Help with fuel bills for elderly poor people in West Somerset

Four years ago someone at the Somerset Community Foundation had a good idea to help some of the poorest older people in Somerset. Why not ask those pensioners who didn’t need their government winter fuel payment to donate it so that the money could be given to other pensioners who couldn’t afford to keep warm in winter? So the Surviving Winter project was born. In the four years since it started, it has made grants to hundreds of Somerset pensioners so they can pay their fuel bills.

It’s well known that winter cold can be a killer, especially for older people with heart or respiratory conditions. Keeping warm can be a matter of life or death. And it has become harder. In those four years, the cost of fuel has increased dramatically, forcing more and more people into what is known as ‘fuel poverty’ – defined as needing to spend over 10 per cent of their income on fuel.

Pensioners at risk

Pensioners in West Somerset are particularly at risk. The district has the second highest percentage of over 65s in the country, and the highest fuel poverty figures in the south west. It’s not surprising that we have to spend so much on keeping warm. More than half the homes in West Somerset have solid walls which are harder and more expensive to insulate, and more than half don’t have mains gas supplied to their home. This means they have to use other, much more expensive ways of heating: oil or electricity (which costs more than twice the price of gas). And we have a very rural scattered population.

Forum 21 was asked to help with the project in West Somerset. Using our contacts and our team of trained volunteers we have been able to pay over £40,000 to a large number of elderly people in the last three years.  We visit everyone who applies. As well as assessing their eligibility for the grant, we can often find other ways of helping them to keep their homes warmer, referring them for other help if necessary. Some of those we visit have real difficulty keeping warm, going to bed in the late afternoon because that’s the only way to keep warm. For many people the Surviving Winter grant is a lifeline.

Applying for funding

Forum 21 still has some funds available this winter. Please ring 01984 634 242 if you would like to apply, or if you know someone else who needs the grant. The grant is available for pensioners, but people over 50 who have difficulty keeping warm can apply, especially if they have a health condition or disability.

But the project depends on the donations made by other pensioners. To make a donation contact the Somerset Community Foundation on 01749 344 949 or visit their website:  somersetcf.org.uk. Someone’s life may depend on it.

February 2014