Carers left out in the cold due to fuel poverty
Well, the clocks have gone back, many areas have had the first snowfall of the season (even if it only lasted a day) and the shops are filled with mince pies, Christmas cards and tinsel. Winter is definitely here to stay, but for carers the winter season with its shorter days and cold weather brings with it extra worries.
Carers often have to worry about fuel bills, and this increases as the temperature drops and the nights draw in. Whilst rising fuel costs are affecting everyone, carers and the people they care for can be at particular disadvantage due to their unique combination of circumstances. Fuel costs can really mount up when people are in the house all day and need to keep warm, and the choice to care for someone can often lead to financial and fuel poverty.
Fuel poverty is defined by spending more than 10% of household income on all fuel costs. As carers are often on low incomes, and need to keep homes warmer for more hours in the day, carers can find that they incur higher heating bills in order to keep the ill, frail and disabled people they care for comfortable.
Carers in rural and isolated communities can also be burdened with extra costs, as these areas are not on the mains gas supply and more expensive forms of heating such as solid fuel, oil or electric heating must be used. Winter fuel payments are available to many people on certain benefits, but there is little support for carers who do not qualify for these payments. Many people will care for elderly parents who continue to live in their own home – their parents may have the support of winter fuel payments, but adult children who have given up work to care for them will not.
However, all of the main energy companies offer special tariffs and services for ‘vulnerable customers’ – people who have a disability or a long term condition, or older people. This support can include bills and correspondence being sent directly to a person’s carer, free energy efficiency equipment such as low-energy light bulbs, or ensuring people who require powered medical or assistance equipment like stairlifts or ventilators will never be at risk of suddenly having their power cut off, even if they are struggling to pay the bills. If you care for someone who needs extra support, make sure their gas or electricity supplier is aware of their needs and that they are on the register of vulnerable customers.
Carers Trust understands the pressures of the winter season on carers only too well. We campaign for national recognition of unpaid carers and young carers’ issues and the help that will make life easier for them. In addition, the UK network of independently managed carers’ centres and schemes offers services to carers and young carers across the country. This help ranges from carrying out a Carer’s Assessment to giving energy efficiency advice, providing training, offering help with the benefits system, counselling and one to one support.
This blog was contributed by Heather Noller. Policy Officer in Scotland. Carers Trust is known as the Princess Royal Trust for Carers in Scotland.