Charities are expressing their concerns that – despite the reduction in average energy bills as from July – many pensioner households will face real hardship in the months ahead.
Older people’s charities have responded to the announcement from Ofgem that the average energy bill for customers paying by direct debit will go down by £426 starting in July, when unit rates will be capped at 30p per kWh (plus standing charges of 53p per day) for electricity and 8p per kWh (standing charge 29p per day) for gas.
However, this is still significantly higher than before the steep rise in energy prices triggered by the war in Ukraine, and the £426 being quoted is for an average home, so the total will depend on usage.
John Palmer, Independent Age Director of Policy and Communications, said: “Today’s announcement will not ease the worries of struggling older people. With energy bills still double what they were in 2020, the price of heating your home and keeping the lights on is still unmanageable for many in later life.
“Every day, we hear from older people terrified about how they will afford essentials.
“They’ve been trying to cope with sky-high energy and food costs for more than a year. Tragically, many are forced to make dangerous choices like skipping meals, not using their lights and turning off their heating in winter, all of which are especially unsafe for those over 65.
“We are also very concerned about pensioners on a low income with a disability, many of whom will have additional energy needs to manage their condition and are forced to put their health in danger.
“With more than two million older people already living in poverty, the government must do everything it can to help older people facing financial hardship with their energy bills.”
“This crisis is not over”
In response to Ofgem’s price cap announcement this morning, Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: “It’s a relief to hear that prices are coming down from their unprecedented high, but the fact is this crisis is not over, certainly for anyone on a low income for whom, we fear, there’s another difficult autumn and winter to come.
“In our experience, older people are incredibly skilful at making every penny count, but after this prolonged period of inflation, and the need for many with savings to have to draw on them simply to stay afloat, there’s no end to the nightmare yet in sight.
“Surely the lesson is that we need a lasting solution for the energy price fluctuations that have wrecked so many older people’s finances, including hundreds of thousands who never dreamed that they would struggle for money once they retired.
“At Age UK we are increasingly convinced that the answer is a Government funded social tariff for energy. This would discount energy bills by as much as half for people of all ages who are struggling the most, giving them the reassurance to keep the heating on when it’s cold, rather than trying to get through without it. In our view this shouldn’t be too much to ask in the 21st century.”
Age Scotland’s Chief Executive, Mark O’Donnell, added: “While there may be a brief respite during the summer months when people tend to use less energy, we will find ourselves repeating the same vicious cycle again come winter without sufficient preventative action, with hundreds of thousands of older people at further risk of being pushed into poverty.
“The Warmer Homes Scotland scheme is also closed to new applications for six months. There is a risk of a massive influx when it reopens in October, likely leading to a backlog and making it difficult for people to plan in advance of the colder weather.”