Surviving Winter appeal tackles dire energy debt crisis as older and vulnerable struggle

Ros Dignan, back right, with Citizens Advice advisors who will once again be partnering with Dorset Community Foundation on its Surviving Winter appeal

By Sam Pither [email protected]

Published: November 1, 2023 | Updated: 1st November 2023

With energy prices still sky-high, Dorset Community Foundation has launched its annual Surviving Winter appeal, run in partnership with Citizens Advice in Dorset, to aid older and vulnerable residents battling fuel poverty.

The appeal distributes £200 grants to pensioners and vulnerable people aged 50 and over living in fuel poverty who often can only afford to heat one room for a few hours a day and routinely skip meals to save money for their fuel bills.

Citizens Advice project manager Ros Dignan, who has been involved with the appeal since it first launched in 2010, said: “Things have gone up hugely and although the energy prices are falling slightly since last year, they are still significantly higher than two years ago and the government’s Energy Bills Support Scheme, which gave households £400 off their bills, ended in March.”

“We’re finding that people are actually starting off on a back foot because they’re in arrears. I think this year the build-up of that debt is going to be more noticeable, which is terrible because you think it’s been pretty grim for the last couple of years for people.”

“We’ve seen newer people coming in and seeking help that we probably wouldn’t have seen before because they would have been managing okay. And certainly more older people starting to contact us and say ‘actually, you know, I managed to get through last year. It was a struggle, but I’m now in debt’.”

Mrs Dignan said tales of people choosing between heating and eating are so commonplace it is easy to become immune to the shock of it. “But it is reality though,” she said.

“We have people contact us who haven’t got any money for their gas or their electric, or actually are choosing to have their electric on and not have their gas on because they can’t risk their fridge or freezer going off, they don’t want to lose all their food or their medications.”

She said the grant helps people keep their homes warm while, with the support of the Citizens Advice energy advisors, they make a plan to manage their bills, get energy saving advice and learn about other benefits they may be entitled to.

“You see the relief in their faces,” she said. “It’s that breathing space where they’ve got that time to think ‘right okay, that is going to help me get by’.”

Dorset Community Foundation chief executive Grant Robson said: “In previous years we have asked people who feel they don’t need their government Winter Fuel Allowance to ‘recycle’ it so we can give it to someone in need.

“Although fewer people might feel they are in that position because of the economic situation, we hope they will still be generous and help us because cold homes and poor diet can be killers. Over the last five years in Dorset an average of 590 people have died from cold-related illness over the winter.

“We will be relying on the wonderful donors who have given us such fantastic support over the last 13 years to do so again.”

Donate to Surviving Winter at, at or by sending a cheque made payable to Dorset Community Foundation to Surviving Winter appeal, Dorset Community Foundation, The Spire, High Street, Poole, BH15 1DF.

Find out more about applying for help from the appeal by calling Citizens Advice on 01929 775500.

Read next: Food wholesalers join Dorset Community Foundation in launching grassroots charity fund

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