'Warm places' created to help cash-strapped Black Country residents unable to pay for heating

Fears that families will be suffering in the cold this winter due to unaffordable energy bills has led to a network of "warm places" being set up in the Black Country where people can gather for free.

Energy bills are going up
Energy bills are going up

The health consequences of constantly living in the cold can be lethal for the elderly and infirm, and in Dudley alone there will be at least 25,000 households living in fuel poverty.

Rapidly rising fuel bills forced families in Wolverhampton to cut themselves off from gas and electric mains to stop the red letters arriving and many hard-up residents will be forced to choose between food or heating when temperatures drop.

Andrew Tromans, a community campaigner in Stourbridge, urged Dudley Council to create "warm banks" similar to food banks where residents can spend several hours without spending any money.

He told the Express and Star: "Without further action to help those who ware struggling to heat their homes and eat regular meals we could see a devastating impact on our NHS this winter.

"Experiencing cold and hunger can exacerbate existing health problems and damage people's mental wellbeing".

The last Government statistics recording fuel poverty revealed 24,248 households in Dudley borough could not afford to keep their homes warm in 2020, however, in the last two years energy bills have more than doubled leaving many unable to turn their central heating on.

Cat Eccles, Labour Wollaston and Stourbridge town councillor, said: "I am receiving a lot of correspondence from residents who are deeply anxious about their ability to keep up with fuel costs and other rising bills.

"I would urge anyone who is struggling to contact their energy provider and pay what they can afford. I'm seeing a lot of scams popping up to target people during this crisis, so please look for advice from trusted sources and help friends and family to avoid these traps."

Councillor Cat Eccles and campaigner Andy Tromans

Dale Pickin, administration officer at Dudley Council for voluntary service, appealed to volunteers and organisations who helped during the Covid-19 pandemic to repeat their selflessness this winter.

He said: "We recognise that this winter might present new challenges for many in our communities as we face significant rises in the cost of living, particularly around soaring energy costs. So we’d like to invite you to play a part, however big or small, in our new work called ‘Warm Welcomes’.

"Dudley CVS believes passionately that there are things we can do collectively to support and nurture our communities, even in difficult circumstances. With the colder months approaching, we want to help bring together a network of venues that can offer people Warm Welcomes – somewhere they can enjoy companionship and a cuppa in a warm, safe, welcoming space.

"To go with the venues offering their spaces, we’d like to recruit a team of people who may be able to give a little of their time to welcome people, perhaps by being a friendly face, making drinks, helping with activities, the list is endless. A friendly face and warm welcome will make a huge difference."

There will be Warm welcome hubs in Brierley Hill, Dudley Central, Dudley North, Halesowen and Stourbridge.

Mr Tromans asked Dudley Council’s Health and Social Care Scrutiny Committee what plans are being put in place help Dudley residents facing months shivering in their unheated homes.

In response Dudley Council replied: "Dudley Council shares Mr Tromans concern regarding the impact of fuel poverty on our population. We are working in partnership with other agencies, including health and the community and voluntary sector to mitigate poverty in our borough. This includes coordination of the Warm Homes scheme, distribution of the government’s Household Support Fund and funding for services to support people experiencing poverty."

Dudley borough residents who are living in fuel poverty are being urged to visit dudley.gov.uk/council-community/cost-of-living.

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