Tens of thousands of older people living in park homes are putting their health at risk as they struggle to keep warm over the winter, due to the high cost of heating, according to new research by Age UK.
Around 100,000 people aged 65 plus are estimated to live in this type of prefabricated bungalow, which appeals to many older people as an attractive and seemingly more affordable option than a traditional home.
Very poorly insulated
Yet the reality is that these park homes which were constructed before newer building regulations kicked in – and that’s the vast majority – are very poorly insulated and off the gas grid, making them extremely difficult and expensive to heat. Age UK’s new report ‘Don’t Leave Park Homes Out In The Cold’ looks at the challenges that park home residents face in being able to buy enough energy to keep warm, and explains why Government schemes such as the Green Deal and ECO have done very little to help.
In a new Age UK survey of over 200 park home residents aged 65 plus, over half reported they faced problems staying warm in their home over the winter months and a similar proportion said their health problems were made worse by cold weather. This is particularly worrying considering older people are more vulnerable to low temperatures and that exposure to the cold increases their risk of flu, chest infections and other respiratory problems.
The effects of fuel poverty
Around 1 in 4 of those surveyed spent a quarter to a third of their income on heating their home – a huge amount for them considering that the majority of park home owners are retired and living on a low fixed income3. The high cost of heating fuel (66%), poor insulation (67%) and being off the gas grid (49%) were cited by them as the main barriers to keeping warm.
At least two out of three respondents spent such a large proportion of their income on keeping warm that they were ‘officially’ in fuel poverty according to the Government’s definition.
For those respondents facing difficulties keeping warm, 4 in 10 reported going to bed early and 20% cut back on food in an effort to pay their heating bills. Others said they sometimes wrapped themselves in blankets with hot water bottles in the daytime and only heated part of their park home – which typically wouldn’t be very big in the first place – in order to manage their energy costs.
The report and research are released today ahead of the launch of Age UK’s park homes campaign in Parliament on Wednesday 21 October. Supported by MPs Natascha Engel (Labour, North East Derbyshire) and Peter Aldous (Conservative, Waveney, Suffolk), we’re calling on the Government set up an energy efficiency scheme to help park home residents reduce their heating bills and keep warm and well over the winter.
Age UK research found that cost is the main barrier to residents fitting insulation in their homes, with half reporting that Government schemes hadn’t helped them.
Many park home owners are unable to access financial help to improve the energy efficiency of their homes because they don’t have their own individual electricity meter. This means they can’t switch to get the best deal or benefit from Government help for low income pensioners such as the Warm Home Discount.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK says:
‘Park homes can be idyllic in the summer but many older residents have told us that they have found to their horror that they are very poorly insulated and therefore prohibitively expensive to keep warm when it gets cold.
‘A significant number know they can’t afford the huge bills they are racking up and so they are putting their health at risk by turning the heating down or off at when they really need the thermostat up high.
‘The Government created schemes such as the Green Deal to assist people who can’t afford to keep warm, yet because of the kind of accommodation they are living in most park home owners have been unable to access any help, even though their homes are more likely than most to need better insulation.
The cold poses real health risks
‘We know that the cold is a real health risk for older people – for example, they are 3 times more likely than younger people to suffer strokes if they do not keep warm – so it would make a lot of sense for the Government to make sure park home owners can afford to keep warm by supporting them to insulate their properties properly.
‘Older people living in park homes are a small but significant group who are unfairly losing out from current Government initiatives to relieve fuel poverty and insulate leaky homes. It’s high time we brought them in from the cold.
‘To achieve this we suggest investing cash leftover from the Government’s Green Deal Home Improvement Fund to set up a special scheme to help park home owners. Not only would this improve their health and wellbeing over the cold winter months, in the longer term it would help reduce illness and demands on NHS, making it a win: win for everyone.’
For more help or advice with park home insulation options please contact BPR by telephone or email where we will be delighted to help you.