Warm in winter: A guide for people with disabilities

As the chill of winter sets in, it is important to keep your home warm to help you stay comfortable and healthy. This guide offers advice on heating your home effectively, as well as providing some useful tips for keeping costs down.

Stay warm, stay healthy

Keeping your body warm during the winter months will reduce your chances of suffering health problems further down the line. As the temperature falls, our bodies are more prone to health risks such as infectious viruses and high blood pressure.

Although viruses like flu are fairly common all-year round, they are especially widespread during the winter months, which is commonly known as the ‘flu season’. In a cold environment, a cold or flu infection can quickly develop into a more serious or life-threatening condition such as pneumonia or bronchitis.

Winter sceneIf you already suffer from high blood pressure, you could be more at risk of heart attacks and strokes during winter. When exposed to colder temperatures for a prolonged period of time, your body can take longer to return to its stable blood pressure. Colder weather can also make mobility difficult for many people with disabilities during the winter. A lack of cardiovascular exercise can also be a contributing factor to high blood pressure.

How to prepare for winter

• Ensure your heating is in good working order (more information later in the guide).
• Have a supply of cold and flu remedies in your home in case you catch something.
• If you are eligible, take advantage of the NHS’s free flu-shot booster. Check here to see if you meet the criteria for a flu jab.
• Ensure that you have any essential medication stocked up, as the weather could adversely affect your ability to make it to a pharmacy.
• Make sure you eat well during the winter months. It can be helpful to plan ahead so that you have a varied meal schedule, and you should also include a lot of hot food and drinks. When you go shopping, be sure to stock up on tinned foods and vegetables so that you don’t have to venture back out again in a hurry. You could also take advantage of the home delivery service that many supermarkets offer.
• Stay active by trying to move around for a few minutes every hour. If you are unsure about exercising at home, you should consult your doctor.
• You could also think about having a grab rail fitted if you have any steps outside of your home. These can help to prevent serious falls when the ground is icy. It’s also a good idea to keep a supply of salt or sand to put down when it becomes slippery. The Disabled Living Foundation has an informative fact sheet should you require extra advice.

Heating your home efficiently

While it would be nice not having to worry about the heating bills during the winter, unfortunately it is unavoidable. Here are some tips to help you feel the benefit of a well-heated home, but without huge expenses.
• Make sure you know how to use your heating system prior to the winter months. Your thermostat and timer will be the most used functions, so it is essential that you are familiar with these.
• By keeping your thermostat set to the ideal temperature during the day, you can avoid overspending on heating. During the day, aim for 21°C (70°F) and during the night, when you wrap up, you can set it slightly lower at 18°C (64°F).
• Have your heating come on just before you usually get up in the morning, and switch off after you’ve gone to bed. If you still feel cold, you should change the settings to have it come on earlier and switch off later, instead of turning up the temperature.
• If you don’t want to heat your whole house, you can heat the essential rooms that you spend most time in. Try heating the living room all day and setting the heating to warm your bedroom just before you go to bed.
• Close doors and curtains to insulate your rooms more effectively and keep heat in.
• Having your heating checked at regular intervals just before the winter months can ensure that you do not find yourself having to pay for expensive call-out charges when you need your heating most.
• You should make sure the room is well ventilated if you are using an open fire. Keep flammable objects away from the flames and use any safety guards. If you use a fire or a heater when you sleep, keep a door and window open.
• An electric blanket or a hot water bottle are both great ways of getting extra warmth whilst keeping costs down. Please note: you should never use them together due to risk of electrocution.

Oil heating systems

A lot of people in the UK rely on oil-based systems to keep their homes warm. This is especially prevalent in rural areas, where properties may be a distance from the nearest energy grid. Oil continues to be a dependable fuel, and has remained relatively cheap in comparison to other fuels.
If you have an oil heating system, here are some tips for heating your home in the winter.
• Oil prices tend to be lower in the summer, so it is well worth ordering your fuel in advance of the winter months.
• If there are several people in your community that use oil-based systems, you could join together to form a fuel purchase group. By bulk-buying oil, you could save money, as well as the time spent individually pricing and ordering your own.
• Make sure your oil tank is secure and well-hidden from potential thieves. Oil is a valuable resource and an unsecured tank is an attractive target. Rix Petroleum has published a guide to keeping your oil tank secure from thieves that is worth a read.

Financial assistance with your heating bill

There is financial support available to you if you have trouble financing your winter heating bill. Grants are available to help you pay your bill, repair or install a new heating system, or make your home more energy efficient. If you qualify for disability-related benefits, there is a good chance that you may be eligible for some of these means of support.
• Affordable Warmth Scheme — You might be able to get help with energy-saving improvements to your home if you receive low income or disability benefits, and also own or privately rent your home. The scheme can help you cover all or part of the cost of insulation work and replacing or repairing your boiler. For more information, visit the government’s Affordable Warmth Obligation page.
• If you receive certain benefits, you could be eligible for a Cold Weather Payment when the temperature reaches 0°C for seven days in a row. You will receive this payment automatically so you do not need to apply. See our Cold Weather Payment page to see if you are eligible.
• Winter Fuel Payment — If you get the state pension or another social security benefit (excluding housing benefit, council tax reduction, child benefit or universal credit), you are eligible for a payment of between £100 and £300. You can find more information about the Winter Fuel Payment here.
• The Energy Companies Obligation Scheme is designed to help you if you have a low income and receive means-tested benefits, or live in a home that will cost a lot to make energy efficient.
• The Energy Saving Trust may also be able to assist you in making your home more energy efficient. You can call them on 0300 123 1234 or on their Home Heat Helpline on 0800 33 66 99.

“Stay warm this winter and please keep an eye on any vulnerabe people you know”


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