Surviving Winter helps alleviate pressure of energy crisis

Recent headlines about the rising cost of living and 30-year high inflation have heightened awareness about the pressure on those on low incomes but our Surviving Winter partners have been seeing the impact for weeks.

We work with Wiltshire Warm and Safe, Swindon and Wiltshire Citizens Advice and Age UK, who distribute £200 grants to help with fuel bills as well as provide energy-saving or benefits advice to older and vulnerable people in fuel poverty.

Shareen Elnagy, a project officer at Wiltshire Warm and Safe, which is run by the Centre For Sustainable Energy, says she and her fellow advisors have seen an increase in enquiries about help with heating compared to last year.

“We’ve experienced a huge surge in enquires relating to rising energy costs, heating issues and financial assistance available. Within the first couple of months of the Surviving Winter appeal running, we’ve received almost four time the number of applications in comparison to last year,” she says.

“It feels like we are in quite desperate times at the moment, the struggle is just becoming more apparent and there are more things to worry about.”

She says a ‘perfect storm’ of rising energy prices and increased household costs, coupled with the fact many older and vulnerable people are spending more time indoors because of the Omicron Covid wave, means more people are struggling to cope with bills.

With 28 energy companies so far going out of business, those on cheaper fixed tariffs whose supplier has gone bankrupt have been moved to bigger firms where they are suddenly on the standard variable rate, she said. “People are scared but our general advice is to stay put because no one knows what is going to happen. There are still suppliers who are getting tipped closer to the edge.”

Wiltshire Citizens Advice is using funding from our Surviving Winter campaign to help increase the hours of specialist advisors to help people in debt apply for other benefits they could be entitled to, including Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Universal Credit.

Chief executive Suzanne Wigmore says her advisors have seen a steep rise in PIP applicants: “A lot of people had rolled claims over or hadn’t been seeking to apply or reapply during the pandemic so for PIP we have seen an upturn and that’s our single biggest issue.

“Personal Independence Payment is incredibly difficult to apply for and the forms are ridiculously long. The people who are claiming for it often need extra support so that is why it has become our number one issue. The decision-making time is quite long so we are also supporting a lot of people while they are waiting.”

Both groups fear the lifting of the cap on energy bills in April, which could see bills rise by another £600 a year, and a rise in National insurance payments, will plunge more people into poverty. Independent think tank the Resolution Foundation predicts low-income families will be hit hardest by the rise because the proportion of their income eaten up by fuel bills will rise from 8.5 per cent to 12 per cent.

Fiona Oliver, our joint chief executive, fears rising household bills, and the resulting number of households being plunged into poverty, is likely to increase pressure on all charities.

“Our Surviving Winter partners are doing an amazing job but they are seeing referrals from every direction. They have told us they are signposting more and more people to foodbanks because they just don’t have enough money left over to feed themselves or their families.

“We will be relying on the generosity of our wonderful donors even more this year, not just with Surviving Winter but all of our work funding the incredible grassroots groups who support the disadvantaged in their communities.”

Donate to Surviving Winter here

Contact Wiltshire Warm and Safe from 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday on 0800 0385722 or Wiltshire Citizens Advice on 0800 144 88.

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