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Heat or eat? Westcountry families faced with a stark choice

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 15, 2012

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More than 400,000 households in the South West plan to cut back on heating this winter because of fears over paying energy bills, according to consumer watchdogs.

Consumer Focus which has released new figures said people were living in cold properties while failing to claim free help they are entitled to.

Charities including Citizens Advice, Age UK and National Children's Bureau are now urging the poorest households to take advantage of the Government's Warm Front scheme that offers free heating and insulation improvements.

Over 2011-12 the Warm Front scheme was under-spent by over £50 million. While it was over-subscribed in 2010-11 the number of applications has since fallen sharply.

Between April and July this year only 993 people from across the South West applied, making it one of the lowest claim-rates of any region in England. Figures were released this week as the Government relaxed eligibility for the scheme. According to Consumer Focus, a number of factors contributed to a slump in demand including strict eligibility and failure by the Government to advertise the scheme because they anticipated demand would exceed supply.

A spokesman for the organisation said: "A milder winter may have meant fewer people were prompted to apply.

"But it also seems there was a fall in the number of advice organisations referring people to the scheme due to the tighter eligibility restrictions and the smaller funding pot."

Jonathan Stearn, programme director at Consumer Focus, said the scheme could shave up to £600 a year off bills. He said: "A cold home can damage your health. So it's very worrying that high energy prices are leading so many people to cut back on their heating. We want to make sure that as many people as possible are helped to cut their bills and stay warm and well through the Warm Front scheme this year. We would urge anyone struggling with their bills to find out if they can claim free help."

Gillian Guy, chief executive at Citizens Advice said: "We're really worried people are struggling with their fuel bills because they live in homes that haemorrhage heat."

Mervyn Kohler, special adviser for Age UK, said Warm Front was being phased out and if the money wasn't spent it would go back into government coffers.

He said: "When this year's budget is exhausted, that's it.

"A cold home is a serious health hazard, and older households – who are particularly at risk – can act now, knowing that by Christmas they will be warmer and better prepared for the dangers and worries of a cold winter."

Rachel Monaghan, senior development officer, health and well-being at the National Children's Bureau, said some families with children in the South West will have to make the choice whether to heat or eat this winter.

She said: "We know many families are struggling to cope with rising fuel bills and are having to cut back on other essentials like food.

"We also know that growing up in a cold and damp home can have a real effect on children's health, learning and enjoyment of life."

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  • nick113  |  September 19 2012, 10:21AM

    I live in a 10 year old house. I had extra insulation put in my loft, and cavity wall insulation put in two years ago. Since then my gas consumption has dropped by around 30%.

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  • reptor2456  |  September 19 2012, 1:00AM

    The only people struggling are the jobless scummers who prefer to spend there dole on drink and cigs.

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  • Chunder123  |  September 18 2012, 11:21PM

    A well built house should be comfortable without the need for much heating. If they made the house walls twice or three times thicker than the average house that would give more insulation for starters. there is also plenty of trees in the bay that could be cut down to be used for wood burning stoves and that would cost nothing other than a saw. exactly who is running this world and dictating how we should live and what we should be made to pay in order to exist. IF it can be run this way then that means it could also be operated using other methods. It's sad to see people condemned to being ruled by money. Nobody has ever tried other methods of living. if we gave other methods a try we would be suprised there are many ways we could exist. Why are the rulers denying people other ways of existing and experementing different ways of life other than money and bills. That is not very advanced. if somebody wanted to build a house out of mud and grass somewhere on dartmoor they would be denied by these over authoritarian pigs

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  • josdave  |  September 17 2012, 2:27PM

    I was brought up in the 50s and anything we didn't have we managed without we didn't go whinging to newspapers etc. we made do. Sadly so many people seem to regard things like washing machines TVs etc as essentials whereas they are not and can be done without. Likewise for mobile phones (nothing wrong with landlines) and cars ( if you make the effort there is usually an alternative in public transport) and holidays (a luxury not an essential). If people are really without essentials then something is sadly wrong but when lifestyle is put ahead of these essentials then any inconvenience is seld inflicted.

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  • H20ADE  |  September 17 2012, 12:49PM

    My "poor"parents surving only on there State Pension had no problems keeping warm and eating well. They didn't smoke, rarely bought alcohol, wouldn't go near the bookies, couldn't be bothered with satelite TV and still managed to save a small amount. Perhaps more people, not just the Pensioners, should look at their own priorities before bleating on about how "poor" they are.

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  • nicold  |  September 17 2012, 9:48AM

    I am what is considered a poor pensioner and I have no problem paying for my heating. I think if you delve into what these people spend their money on, you will see that a lot drink, smoke, have Sky TV and don't save up for the essentials like heating!

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  • thetalkmon  |  September 16 2012, 8:45PM

    If you don't earn enough money to support your house and familys needs then your a failure at life and have no one to blame but yourself!. There are plenty of people out there making millions as they put in effort and use their intelligence. Anyone who complains about people making lots of money are simply jealous!

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  • neeneeoil  |  September 16 2012, 8:20PM

    Just for the record we didn´t have a car either.

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  • woe_is_me1  |  September 16 2012, 6:32PM

    Heat or eat? If you choose eat, what are you going to cook it on? Choose heat people and experience the wonder of pot noodle.

  • Shaynerer  |  September 16 2012, 6:26PM

    We hardly bother with the (ruinously expensive) gas central heating anymore since we had a mutli-fuel stove with back-boiler fitted that uses a new wonder fuel that's cheap, plentiful and easy to use. It's called coal.

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