Warning over energy bill debt as Wiltshire Community Foundation launches Surviving Winter appeal

By Nick Batten on 12 December, 2023

Wiltshire Community Foundation is urging businesses to support an appeal that bids to prevent older and vulnerable suffering over the cold winter months.

Its annual Surviving Winter appeal, now in its 13th year, was set up in response to the average 300 cold-related deaths each winter in the county and works with Wiltshire Warm and Safe, Swindon and Wiltshire Citizens Advice and Age UK, which 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.

Last year the appeal’s partners helped 3,039 people across 1,892 households. This year a fifth partner, the Wiltshire Centre for Independent Living, has joined the programme.

Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Joint Chief Executive Fiona Oliver said harrowing stories of older and vulnerable people heating just one room for a few hours a day or skipping meals to save money for their bills have become commonplace since the appeal was first launched in 2010.

“Every year we hear heartbreaking tales that just shouldn’t be happening in a civilised country in 2023,” she explained. “The fuel grants help provide people with peace of mind that they can have the heating on, which we are told by experts in geriatric health is essential for older and vulnerable people.

“Also the extra support and advice our partners supply can increase a households’ income through benefits they are entitled to but either didn’t know about or couldn’t understand how to apply for. We can help fix immediate problems but more importantly, we can leave people better equipped, safer and more hopeful for the future.”

She continued, “It would be wonderful if companies could donate money from Christmas jumper days, mince pie bake-offs or collections at their festive parties.

“We have had superb support in past years from businesses across Wiltshire and Swindon and it would be fantastic if we had that again.”

Shareen Elnagy, a Project Manager for the Centre For Sustainable Energy’s Wiltshire Warm and Safe programme, is warning that although energy bills have fallen slightly, they are still significantly higher than two years ago and the government’s Energy Bills Support Scheme, which gave households £400 off their bills, ended in March.

She fears a rise in the number of people falling into arrears because of high-standing charges will see more coming to them for help.

“It’s hard giving energy advice at times,” she said, “because there’s only so much you can do and with the standing charge being such a large proportion of the bill you’ve already paid before using any energy.

“I think without the help of the government and with the standing charge debt and the cost of living, everything is so expensive now, it’s scary. We’ll have even more people asking for financial help.”

Fiona added that any amount people can spare will make a huge difference and is asking people who receive the government’s Winter Fuel Allowance to consider donating all or part of it. “This year everyone is under extra financial pressure but support for those who see the colder months as a time of worry and dread has never been more needed – or appreciated.”

Donate to the appeal at www.wiltshirecf.org.uk/about/surviving-winter, by calling 01380 738989, emailing wiltshirecf.org.uk or sending a cheque made payable to Wiltshire Community Foundation to 21 Northgate Street, Devizes, SN101JT.

Pictured above: Wiltshire Community Foundation Joint Chief Executive Fiona Oliver, with Chair of Trustees Angus Macpherson, right, and trustee Mark Barnett