Fuel grant applications soar in Dorset
Citizens Advice is concerned about what January will bring after a surge in Surviving Winter Grant applications.
Consultants have found that the number of successful applications from older and vulnerable people affected by energy poverty has increased four and a half times compared to the same period last year.
The charity’s East Dorset and Purbeck office works with the Dorset Community Foundation’s Surviving Winter Appeal, which represents Citizens Advice offices across Dorset.
Business Development Manager Katrina Ford said: “Between October and December last year we had 49 applications; in the same period this year we had 227 – these are not just applications, these are people who are eligible for funding.
“This year has been crazy and I honestly don’t know what we’re going to do in January because the real impact hasn’t really happened yet. January is usually bad because that’s when the bills come in, so it’s a bit scary.”
The appeal is working with Citizens Advice to distribute £200 in grants to help identify pensioners and vulnerable people aged 50 and over who live in fuel poverty and often can only afford to reserve a room for a few hours a day heat and routinely skip meals to save money on their bills.
Colder weather makes respiratory and circulatory diseases worse and the latest government figures show that 260 people died from cold-related illnesses in Dorset over the winter months.
Ms Ford said this year people have been telling energy consultants they have turned off their heating altogether for fear of not being able to pay their bills and being cut off.
“People who choose not to turn on the heating are very dangerous, it’s the worst health decision you can make in these conditions,” she said. “It’s the people who are being forced to do it that the grants are aimed at. The domino effect of not turning on the heating is huge, especially with the new strains of insects also moving around – it’s a perfect storm.”
She said consultants have seen an increase in the number of urgent cases as people with prepayment meters don’t have money to keep their electricity supplies going. “People’s psychological problems, fear, are massive. It’s especially bad for people with prepayment meters because they can lose supply,” she said.
“Surviving Winter Grants are such an important tool for us because they are practical help we can give. We can pass on energy efficiency advice, but that only goes so far – the grants allow people to keep their energy supplies going.”
The Dorset Community Foundation has been running its Surviving Winter appeal for 13 years, but Director Grant Robson said this year will be the most urgent.
“When we first started discussing this year’s appeal, there was some concern that this year would be tough due to the volatile energy situation, but that was before the mini-budget and further increases in inflation, and now the situation is much worse,” he said .
“Our donors and supporters, many of whom pass on all or part of their State Winter Support payments to us, have been incredibly generous this year and we have already raised nearly £40,000 of our £100,000 target.
“But it’s clear the level of demand will take every penny we can muster this year so we’re asking everyone to think about what they can give to keep someone warm this Christmas and into the New Year.” “
Donate to Surviving Winter at dorsetcommunityfoundation.org and learn more about applying for help by calling Citizens Advice on 01929 775500.