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Combating the cold: Staying warm this winter

As temperatures across the UK carry on falling and energy bills continue to rise, it is no surprise that households are beginning to worry about how they will meet the costs of keeping their homes warm this winter.

The extent of the problem has been highlighted this week in a survey by OnePoll, carried out on behalf of Ovo Energy, which showed that more than a third of UK homes are currently rationing power.

Of the 2,000 people surveyed by the energy company, 70% of respondents said they have been forced to limit their power consumption due to rises in gas and electricity prices.

Switching off

The result is that households are being forced to switch off their heating and some people are becoming ill as a result.

A tenth of families have already defaulted on their energy bills this winter, with a further 15% fearful that they will also do so in the months ahead, particularly as the mercury continues to fall.

It was complemented by a Citizens Advice Bureau study, which showed that four in ten people are set to cut back on food shopping in the coming months in order to pay for other household bills.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of the Citizens Advice Bureau, said her organisation has “serious concerns” about the impact it could have on those on low incomes.

“‘Heat or eat’ is a very real question for many of our clients. We saw over 95,000 fuel debt problems last year and we regularly hear stories of people only heating one room or parents only heating their house when their children are home,” she added.

Layering up

The Ovo research found that many householders are resorting to layering up to keep the cold at bay without having to switch the heating on.

A fifth of families are wearing outdoor clothing to keep warm indoors, including gloves, hats and scarves, while one in four are turning to blankets rather than radiators.

However, this does not have to be the case, as help is at hand for those who are considered vulnerable by the government.

Under the Warm Front scheme, pensioners and those on low incomes in poorly heated or poorly insulated homes can apply for grants to pay for boiler repairs, new central heating systems and insulation work.

Eligible people can apply for up to £3,500 towards the cost of the work, or as much as £6,000 for homes that are not connected to mains gas.

Some of the insulation measures include loft insulation where suitable, draught proofing, cavity wall insulation and hot water tank insulation.

The scheme also covers repairs to existing heating systems, the installation of new gas or oil central heating systems, electric storage heaters, and electric heaters for bathrooms where electricity is the main heating source.

It can also cover the conversion of a solid-fuel open fire to a modern glass-fronted fire, the installation of timer controls for electric space and water heaters, and liquid petroleum gas heating systems.

Options available

Over the next two years, almost 100,000 people are expected to be helped by the Warm Front initiative, explained energy and climate change minister Greg Barker.

“There’s never been a better time for people on low incomes to pick up the phone and apply for a Warm Front grant. Getting a boiler that works better or even just topping up loft insulation can lead to a warmer, cosier home in the future,” he added.

“It’s easy to apply; all you have to do is call 0800 316 6004 and, if you’re eligible, the Warm Front team will do all the paperwork for you.”

With an increasing number of households staring fuel poverty in the face and resorting to increasingly drastic measures to stay warm, it may be worthwhile exploring whether a grant is available to combat the cold this winter.