Families struggling to pay energy bills

CAMPAIGNS to help bring down fuel poverty in West Sussex have been thriving as more and more households struggle to pay their energy bills.

This week Macmillan Cancer announced they are giving out almost twice as much in grants to help patients heat their homes than it was five years ago.

In 2011 the charity gave more than £104,000 in financial grants to 320 cancer patients in Sussex. Of this, 37 per cent of people were assisted with their energy bills.

Since the launch the Sussex Community Foundation’s Surviving Winter Campaign last year, hundreds of people have stepped forward to donate their Winter Fuel Payments to others more in need and a total of £22,000 has been distributed to date.

According to the Government’s most up-to-date figures from 2009, just over 6,000 households in the Horsham district are living in fuel poverty and, with the continuing recession, the situation is likely to be worse today.

This means a just over one in 10 (11.3 per cent) households are spending more than 10 per cent of their income adequately heating their homes, which is higher than in Crawley borough, where 9.2 per cent of households live in fuel poverty.

Carol Fenton, general manager for London, Anglia and the South East, Macmillan Cancer Support said: “To feel too scared to put the heating on because of soaring energy bills is an unacceptable reality for thousands of vulnerable cancer patients who feel the cold more and spend long periods of time at home.

“When the charity was established 100 years ago, founder Douglas Macmillan helped cancer patients by handing out sacks of coal to keep them warm.

“It is shocking that a century on, people who are diagnosed with this devastating disease are still relying on charity help to heat their freezing homes.”

Barry Pickthall from the Don’t Cut Us Out campaign group, which speaks out for the vulnerable in West Sussex, said fuel poverty is affecting the poorest people.

“The disabled and elderly are disproportionately affected by any increase in fuel costs. Their household budgets, already squeezed by cuts made in social care last year, are being hit again this year with a further £7m cut within the West Sussex County Council Adult Services budget.

“These people are not malingers; they are people with lifelong disabilities, those with Down syndrome, and cerebral palsy, together with those nearing the end of their lives with little in the way of savings.

“For too many, this fuel poverty trap leaves them with the stark choice between heating their homes or feeding themselves. And we call ourselves a civilised society?”

The Sussex Community Foundation’s Surviving Winter appeal is aiming to ease problems for some.

Chief executive of the Foundation, Kevin Richmond, said: “The response to this appeal has been fantastic. So many local people have been moved to help those in need.

“Sussex Community Foundation is delighted to work with Citizens Advice Bureau to make sure these donations reach the people who desperately need help. We call on local people to continue supporting this campaign and help vulnerable people to survive this winter.”

Meanwhile West Sussex County Council is running a successful campaign with the county’s district and borough councils called Warmer West Sussex after securing funding to help reduce fuel poverty.

Michelle Cheeseman, fuel poverty co-ordinator for West Sussex said: “We have been awarded £617,800 funding from the Department of Health for free homes visits from an energy expert.

“They help people with how to use heating controls properly, provide water tank jackets. We also work with the Citizens’ Advice Bureau for benefits. Maximising income is key to beating fuel poverty.”

The county council’s campaign will be running until March 31.

Residents who are having difficulty paying their gas and electricity bills can apply to receive a free visit from a Climate Energy home energy assessor, by calling 0800 0546815.