Older people in Fife have lost around £5m due to the Government’s reduction in the Winter Fuel Payments.
And in a further blow, with average electricity bills soaring by £240 in a year, Fife’s almost 56,000 older households are facing an increase of over £13m.
Lianne Lodge, an associate with leading legal, financial and property specialists Pagan Osborne and member of Solicitors for the Elderly fears the burden will hit Fife’s almost 90,000 older people hard.
“This really is an absolutely shocking figure within the space of a single year, especially since last year we were already bemoaning record bills. Utilities bills have in some cases risen by as much as 20% at the same time the Winter Fuel Payment has been slashed. This can only be bad news for some of society’s most vulnerable people.”
This year’s Winter Fuel Payment from the UK Government has been cut from £250 to £200 for people aged 60 (as of January of the awarding year) to 79 and from £400 to £300 for people aged 80 and over.
And Lianne, who heads up Pagan Osborne’s lateryears service, warns this is not a short-term problem. The over-75s is the fastest growing age group, expected to increase by 64.3% in Fife by 2024.
“Now is the time for innovative solutions. Not short-term sticking plasters over what is a long-term and expanding issue, but solutions that can make a real and lasting difference.
“Almost everyone aged 60 and over is eligible for the Winter Fuel Payment, whether or not they are in work, live abroad, well-off or are in a difficult position. Sometimes a reassessment using common sense is what is needed and I think that could make a significant difference to the pot of money available. There is a concern with means-testing as that may limit access to those who need it.”
Bills have almost doubled in five years and are set to continue to rise despite a concerted effort by the public, private and voluntary sectors to promote energy efficiency and insulation.
“Some older people can be quite proud and don’t want to ask for help. For others, they simply don’t know what is available to them and how the can access it. No-one should have to decide between heating and eating but we know that sadly happens. More needs to be done to promote services and options to older people so they can access what they are entitled to.”