By Connie Osborne Thursday 28 February 2013 Updated: 01/03 09:47
A WOMAN who has struggled to pay her heating bills for the last three years has called for more to be done by the Government to help others in a similar position.
Sandra Martin, who suffers from emphysema which is worsened by cold weather, said she contracted pneumonia three times after she could no longer afford to heat her home due to rocketing fuel prices and the fact she relied on storage heaters and not modern central heating.
"When I first moved in I wasn't aware of the financial and medical burden storage heaters would have on me. But as time went on I realised they were becoming more and more expensive and were drying out the air, making me unable to breath properly," she said.
"I would turn them off because of the rising cost but when winter came it got so cold, my chest would fail and I would catch pneumonia."
The 54-year-old Winyates resident appealed for help to Redditch Borough Council for financial support or for them to replace her heaters with cheaper central heating, but as she is not one of their tenants they were initially unable to help.
"My disability benefits halved over the years and I was up to my eyes in debt all because of the cost of heating," she added.
"I'm too young to qualify for elderly support and there were no local organisations to help, so what was I supposed to do?"
The borough council has now stepped in to help Miss Martin by installing gas central heating after obtaining funding from the Home Improvement Agency.
Liz Tompkin, the council's head of housing, said it would be more compatible with her health conditions and help reduce her energy bills.
But Miss Martin said more needed to be done to help others in her situation.
"There will be people quietly struggling like me, who are unwell, who are alone, who have no support, because a system isn't in place. Something needs to be done."
The Government offers a Cold Weather Payment of £25 when the temperature drops to zero or below over seven days, for those on benefits. But since November 1 last year and February 22, only two periods of cold weather were recorded despite periods of snowfall and ice.
Redditch MP Karen Lumley said from next summer the Government was forcing energy companies to put customers on their cheapest tariff but ministers were urging suppliers to make the changes earlier.
She added she would be writing to ministers personally about Miss Martin's case.
Christine McGourty, from Home Heat Helpline which offers free advice and support to people struggling to pay their bills, said about 5,000 households in Redditch were entitled to some form of help with their energy bills, but many were unaware.
For more information or advice call the Home Heat Helpline on 0800 33 66 99.
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