13/01/2017 07:07 GMT | Updated 14/01/2018 05:12 GMT

Disabled People Left Out In The Cold

The mercury is falling and most of the UK is in the grip of an arctic freeze.

For some of us our thoughts will turn to snowmen and sledging, but we should also pause and think about the wider implications particularly when it comes to heating our homes.

We all know that electricity and gas are not cheap. But for many disabled people, the impact of these high energy costs can be devastating.

Disabled people frequently have to use more energy because they can be less mobile, need to regulate their body temperature, or have to charge specialist equipment.

New Scope analysis has today revealed that 554,000 disabled households spend over £3,000 a year on energy, more than double that of the average UK household (£1,345).

As winter grips the nation we know that a third of disabled people (32%) have cut back on energy consumption in the past 12 months. Over a quarter of disabled people - which equates to an estimated 2 million people across the UK - have struggled to pay their energy bills in the past year.

As a result, many have been forced to cut back on heating, been so cold they've had wear their winter coats indoors, skipped meals or even had to borrow money to meet the ever-increasing cost of their energy bills.

Life costs more if you are disabled

Scope research shows that these costs add up to on average £550 a month, and higher energy bills play a significant part.

Jenny, 44, - not her real name - has fibromyalgia and her mobility is impaired. She describes winter as "hell" because her heating bills are "so expensive". She's had to turn the heating off completely when it was cold.

She says, "When it's really cold, I go to bed after tea at 5pm to keep warm. I have depression due to the worry and stress of having to make the choice between heating or food."

The question then becomes, how do we stop disabled people bearing the brunt of the energy crisis?

For a start energy companies must get better at identifying disabled people when they initially become customers and work with them to help them manage their energy spending throughout the entire time of their contract.

That needs to be backed up with schemes that can help to drive down costs, including more promotion and better awareness of the Priority Services Register (PSR) and the Warm Homes Discount among disabled people.

We also need consistency; some disabled people get support and guidance others don't. Energy companies need to start using a shared definition of 'vulnerability' to ensure consistency in the support they proved to disabled energy consumers.

We can do this. There are at least 889,000 fuel poor households in England with a disabled person, which constitutes over 37% of all fuel poor households - that's a significant and identifiable section of the energy market.

It's time to put our energy into action.