OLDER people and those with additional needs struggling with the cost of heating their homes can get advice and help with claiming extra benefits, thanks to the Surviving Winter Campaign.
Wiltshire Community Foundation’s £90,000 campaign is working with Citizens Advice in Wiltshire and Swindon, as well as with Warm and Safe Wiltshire and Age UK. The campaign, now in its 11th year, aims to help more than 900 people and hopes to prevent the deaths of 400 elderly people across the county who are at risk from cold-related illness over the winter.
The government estimates more than 30,000 people in the county live in fuel poverty – meaning they cannot afford to heat their homes properly.
Wiltshire and Swindon Citizens Advice will use funding from the campaign to train advisors to identify people at risk from fuel poverty and help them claim benefits such as Attendance Allowance for those over 65 and Personal Independence Payments for those under 65.
Wiltshire Citizens Advice CEO Suzanne Wigmore said the partnership with Wiltshire Community Foundation means it can increase the support it offers. “It is a huge help to us,” she said. “We are able to increase the number of clients we can help but it has also made us more aware and brought to the forefront the conversation about heating and additional cost. It has helped us to identify people we might not have flagged up before.”
She said that helping people claim the benefits gives them extra money to spend on heating and insulation. “The good thing is that the two main benefits we are helping with are not mean-tested,” she said. “Some people worry that claiming the extra payments will affect other benefits, but it doesn’t affect them at all. In fact, they can even act as a gateway for you to get extra money if you do get means-tested benefits.”
She said the charity, which is working online and by phone while its offices in Devizes, Chippenham, Trowbridge and Salisbury are closed due to Covid, is seeing an increase in people getting in touch with fears about bills.
“We had our busiest two weeks this year so far at the end of November,” she said. “Over the summer we were mainly dealing with employment and Universal Credit enquiries but since September we are seeing people who may have been shielding and have managed for more than six months but are now starting to see bills coming in. Often those people have delayed contacting us because they were concentrating on food, prescriptions and shielding.
“People have been unable to go to day centres or see friends and family and the crossover between those who have been choosing to self-isolate and those who can claim is high.”
Advisors speak to clients about their circumstances and finances and identify where claimants may be able to claim additional funds, including money to heat their homes. “These benefits are about peoples’ care and support needs. They may not see themselves as disabled, but they still qualify because they need help.
“It’s incredibly challenging to claim some of these benefits, the forms are over 40 pages long and we often get people who haven’t had a medical diagnosis, but that doesn’t matter. We just need to show they need additional support.”
The Personal Independence Payment will also help people with mental health issues. “The additional payment can help people who have extra support needs from both poor physical or mental health, for example, those who are unable to leave the house without support,” said Mrs Wigmore. “It can be harder for clients to explain how this affects their daily living.”
Wiltshire Community Foundation joint chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “The generous support Surviving Winter is already receiving is helping us fund targeted and expert advice and guidance that can make a real difference through our fantastic partners like Citizens Advice.
“The Surviving Winter Campaign is an excellent way for people to redirect their government Winter Fuel Payment if they don’t need or want it and would like to help someone who would really benefit.”
Contact Wiltshire Citizens Advice on 0800 1448848 and donate to Surviving Winter at wiltshirecf.org.uk.