Health and Wellbeing
Bracing for Winter: Your Comprehensive Guide to Seasonal Expenses
The brisk winter season can be a difficult time for elderly people all around the UK. The colder weather often means that older people are at a higher risk for illness, injury and even weather-related conditions such as hypothermia or influenza. When the temperature drops, taking extra precautions is important to keep you and your home warm and healthy.
The dramatic rise in the cost of living has become increasingly challenging for people of all ages. Last year we saw that energy bills increased by 54% in April 2022 and a further 27% in October 2022. Rapid concern is growing for this winter where the price cap is increasing to 96% higher than the cap last winter. People are feeling apprehensive about adequately heating their homes for fear of hefty bills. A study showed that over 1 in 3 (34%) adults reported that cutting back on heating their home has negatively affected their health or well-being. Furthermore, around a quarter of UK adults (23%) were often, or even never, able to keep comfortably warm in their living room.
With people unable to keep warm in their own homes and being at risk of suffering from the subsequent health dangers of prolonged exposure to the cold, this issue extends far beyond just the winter blues. To help you prepare for the coldest months of the year, Oak Tree Mobility has put together a guide to help you navigate seasonal expenses - and even claim some savings or grants you didn’t know about.
Who is Feeling the Cold
As anyone will be able to tell you - the long winters in the UK can feel cold and unforgiving. Unfortunately, many members of the population will suffer from the cold conditions more than others. The winter can be much harder on those who may be elderly, disabled or on lower incomes - not to mention those who are unhoused. A study by the Resolution Foundation found that during winter, over 75s are expected to spend 8% of their total household income on bills - even with significant government support.
Sadly, it has been shown that there is a strong correlation between disability and fuel poverty. Over 1 in 5 (21%) households in fuel poverty have somebody in receipt of disability payments, compared with just 1 in 10 (11%) of households not in fuel poverty.
Looking at the facts, winter can be really hard for older people. With 1 in 4 older people not being able to keep their living rooms warm - or for the many people who have opted for extra layers over putting the heating on - that’s a lot of people feeling the chill at home. This isn’t just uncomfortable - but it can be harmful to health. The cold air inflames the lungs which can have a nasty knock-on effect causing respiratory conditions such as asthma, COPD and infections.
How Winter Uniquely Impacts Older People
Older individuals often confront a unique set of challenges during the winter, with higher heating needs being at the forefront due to often more vulnerable health.
The data affirms that a staggering 62% of elderly individuals have already reduced their home heating recently to manage their finances, underscoring the grave financial and physical predicament they find themselves in during the colder months. This figure isn’t just a statistic, but a reflection of chilling living rooms where seniors, in an attempt to economise, might be inadvertently exposing themselves to health risks.
In a study by Age UK, 52% of people expressed significant concern about the forthcoming winter and 57% are anxious about the potential of very cold weather, the hidden cost also permeates into their mental and emotional well-being. It's a looming cloud of anxiety that impacts their day-to-day happiness and comfort. The winter season, therefore, does not only bring about physical and financial strain but also introduces a psychological burden, generating worry and stress amidst the elderly demographic regarding how they will navigate through the frosty months ahead while maintaining their health, home, and finances.
It’s not just the cost of fuel bills that are impacting the health of older people. In a bid to combat the ever-rising cost of living, elderly and disabled people have taken measures to reduce their social care. An astounding 54% (equivalent to 8.8 million individuals) of older people foresee the rising cost of living affecting their health and care needs. This isn’t just about penny-pinching but about genuine, tangible impacts on their ability to access and afford necessary care. A study revealed an alarming number, 1 in 10 elderly individuals in the UK are reducing or even halting their social care due to the escalating cost of living.
The domino effect this might have on the National Health Service (NHS) in the coming months, with potential increases in healthcare demands and crises, cannot be underestimated. Their unique need for consistent social care and warm homes during winter is not merely a preference but a requisite for maintaining their health and independence.
Ensuring a Cosy and Safe Winter on a Budget
When the chill of winter nips at the door, keeping homes warm becomes paramount, especially for the elderly, who might be more susceptible to the cold. However, managing heating and ensuring a well-insulated home can come with a hefty price tag. Let’s explore some ways and means through which the elderly in the UK can manage heating and insulation on a budget, supported by various schemes and tips.
Winter Fuel Payment:
The Winter Fuel Payment is intended to specifically help older people with fuel bills and is triggered once the average temperature falls (or is forecasted to fall) to zero degrees Celsius or below for 7 consecutive days.
Max monetary value: £300
Warm Home Discount Scheme
It is a one-off discount applied directly to your electricity bill between early October 2023 and 31 March 2024. If you are eligible you’ll receive a letter by early January 2024.
Max monetary value: £140 on electrical bills
Cold Weather Payment
A payment intended to assist with additional heating costs during particularly cold spells.
Applicability: Available when the average temperature in your area is recorded as, or forecast to be, zero degrees Celsius or below for 7 consecutive days.
Max monetary value: Depending on the weather, you will receive £25 for each 7 days of very cold weather between 1 November and 31 March.
This is a one-off, tax-free payment to people who receive certain benefits, aimed at alleviating the financial strain during the festive season. This is usually paid automatically to those eligible, helping to bring a dash of joy amidst the financial burden of the holiday season.
Max monetary value: The Christmas Bonus is a one-off tax-free £10 payment made before Christmas, paid to people who get certain benefits in the qualifying week. This is normally the first full week of December.
Council Tax Reduction
This is a benefit that lowers the council tax one needs to pay. A council tax reduction is particularly relevant in winter when other expenditures spike and every saving is pivotal. Eligibility and amount depend on income, who lives with you, and your circumstances.
Max monetary value: You could be eligible if you’re on a low income or claim benefits. Your bill could be reduced by up to 100%.
This is a regular payment from the government that one can claim upon reaching the State Pension age. While this is not winter-specific, it forms the bedrock on which seniors can navigate through the financial demands of winter, ensuring a consistent fund stream.
Max monetary value: If you receive the new State Pension, the full amount you'll receive for the 2023/24 tax year will be £203.85 a week (compared to £185.15 a week for the 2022/23 tax year). You can claim the new State Pension if you're: a man born on or after 6 April 1951. a woman born on or after 6 April 1953.
Energy Company Obligation (ECO)
This is a government energy efficiency scheme in Great Britain designed to tackle fuel poverty and help reduce carbon emissions. Through this scheme, you may be eligible for help to improve your home’s insulation or replace or repair your heating system through energy suppliers under the ECO scheme.
Smart meters can be installed for free and are designed to help you manage energy efficiently. A smart meter will measure how much gas and electricity you’re using to help you keep track of how much you’re using and whether you can reduce your energy consumption. This is a good way to keep a transparent view of your spending before bills drop through your letter box.
Practical Tips on Heating and Insulation Management
Use a Programmable Thermostat:
Efficiently manage heating by setting timers for heating systems to warm the home only when needed. This means you can avoid putting the heating on when you’re unlikely to be in the house or just have it on for the coldest times of the day like the morning or evening.
Simple measures like draught excluders, sealing gaps in windows and doors, and insulating letterboxes can prevent heat loss. Also, keep the curtains closed in the rooms you’re not using to preserve heat.
Optimise Your Space
Simple measures like rearranging furniture to avoid blocking radiators and using thermal curtains can help conserve heat.
Servicing the Heating System
Ensure that heating systems are serviced annually to maintain efficiency and prevent breakdowns during winter.
Use Reflective Panels
Installing reflective panels behind radiators can reflect heat into the room. This a relatively cheap solution that costs around £20.
Whilst there are grants and support initiatives put in place by the government - this is by no means a one-stop-shop for tackling the impact of the colder weather for older people. The real question is, what can we do about it? Communities and leaders need to think about how they can step up to help people, particularly older adults, manage these cold months and support their health during this time. This could mean finding ways to support them financially, via their GPs, or by building community to check in on one another and provide a helping hand.
On a local scale, we can begin to think about how we can support those around us who need us the most, whether that be family or neighbours. It could be as simple as sending a text, picking up the shopping, sign-positing to grants and resources, or simply opening a conversation with “How can I help”.
“Winter can be tough, especially for our elderly loved ones. Cold days mean high heating bills and icy paths can turn a simple shopping trip into a risky task. These challenges, alongside the health issues that cold weather can bring, can make winter particularly hard and costly for the elderly. That's why, at Oak Tree Mobility, we think it's crucial to offer extra help during these chilly months. It's more than just lending a hand; it's about making sure our elderly neighbours and relatives are safe, warm, and stress-free during winter. By giving a bit of our time and support, we can make their lives a little easier and their winter days a bit warmer.”