We know cold weather increases the demand on the health service, and with cold homes in particular, it is believed to be one reason behind increases in respiratory and circulatory diseases in winter. Older people are more likely to suffer from cold weather and in addition to affecting their health we know it can have an impact on their quality of life. The personal and family costs from becoming seriously ill or from a premature death because of the cold can be devastating. But it does not need to be this way.
Many countries colder than England have lower excess winter deaths, suggesting that these deaths could be preventable. Research has shown that improvements in the thermal efficiency of housing can contribute to improving circulatory health. Research also shows people can benefit from lower energy costs through switching suppliers, a point recently reinforced by the Competition and Market Authority’s Report into the Energy Market. So how can we help older people stay warm?
Community energy programme
Age UK recently piloted a programme involving fully-trained Energy Advisers to help keep older people warm at home. The programme supported 944 older people over a ten month period, delivering support in six areas across the northeast and northwest of England, ranging from energy-related advice to switching energy tariffs or applying for grants to having energy efficient equipment installed.
All older people feeding back rated the service highly; with almost a quarter saying they would not have sought help elsewhere. One older person articulated the experience of those supported by saying “the advice & service was excellent…the attitude towards me perfect.” The range of support provided meant all but one older person found the service useful.
The value of fully-trained Energy Advisers
In carrying out the evaluation we found fully-trained Energy Advisers are a real asset to the delivery of an energy-related service. The breadth and depth of their knowledge means that they have the skills to deal with all types of energy-related issues, enabling local Age UKs to provide a comprehensive energy-related support service.
We saw the potential of fully-trained Energy Advisers but the short timeframe for delivery of the pilot limited the ability to firmly conclude how successful or otherwise this role can be at keeping older people warm. With a late winter it was also clear that many of the issues resolved by Energy Advisers were not directly about keeping older people warm. Nonetheless we did draw learning that is presented in the Community Energy Programme Evaluation Report.
Beyond the effectiveness of Energy Advisers, carrying out the evaluation left us wondering why:
- Whether these programmes, which are funded by redress fines imposed by OFGEM, could be run over two winters? Running services over two years, which includes two winters, would be a more effective way to test and learn the effectiveness of a service in keeping older people warm.
- How can services better target older people who are likely to benefit most from energy-related advice? The use of client data may provide one such opportunity to explore, with energy companies identifying those older people who are using more energy and/or have a higher energy bill then their peers and inform them that they may wish to seek independent energy-related advice from a trusted source such as Age UK.
- Why is it not the norm for reducing energy costs to not be part of the conversation when talking to an older person about benefits entitlements? For older people disposable income is important and so a conversation about income should be both about receiving benefits entitled too and reducing expenditure, of which the largest may be energy spend.