Older Not Colder: Tackling Fuel Poverty Among Older People in Wales

An older woman wearing a pink teeshirt and a flowered dress is speaking to a younger woman in a black top and green and white skirt. They are seated side by side on a couch and appear to be discussing a document held by the younger woman. They both seem excited and at ease. They are likely discussing Older not Colder, a new scheme to help older people keep their homes warm.

Becky Ricketts introduces Older not Colder, a new service to help older people stay warm in their home and combat fuel poverty.

The days are getting longer and the weather warmer, but the effects of the cost-of-living and energy crises still linger in the homes and bills of thousands of households.

With a growing number of people experiencing fuel debt for the first time, and an increase in the amount of debt people have, there is a stark need for support and intervention. 

That’s why Care & Repair Cymru is launching Older Not Colder, a new fuel poverty service aiming to keep older people warm in their homes whilst reducing their energy bills.  

The health impact of a cold home

Older and disabled people are particularly susceptible to the effects of a cold, damp, inefficient home. They often spend more time at home than younger or able-bodied adults, and often have health issues or disabilities whose symptoms are exacerbated by low temperatures. There is a medical recommendation for older people to keep their homes heated to a ‘satisfactory regime’ (23°C in the living room and 18°C in other rooms, required for 16 hours in a 24-hour period in households with older or disabled people). This is to decrease the health impacts of a poorly insulated home.

Cold homes also increase the risk of falls and injury – those living in homes below 18°C have weaker hand grip than those in warmer homes. Particularly for women aged 70 and over, muscle power of their lower limbs decreases in a room that is 15°C or below, compared to a room at 25°C, making falls more likely.

With 75% of excess winter deaths occurring in those over 75 years of age, providing support to older people to stay safe and warm in their own homes is essential.

The financial impact of a cold home

Fuel poverty goes beyond the cost of energy, and there must be consideration for how to reduce both energy costs and consumption. Care & Repair research has shown that, even with the available government support, older people are spending on average 19% of their income on energy bills through the winter. This means that for every £5 in income, nearly £1 was going straight back onto keeping themselves warm and safe in their own homes. In addition, of those clients who accessed our previous fuel poverty service, 96% were living in either fuel poverty or severe fuel poverty. 

However, the solution to lower energy bills must not be ‘use your heating less’, as for many older people a warm home is vital to good health. Care & Repair Home Energy Officers provide tailored advice to households about claiming all benefit entitlements, as well as ways to save energy that does not affect their quality of life. Tariff switching, education about energy price caps and providing small measures such as radiator foils and draught excluders can make a substantial difference to energy bills, without impacting the way a person lives day-to-day.

What support is out there?

An older person’s ability to afford extensive home insulation and energy efficiency measures can be limited. A fixed, low state pension income and the cost-of-living crisis have forced many into making difficult financial decisions. This means home repairs and improvements are often bottom of the priority list. Care & Repair’s own casework numbers show a rise in the number of clients looking for external funding and grants to cover vital works. In 2021-22, the number of works funded by the homeowner stood at 1,472. In 2022-23, this has decreased to 1,308. The number of works funded by charities and donations was 380 in 2021-22 By the end of 2023, this had more than doubled to 875.

These statistics show that older people are increasingly seeking external additional funding to aid them in paying for essential works. This is why partnership working and good practice examples are vital. Without the relationships Care & Repair has with partners such as Wales & West Utilities, Warm Wales, NEA and others, the support available to those most vulnerable would be even more scarce.

Care & Repair’s new Older Not Colder service will utilise schemes and initiatives such as the Warm Homes Programme, ECO4, Great British Insulation Scheme (GBIS) as well as Care & Repair’s own internal hardship funds to ensure that older people can access as much support as possible at no cost to them. 

Looking forward to a fuel poverty free future

Whilst Older Not Colder will bring life-changing benefits for the older people it supports, we also recognise that this is just one piece of a much larger and interconnected puzzle.

A UK Government commitment to a social tariff is vital, to systemically tackle the energy crisis and to show an understanding of the challenges older people are facing. This is particularly important when considering the Welsh Government’s own targets published in their 2021 Tackling Fuel Poverty Plan, where they state that, by 2035:

  • No households are estimated to be living in severe or persistent fuel poverty as far as reasonably practicable;  
  • Not more than 5% of households are estimated to be living in fuel poverty at any one time as far as reasonably practicable; 
  • The number of all households “at risk” of falling into fuel poverty will be more than halved based on the 2018 estimate.

Care & Repair Cymru is calling for the Welsh Government to introduce a safety net grant to rectify housing disrepair. Housing disrepair and fuel poverty must be addressed simultaneously, as one is exacerbated by the other. The grant would support the new Warm Homes Programme by helping to repair things such as leaking roofs and draughty windows, which will improve the thermal efficiency of homes, and prevent many of the health conditions and symptoms that are seen as a result of poor-quality, poorly-insulated homes. The best savings on energy bills come from the energy we do not have to use. Find out more about this ask in Care & Repair Cymru’s report The State of Older People’s Housing in Wales.

Older Not Colder is Care & Repair’s new Wales-wide fuel poverty service, which aims to keep older people warm in their homes whilst reducing their energy bills. Launching this spring, it will complement the range of other services provided by Care & Repair, including income maximisation and hospital discharge. The service will support older people aged 60 and above, who live in their own homes or privately rent. Find out more here.

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Becky Ricketts is the Older Not Colder Project Manager at Care & Repair Cymru.

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