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Helping older people face loss of utilities in a crisis

With supplies of gas at a much lower level than usual, there are suggestions that we could face power cuts in the future. That’s going to be difficult for older people who are more susceptible to cold and spend more time at home. From making a warming cup of tea to charging up the mobile phone or keeping the mobility scooter ready to go, older people depend on power for warmth, food, movement and communication.

And it’s not just power. We’re hearing of the possibility of hosepipe bans across the UK as much of the country has had little or no rain this year. That could even lead to water shortages for domestic use.

Preparing for a utilities failure

It is possible though to add someone of pensionable age to the Priority Services Register. This has several potential benefits, such as help in an emergency, advance notice of planned power cuts or interruptions to water supplies, help with accessing pre-payment meters, receiving bills in a different format and more. You may find that the water company also has an Extra Care register for those who qualify.

Signing up is a bit labour-intensive as it’s up to the customer for the most part to actively register for the services, so it’s very much worth doing before a crisis hits. You’ll have to find out who the utility providers are in your relative’s area, and then they will have to be contacted individually. Your relative may appreciate your help in getting this task done.

You could also ensure that your relative is stocked up with emergency supplies, such as

  • torches with fresh batteries (preferable to candles)
  • bottled water and other drinks
  • foodstuffs that don’t need cooking (tins are good so that no one has to open the freezer)
  • a battery-driven radio to help avoid added feelings of isolation

Keeping phones and other rechargeable batteries fully charged rather than waiting for the battery to run down is also a really good idea.

What to do if there is a power cut

If the power goes off you can report it by calling 105 or visiting the Power Cut website. If your parent doesn’t have access to the internet when the power is off, then they may need your help.

Make sure everyone in the household knows where torches and batteries are kept.

What to do in a gas emergency

Gas is a wonderful resource at home for providing heating and hot water. It is potentially dangerous though, so if the gas supply goes off, or if there’s any sign of a leak, it’s important to get advice and help fast by calling the Emergency Services on 0800 111 999 or contacting the gas supplier.

Older people often lose their sense of smell, but if they do smell gas at home, or get symptoms that might suggest there’s a gas leak, then the advice includes:

  • Open doors and windows
  • Avoid the use of any naked flame
  • Don’t turn off or on any power or light switches

What to do if the water goes off

To check the situation, call the number on your relative’s water bill or check the water company’s website.

If the water is off for any length of time, the water company may make bottled water available or even provide water from mobile bowsers or standpipes. Collecting water from anywhere other than the doorstep is going to be hard physical work, so it may be useful to have someone nearby primed to help out.


Article compiled by Kathy Lawrence, editor at When They Get Older and freelance copywriter.

Photo by Kübra Arslaner


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