Money Wellness
Image of a pensioner sitting next to a storage heater looking cold while reading a bill. Nearly 10 million households live in cold homes
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calendar icon26 Feb 2024

Nearly 10 million households live in cold homes

New analysis has found that 9.6 million UK households are living in heat-leaking, poorly insulated homes and have incomes below what’s needed for an acceptable standard of living – meaning that finding enough money to pay for decent housing, enough heating and basic essentials is out of reach.

The report produced by University College London (UCL) on behalf of Friends of the Earth, demonstrates the urgent need for home insulation for those on the lowest incomes and comes just weeks after the Labour Party dramatically revised down its spending commitment to tackle the crisis.

Cold homes double the risk of adults developing new mental health conditions and put one in four children at risk of multiple health issues, such as anxiety and depression. Physical discomfort from the cold, financial stress, social isolation, and loneliness are all thought to contribute to declining mental health.

It’s estimated that tackling Britian’s cold home crisis would save the NHS tens of billions a pounds a year.

The UK has the oldest and least efficient housing stock in Europe. Since 2013, installation rates of energy saving measures and insulation has dropped by 90%.

The report spoke to Nicki Myers, a 50-year-old living in Cambridge. She is a palliative care patient and disabled rights activist who is bedbound due to Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a genetic condition that affects the connective tissue, and pulmonary fibrosis which causes scarring and thickness of lung tissue. She said:

“I’m in fuel debt, but when I tried to limit my energy use last winter I got hypothermia twice, so I don’t have any option but to heat my bedroom constantly in winter. Lots of councils have installed access equipment to reduce the number of care hours they provide, but many disabled people can’t afford to use it anymore because it’s too expensive to run. What’s more, no funding is provided to heat the rooms that domiciliary care staff need to use.

“There are so many sick and disabled people struggling to survive winters and heatwaves in the UK because of extortionate energy bills and not enough income. The final cost of living payments are being paid this month – I do not know what disabled people will do without them. I have no doubt that some of us will join the thousands who die every year from living in a cold home.

What help is available to make your home warmer?

You might be able to get free or cheaper insulation if your home:

  • Has an energy performance certificate (EPC) of D to G
  • Is in council tax brands A-D in England or A-E in Scotland or Wales

The scheme is open to homeowners, landlords and tenants (both private and housing association renters).

You might be able to get support to install:

  • Cavity wall insulation
  • Solid wall insulation
  • Loft insulation
  • Flat or pitched roof insulation
  • Underfloor insulation
  • Solid floor insulation
  • Park home insulation
  • Room-in-roof insulation

Apply here for the scheme and if you’re eligible, your energy supplier will contact you directly.
Free smart thermostats

Under the Eco4 scheme, you could get a free or a cheaper smart thermostat, which can optimise your heating – and reduce your energy bills - to ensure you only use the energy that you require. Smart thermostats can reduce your energy bills by between 8.4% - 16.5%.

You might be eligible for a smart thermostat if you claim any of the following benefits:

  • Pension credit guarantee credit
  • Pension credit saving credit
  • Income related employment and support allowance (ESA)
  • Income-based jobseekers allowance (JSA)
  • Income support
  • Working and child tax credits
  • Universal credit
  • Child benefit
  • Housing benefit
  • Warm home discount scheme

Even if you don’t claim any of the following benefits, you might still be eligible if you’re on a low income. Find out more here.

Grants and government support

If you’re struggling to pay your energy bills, you might be able to get help from certain schemes or grants.

Most energy companies have their own grants with some offering discounts, while others could write off your debt. Speak to your energy provider to find out what support they can offer.

The British Gas Energy Support Fund might also be able to help you. It provides help to anyone – regardless of whether you’re a British Gas customer – struggling with energy costs.

There are lost of other private grants that also offer support. Find out what is available to you by using the Turn2Us tracker.

The government’s Warm Home Discount scheme provides help with energy bills during the winter to those living on low incomes or pensions.

Those who qualify get £150 towards their electricity bills. And you don’t need to apply – it is automatically applied to your energy bill. The scheme is now closed for winter 2023/2024, with final payments due in bank accounts by 31 March 2024.  

The Priority Services Register

If you need extra support, you should apply to be listed on the Priority Services Register. This register helps utility companies, including energy suppliers, electricity, gas and water networks look after customers who have extra communication, access or safety needs. It helps providers to give more support and protection to households needing help with every day matters like bills, and also in the unlikely event of a power cut, gas or water supply interruption.

For more information or to register, visit here.

Avatar of Caroline Chell

Caroline Chell

Caroline has worked in financial communications for more than 10 years, writing content on subjects such as pensions, mortgages, loans and credit cards, as well as stockbroking and investment advice.

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