Plans are being drawn together for communal heat banks to be set up, to help people unable to afford their heating this winter.
As we slowly move towards autumn, fears around the cost of living crisis are rising in the face of increasing fuel, energy and utility costs, coupled with the highest inflation in years.
Energy costs have risen dramatically this year. The annual cap, which is based on the wholesale price of gas and electricity, sets the maximum amount a utility company can charge customers each year for the amount of energy they have used.
This cap rose to almost £2,000 in April, and in May, UK energy regulator Ofgem estimated that the price cap would reach £2,800 at the October review.
However, chief executive officer at Ofgem, Jonathan Brearley, has now warned that initial predictions were likely to be an under-estimate.
He told the public accounts committee on Monday: ‘It’s clear given the pricing dynamics we’re seeing, given the ongoing impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, that there is positive pricing pressure there – as in prices are looking higher than they did when we made that estimate.’
And new forecasts out last week, from experts at Cornwall Insight, predict that another price hike could actually push the cap to £3,244 per year from October.
With the predicted increase in costs, campaigning organisation Don’t Pay UK has estimated that up to 6.3million households won’t be able to afford their energy bills and will be unable to heat their homes this winter.
According to the National Energy Action (NEA) 11,400 winter deaths are already caused by cold weather each year.
In the face of this crisis, money-saving expert Martin Lewis tweeted his concern and suggested that people who are unable to afford their heating may have to turn to warm spaces as winter approaches.
He said: ‘I wonder if this winter we will need “warm banks” the equivalent of “food banks” where people who can’t afford heating are invited to spend their days at no cost with heating (e.g. libraries, public buildings)?’
While this may seem like a dystopian idea – councils across the UK are already developing plans to set up these warm places.
In response to Martin Lewis, the mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, tweeted: ‘The sad reality is we have been actively organising a citywide network of warm places (we call them ‘Welcoming Places’) for #Bristol.
‘We plan to have them set up by Sept, ready to open in Oct.’
Last Tuesday, Marvin raised the issue during a cabinet meeting where he appealed for help to set up and provide these ‘Welcoming Places’, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service. He also suggested that these locations could help people access food, education and financial advice.
The mayor said: ‘It almost sounds like wartime, but we’ll be working with community organisations and partners around the city to set up warm places that people can go to if they need to, come autumn when people need to turn their heating on again.
‘It’ll be a warm place, there’ll be homework support, services there, financial advice.
‘Hopefully, we’ll be able to align it with some of the programmes we have to tackle hunger as well.’
He has asked ‘anyone in the city’ of Bristol to help where they can by providing locations for the warm spaces or any financial assistance to help set them up.
He added: ‘If you have a place, we’re looking for places for financial support, food support, educational support, and we need the cash.’
Other UK councils are now talking about setting up similar spaces.
Other warm spaces:
But many of these sites already exist across parts of the UK and other countries.
- At the start of 2022, Bungay Community Support (BCS), a group based in Suffolk, provided ‘warm rooms’ for people to use over the winter, according to reports from the Eastern Daily Press. It was set up for those struggling to afford energy prices and to help combat loneliness in the community.
- Media watcher Dr Ian Gerner replied to Martin’s tweet and said: ‘We have warming sites in Canada. We’ve always had them. But we don’t have enough. If Canada can’t do it, Britain has no chance. People will die.’
- The Berlin Senate is also planning ‘heat halls’ for those living in Berlin who may be faced with gas shortages, the multimedia news site, RBB24 reports.
The Marvin Rees’ press team told Metro.co.uk: ‘We are looking to get an action plan ready in the next few weeks, once that’s ready we can make further comments.’
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