Being properly prepared for winter is sensible and can save a great deal of inconvenience. It’s especially important for disabled people who can be vulnerable to exacerbations brought on by cold weather or who would struggle to stay safe and comfortable during a weather emergency.
The good news is that, as we go to press, the best long term weather predictions for the UK aren’t too bad. It’s likely that the trend of above average temperatures experienced during 2017 is set to continue. On the other hand the Met Ofﬁce has predicted that some areas might witness 30% more rainfall than the seasonal average this winter, leading possibly, to ﬂooding and so on.
Here are a few important tips for disabled people as they prepare for winter…
Start with yourself…
Eating properly is important during cold weather since 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 other 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.)
Make sure you have a good stock of any prescription medication you use and take up the opportunity to get the ﬂu jab (vaccination). Your GP will be able to conﬁrm your eligibility – if you aren’t eligible, you might choose to buy one from a high street chemist, from around £10.
Move around as best you can during the day doing simple activities. This is good for the circulation and will make you feel warmer. If you have speciﬁc chores to do, spread them out during the day.
Talk to people
You may not be able to get out and about as easily as usual. Keep in touch with friends and relatives by phone. It’ll keep your spirits up.
Remember that three thin layers are better than one or two thick ones. A thin scarf around your neck will help you keep warm. Whilst seated, keep your feet up since the air is cooler at ground level. However, don’t elevate them too high since you want the circulation to reach your extremities with ease.
You might also use an electric blanket and hot water bottle. Be sure to follow the instructions to avoid scalding – and don’t use both at once, thus avoiding risk of electric shock.
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.)
Particularly if you live in a remote location or in a place at risk of flooding, it’s good to have a plan as to what to do and ideally, where to go, if there are problems that cause you to evacuate your home.
As part of your preparedness, locate your water stopcock and learn how it works. Also look at protecting any pipes that might freeze (and burst) by insulating them. Keep salt and sand handy to put on steps or paths in icy weather.
In your home…
It’s well worth making sure that your central heating and boiler are working properly. An annual service will make sure your systems are safe, efficient and effective. (You should be aiming to keep at least the parts of your home that you use most at 21°C during the day and 18°C at night.
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.
Get the full benefit from your radiators by having them bled and not blocking them with furniture or other objects.
NB: Avoid blocking ventilation points in the home and fit carbon monoxide and smoke alarms.
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 – that cannot be re-charged in the event of a powercut, radios can run for quite a long time on batteries.
In the car
Make sure your car is regularly serviced and keep a kit of essentials in the boot including, at least, a blanket or sleeping bag, torch and food (such as chocolate bars). Ideally, you’ll also take a fully charged mobile phone with you.
Tell people where you’re going
If the weather is really treacherous, pause for a moment to weigh up if your journey is worthwhile. If you decide to go, make sure you tell people where you’re going and when you’ll return. If you live alone you could cunningly ask your neighbour if they need anything, thus avoiding any embarrassment you might feel.
Don’t go out
Consider having groceries etc delivered.
It’s also sensible to make sure that you’re taking full advantage of the help available to you. There are a variety of ways in which eligible people can get financial help to help them stay warm. The Government and energy companies can offer a range of schemes, payments or other sources of support such as grants and trusts.
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’ll receive a letter by 30 November 2017 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 didn’t get the letter but you think you qualify.)
Your electricity supplier will apply the discount to your bill by the end of March 2018.
Tel: 0345 603 9439 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: 0345 600 0723
Textphone: 0345 600 0743
Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm
Winter Fuel Payment
If you were born before 5 August 1953 then you may be eligible to receive support with your heating costs. You could receive between £100 and £300 to help with your heating bills. Most payments are made automatically between November and December. (You should get your money by 15 January 2018.)
You usually get a Winter Fuel Payment automatically if you’re eligible and you get the State Pension or another social security benefit (not Housing Beneﬁt, Council Tax Reduction, Child Beneﬁt or Universal Credit).
You have until 31 March 2018 to claim for winter 2017 to 2018. (Any money you receive won’t affect your other beneﬁts.)
If you meet the eligibility criteria but you do not receive your payment you will need to make a claim.
For further information call the Winter Fuel Payment Centre on: 03459 151 515.
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 recollection 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. www.britishgasenergytrust.org.uk
EDF Energy Trust
Eligibility: Current domestic account holders of EDF Energy only.
npower Energy Fund
Eligibility: Current domestic account holders of npower only.