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How fuel poverty affects your elderly loved ones

We take a look at the fuel poverty issues and what you can do to help older relatives.

October 26, 2022

Winter homes in the UK

More than 2.8 million older households in the UK are estimated to be impacted by fuel poverty, with high gas and electricity prices likely to affect those over the 60s on a fixed income and low-income households in particular. 

A typical household's energy bills will be held at £2,500 per year until 2023 under the Energy Price Guarantee (EPG), subject to any future government review. However, many families with elderly loved ones will be concerned about the impact of fuel poverty on their relative's health, finances and well-being. We take a look at the issues and what you can do to help older relatives. 


What is fuel poverty?

A myriad of factors contributes to fuel poverty, such as low income, increase in fuel prices, unaffordable housing market prices, and poor energy efficiency.

Fuel poverty or being fuel poor is where a household is living in a property with an energy efficiency rating of band D or below that cannot be kept warm at a reasonable cost without bringing their residual income below the poverty threshold.

Fuel poverty in England is now measured using the Low-Income Low Energy Efficiency (LILEE) indicator, rather than the previous Low Income High Costs (LIHC) indicator.


Fuel poverty statistics

The latest studies indicate that in 2020, an estimated 13.2% of families lived in fuel poverty in England. Additionally, the studies suggest that almost 25% of households in Scotland, 12% in Wales, and 18% in Northern Ireland are classed as fuel-poor. 

In a new study by the University of York, future predictions have also been made that 86.4% of pensioner couples are expected to fall into fuel poverty in January 2023. Also, compared to last year, the price rise will push an additional 1.8m older households into fuel poverty from October 2022.


Fuel poverty and health

The colder winter months can be a concern for the elderly and vulnerable. Analysis shows death rates of the elderly increase during winter months. The added financial pressures in winter 2022-23 will exacerbate the problem if heating usage is reduced. Older adults are more likely to stay at home for extended periods and, as a result, move around less and feel cold more quickly. 

Elderly man having hot drink

However, this winter, low-income older people may struggle to keep their homes warm and pay for other essentials. Reducing heating can cause discomfort but can also affect their health and home. Poorly heated homes can suffer from dampness, making people with pre-existing health conditions most vulnerable, particularly the elderly. 

Living in less energy-efficient or cold homes is more likely to have a detrimental effect on their health, further exacerbated by already existing health problems.

Studies have linked low body temperatures in the elderly with increased blood pressure and blood coagulation. These conditions also lead to circulatory and respiratory health complications. Staying at home all the time might also cause loneliness and social isolation, which can further have a devastating effect on physical and mental well-being, 

According to the Excess Winter Mortality Index (EWMI) for 2020/21, more than 30 per cent of deaths in England and Wales occurred during the winter months in England and Wales.


Neglect of well-being by the elderly to pay fuel bills

A recent study from Age UK reports that almost 2 million older people go to bed even when they are not tired to avoid being extremely cold. A similar number of people have also moved into one room to keep their energy bills as low as possible.

In addition, the charity has heard from people about rationing their food as they are worried about using their ovens. Age UK have also heard how some residents have begun delaying their necessary health appointments because of small budgets.


Help with fuel bills for those over the 60s

Heating home

  • There is support available to older people who have difficulty paying their bills, including the Winter Fuel Payment for people who receive the state pension or any social security benefit, worth between £150 to £300 to help pay the heating bills. 
  • There is also a one-off discount of £150 under the Warm Home Discount to help with the energy costs this winter. Your older relative is likely entitled to this if they receive the Guarantee Credit part of the Pension Credit. 
  • There is also a Cost-of-Living Payment of £650 for low-income pensioners. 

Additionally, each local council decides their own eligibility criteria for the Household Support Fund to help those in dire need with the rising cost of bills and food. Check if your elderly loved one is eligible for the council Household Support Fund. 


Tips on talking to your elderly relatives about fuel poverty

According to Saga, 46 per cent of elderly in the UK with health issues fear cold weather negatively impacting their health conditions. So, as the situation worsens, it is imperative to keep checking on the health of older relatives and friends.  

It is common for elderly loved ones to be uncomfortable talking about their financial situation:

  • These discussions should always be dealt with calmly and patiently with your loved one.
  • Make sure to let them know that you have their best interests at heart, and talking about fuel poverty and cost-of-living crisis is only to support them in their well-being and future decisions.
  • You can also look at our money-saving tips for pensioners in many different areas of life to provide helpful suggestions to your elderly relatives. 


Tips on helping your elderly relatives to stay warm

Elderly man having hot drink

The ongoing fuel poverty crisis, coupled with the stress of keeping warm during winter, might lead to your older relatives losing confidence. It's crucial to tell your older relatives about practical tips for managing their energy use and keeping warm at the same time. 

  • With lots of information available out there, your elderly loved ones might get confused about which cold weather payments and benefits they are entitled to and what the best energy deals are.
  • Make sure they have an efficient energy deal or a suitable smart meter so they can provide regular meter readings to their electricity supplier. This will help them to receive an accurate gas and electricity bill based on precise usage. 
  • If your elderly relative struggles with their memory, then you can keep a reminder for yourself to take and submit the readings together every few months. 
  • Check their boiler or heating settings to ensure everything works adequately without incurring extra costs.
  • Helping them to save money by completing tasks online, such as finding the best deals on insurance, internet shopping, or tips on reducing home energy bills.
  • Fit insulating curtains and draft excluders, and check windows and doors fully close, to keep ou drafts.
  • Consider a monitored smart home sensor that will alert you if the room temperature drops over a prolonged period.


Providing support when you are not with your elderly relatives

As the situation worsens, it's natural to be concerned about your loved ones when you can't be with them all the time. A smart home monitoring system can provide reassurance that your elderly relatives are OK when you cannot be with them.

Smart home monitoring system

These systems monitor activity around the home and environmental changes such as room temperature. For example, with Taking Care Sense, the system raises an alert when there's a change in the daily habits of your loved one or if the temperature drops over a 12-hour period. The sensor is small and discreet and uses the provided long-life batteries, so they won't add to the home's energy bill. 

Smart home monitoring systems can be combined with an emergency alarm for the elderly, so your older loved ones can call for help without relying on family or friends. These devices are also energy efficient, with the average cost of keeping an alarm unit plugged in for a year being just £4.54 - a monthly expense of 38 pence.

Independent living products brochure

Learn how personal alarms and home monitoring solutions can keep you or your loved ones safe and independent at home.

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Ways to support independent living

Independent living products brochure

Learn how personal alarms and home monitoring solutions can keep you or your loved ones safe and independent at home.

Download brochure