Winter and support for older people

Cold weather, COVID-19 and staying warm at home

With Winter approaching, and sadly the coronavirus still with us, we are again raising our concerns about the health risks of living in a cold home, particularly for older people who are likely to be spending most of their time at home.

Almost 3 million people over 65 turn off heating as ‘they cannot afford energy bills’ while others say that they eat less in order to be able to pay for their heating, according to research by Compare The Market.

We cannot stress enough that now is not the time to economise on eating or heating. There are alternative actions that will help which we set out in this blog. But first, here are the reasons for keeping the heating on.

We know from Public Health England that there is “clear evidence on the links between cold temperatures and respiratory problems. Resistance to respiratory infections is lowered by cool temperatures and can increase the risk of respiratory illness.”

Even without COVID-19 to worry about, we know that in a normal year, there are some 10,000 extra winter deaths caused by cold homes. And where homes cannot be properly heated, they are often prone to damp and mould. These conditions are associated with a 30-50 per cent increase in respiratory problems.

While we have yet to find a vaccine to safeguard us against Covid-19, cold homes are entirely preventable. If you are worried about how to keep warm in your home this Winter, here are some things you can do.

Of course, you can make sure that you have warm clothing, but do not turn the heating off when you need it to keep warm. If you are worried about the bills, contact your energy company to explain. They may be able to suggest a cheaper tariff, but in any event, they must not cut off your supply even if you owe them money.

If you are renting from a Council or Housing Association and your home is colder than it should be because of disrepair, contact them and ask them to do the repairs. If they don’t respond properly, make a formal complaint.

Homeowners in England can get vouchers worth up to £5,000 to make their homes more energy efficient under a new Government scheme known as the Green Homes Grant, which launched on 30 September. This can help pay for insulation, double glazing and a host of other improvements.

If you are a private tenant and your landlord has ignored your request to do repairs, you can tell your local Council. They have a duty to inspect your home and can order the landlord to do the repairs, which could include replacing your heating system if it is nor working efficiently. If the landlord still doesn’t respond, the council can do the works themselves and charge the landlord.

Landlords should give tenants an Energy Performance Certificate at the start of the tenancy. Note, that if your landlord is renting you a property that is energy rated below E, s/he is breaking the law.

Private renters in London who are worried about how they can heat their home adequately for a price they can afford should contact Advice4Renters for legal advice as well as support with money worries or hardship payments. Ring 020 7624 4327 or email info@advice4renters.org.uk

A great source of help for all residents are the Green Doctors. You can call them on 0300 365 3005 or email GreenDoctorsLDN@groundwork.org.uk to arrange a telephone consultation. They have a range of help available, including help with switching energy providers to save money; access discounts; signing up to the Priority Register; applications for debt relief; pre-payment meter top-ups and lots more.

You can also take a look at Age UK London’s website as they have been listening to the concerns of London’s growing number of older private renters.

Jacky Peacock

Jacky is the Director of Advice4Renters and the Executive Director at Brent Private Tenants' Rights Group. She was awarded an OBE in 2001 for services to private tenants.

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