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Badly insulated homes can be life-threatening, says charity

Homes that are badly insulated are not only a nuisance to their occupants; they’re life threateningly dangerous to the weak and the elderly. An exclusive report by the charity Age UK obtained by the Observer estimates that one person will die every seven minutes from the cold in the UK in the coming months. The charity urged the UK government to take "urgent action" to protect older homeowners from the potentially deadly consequences of living in a cold home.

"Only the government can change this and we call on it to act," director Caroline Abrahams said prior to  the charity's Campaign for Warm Homes, which kicked off days ago. Even though the charity warns that people will die if nothing is done, it also claims that many deaths have already occurred; over the last 60 years, 2.5 million - mostly older - people have died from cold-related deaths that could have been avoided in England and Wales, because of poorly insulated homes, Age UK said.  

Ironically, most schemes in place, which are designed to help those suffering hardship, fail to reach the right people. This is why the government axed its green deal energy efficiency programme in July. The scheme had received lacklustre response since its launch in 2013, aiming to slash energy bills for 14 million households by offering them loans to install insulation and new boilers.

There has been no replacement for the scheme, which was steeped in controversy and allegations of abuse from its onset a few years ago. People living in dwellings that are poorly insulated are, however, not completely left to their own devices.

Free help for vulnerable households is still available through what is known as the energy companies obligation (ECO). This scheme, set to end in March 2017, mandates the big energy firms to offer free cavity wall and/or loft insulation to those on pension credit or claiming other benefits. In some cases local authorities offer grants to local residents to help them pay for energy efficient measures.

Mark Todd, director of the Energyhelpline website commented in a report in the Guardian that the help on offer has slowed down over the past few years, due to government cuts to not only energy efficiency schemes, but also to social care with fewer visits to people in their homes.

"The government has been leaving everyone to fend for themselves, energy prices are still too high, and the funding for these schemes too low." The organisation believes there is an urgent need for a workable replacement for the green deal and reform of ECOs.

The detrimental effects of badly insulated homes do not just apply to pensioners, but they are also hitting those suffering disabilities and people on a low income. Estimates from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) are that around 2.3 million UK households are not able to afford to heat their home adequately.

The organisation considers households to be fuel poor when they are both on a low income and living in a property with higher than typical energy costs. "Just under half of fuel poor households are in work, and 45 per cent are families or lone parents," commented Richard Howard, head of environment and energy at thinktank Policy Exchange in the Guardian. "Fuel poverty has been made worse by rising energy prices, but also reflects the inefficiency of the nation's housing stock, which is among the least energy efficient in Europe."

Charities try to step in where possible. For instance, launched its No Cold Homes campaign recently, encouraging anyone struggling to pay energy bills to use its free online service to see if they are eligible for benefits, charitable grants and other support.