As the cold weather descends and the evenings start to turn darker, it is a good idea to make sure that preparations for the winter months are in place.

By Kirsty Harding

Keeping warm and healthy

When the temperatures drop, it is important to make sure everybody keeps warm, to prevent illnesses and remain content.

  • Wear multiple layers of clothing. Not only are you getting additional warmth through extra garments, the layers trap warm air, keeping you cosy. Thermal underwear and woollen or fleece clothing are also good to have in your wardrobe.
  • Heat your bed with a hot water bottle. Do not, however use a hot water bottle with an electric blanket – and be aware of other safety precautions required for using electric blankets. (Electric blankets should be regularly checked to make sure that they are safe to use.)
  • You’ll use up more calories as your body tries to keep warm. You should eat at least one hot meal a day and supplement that with hot drinks during the day, particularly if they also contain decent amounts of calories, such as hot chocolate, soups or milky drinks. Nevertheless, your diet should still include five portions of fruit and vegetables a day so that you maintain levels of vitamins and minerals – important for fighting off winter colds or infections. (Ideally, make sure you have a stock of three days food and bottled drinking water just in case you are ‘cut off’ by weather events or power is lost for a couple of days. Packets and tins are ideal since they don’t require refrigeration to keep them fresh.)
  • Age UK recommends that you keep your bedroom temperature at 18°C and for your main living area to be heated to at least 21°C.
  • Getting a flu jab is recommended to keep you healthy over the winter and this can be arranged at your local GP or some pharmacies. It is free of charge for people with certain conditions that make them susceptible to cold or flu like symptoms.
  • Whilst it may be safer at times to stay indoors in the cold weather, getting regular exercise is important for your health. Try to stay active if possible, doing some exercises in your home or even doing physical activities such as housework.
  • You may find that your mood is affected by a lack of social interaction if you are forced to stay at home for extended periods. If you have friends and family to speak with then it may help to explain how you are feeling. Age UK operates a weekly friendship call scheme for over-60s. You sign up for the Call in Time service through their website or by calling: 0800 434 6105. You’ll be matched with a suitable volunteer who will then share time with you over a weekly telephone call.


Help with energy bills

  • Keeping the boiler and your central heating system serviced on a regular basis can prevent energy wastage or from putting yourself in any danger from say gas leaks etc.
  • Keep a torch and batteries or candles handy to use in case of a power failure. (Do not, however, use naked flames if you can smell gas.)
  • Fuel, heat (and money) is sometimes wasted inadvertently through draughts around doors or windows. Simple fixes are available from hardware shops. You may also choose to attach thermal liners to curtains – or at least draw them as soon as it gets dark. NB: Avoid blocking ventilation points in the home and fit carbon monoxide and smoke alarms.
  • Get the full benefit from your radiators by having them bled and not blocking them with furniture or other objects.

Financial Support

The Government and energy companies can offer a range of schemes, payments or other sources of support such as grants and trusts to help people stay warm.

The Warm Home Discount Scheme

The Warm Home Discount Scheme could provide you with a discount of £140 from your electricity bill this winter. (The money isn’t paid to you – it’s a one-off discount on your electricity bill, between October and March and won’t affect your Cold Weather Payment or Winter Fuel Payment, if you receive it.) You may be able to get the discount on your gas bill instead if your supplier provides you with both gas and electricity. Contact your supplier to find out.

You’ll receive a letter by 7 December 2018 telling you how to get the discount if you qualify but you may be able to apply directly to your electricity supplier for help if you don’t automatically qualify because you don’t get the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit. If you’re on a low income or you get certain means-tested benefits your claim may be successful. (Contact the Warm Home Discount Team if you don’t get the letter but you think you qualify.)

Your electricity supplier will apply the discount to your bill by the end of March 2019.

Telephone: 0800 731 0214

Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 4:30pm

Cold Weather Payment

You may get a Cold Weather Payment if you’re getting certain benefits.

If the average temperature in your area is recorded as, or forecast to be, zero degrees Celsius or below for seven consecutive days, you’ll get a payment. You’ll get £25 for each seven day period of very cold weather between 1 November and 31 March.

Further information is available from your local Jobcentre Plus. (Tell your pension centre or Jobcentre Plus office if you think you should have received a Cold Weather Payment but you haven’t – and if you’re getting Universal Credit, contact the helpline instead.)

Universal Credit helpline

Telephone: 0800 328 9344

Monday to Friday, 9am to 4pm

Textphone: 0800 328 1344

Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm

Priority Service Register (PSR) – for older and disabled people

The Priority Service Register supports disabled people through advice about their energy supply.

Not only do they offer free energy efficiency advice but they will also send your bills in an alternative format (such as big print) or even give you a free quarterly meter reading if you can’t read it yourself – or for that matter, move your meter to make things easier – helping you to understand exactly what’s going on with your fuel consumption.

A password-protected account can help shield against unwanted ‘cold callers’ whilst at the same time giving you access to the extra help available to use your meter or appliances.

If you experience a power outage you’ll literally be on the ‘priority’ list for reconnection and in serious instances you may be able to receive alternative facilities for cooking and heating if your supply is cut off. (For safety, an annual gas check can be arranged.)

Signing up if you’re a pensioner, disabled or chronically sick, or have a hearing or visual impairment is simply a matter of contacting your supplier.

Other Sources of financial help…

British/Scottish Gas Energy Trust

Eligibility: Anyone living in England, Scotland and Wales in need, hardship or other distress. Applications are welcomed from customers of all energy companies.

EDF Energy Trust

Eligibility: Current domestic account holders of EDF Energy only.

npower Energy Fund

Eligibility: Current domestic account holders of npower only.

Outside help…

Emergency numbers

There may well be situations where you need to call on experts to help you out. To this end, take a few minutes to list down helpline telephone numbers from energy suppliers and water companies as well as numbers for your doctor, pharmacist, plumber, electrician, as well as your nearest neighbour who might be able to provide help if you’re in a jam. (You should also note down your account numbers etc for when you speak with helpline staff.)

Stay informed

Stay tuned to your local radio station for the latest announcements concerning weather and services in your area. Unlike your computer, for the internet, or phone, radios can run for quite a long time on batteries – that cannot be re-charged in the event of a powercut.