about/surviving-winter, by calling 01380 738989, emailing wiltshirecf.org.uk or sending a cheque made payable to Wiltshire Community Foundation to 21 Northgate Street, Devizes, SN101JT.
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