‘It’s life and death’: The plumbers saving vulnerable people from fuel poverty

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“It’s often a matter of life and death,” says James Anderson, when asked about his work. She is not a paramedic, heart surgeon or nurse in a Covid ward, but it is no exaggeration to say that her team of plumbers and heating engineers are saving lives.

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He vividly remembers reaching home to an 84-year-old woman who asked him for help as she could not afford to heat their house. Sensing her desperation, he dropped everything and went to her house, where he found her trying to take her own life.

“I knocked on the door, called the police, and we sorted things out for him,” Anderson says. “She didn’t want to end her life, but she felt she had no one. No one would support her.”


One of the thousands of calls he’s answered since he founded Defer (Disabled and Veteran Plumbing and Heating Emergency Repair) four years ago.

Some customers are cut off by unscrupulous contractors, others simply cannot afford to repair boilers, many are unable to heat their homes and are offered little help from the government. Anderson’s team does not charge him a penny for his services. Money is made available through donations.

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Customers have been so grateful that they have variously called their engineers “angels” and “friends for life”.

“These people have a choice between warming up and eating,” Anderson says. “We have no choice but to help them.”

A Happy Defer Customer

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A Happy Defer Customer

Fuel poverty already causes an estimated 9,700 deaths each year in the UK – all of them preventable. With Arctic weather expected to hit the UK this week, more people will be faced with the dire decision between food and heat.

The government’s energy price cap was increased by 12 percent in October, at the same time millions of low-income households saw their incomes drop by £1,040 a year, when universal debt was cut.

According to the campaign group Fuel Poverty Action, an additional half a million people will be unable to afford adequate heating this winter.

The problem is made worse by the fact that 400,000 people are estimated to be in arrears of rent, most of the debt created during the series of lockdowns, which disproportionately impacted the incomes of poor workers.

Covid has not only devastated the domestic budget, it has upended global trade routes. There is an acute shortage of materials and spare parts for almost all types of construction work, plumbing and DIY.

The UK is also dealing with a severe shortage of skilled workers, due to decades of low investment in training and the departure of EU workers after Brexit.

This chaotic mix of circumstances means that Defar is in for its busiest year since Anderson founded it in 2017. He then became angry about a minority of merchants snatching away the weak. His obsession with fixing the situation grew with the horrors he witnessed every week.

“How can we make our country better when you have some idiots charging you three, four, five times, what should they be?”, he asks.

“If you want to make 70 percent profit, work for someone who has a million pounds in the bank, or a large corporation that can afford it, not someone on a state pension. That bill It can be the difference between putting food on the table or not.”

Hugh Grant has donated £10,000 to Defar’s GoFundMe (Isabelle Infantes/PA)

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Hugh Grant has donated £10,000 to Defar’s GoFundMe (Isabelle Infantes/PA)

Anderson is campaigning for a cap on the amount that people in vulnerable groups must pay for essential trades like electricity, plumbing and heating.

He founded Defer as a non-profit community interest company out of his base in Burnley, Lancashire, fixing boilers and central heating for free. Almost immediately, he realized how desperate the need for service was.

In fact, despite the rise in state pensions and the blooming of property values ​​unexpected to some, the UK still has the highest rate of poverty among pensioners in Europe.

For low-income working families, 12 years of wage stagnation has exacerbated work poverty. The UK also has the lowest rates of basic unemployment benefits and statutory sick pay of any OECD country.

Within a year, Anderson had closed his profitable plumbing business to focus all of his time on Defer. This year, their team of engineers – described by grateful customers as “angels” and “lifelong friends” – are needed more than ever.

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He remembers dozens of customers, people he’s helped, closing story after story. A family in Lancashire charged £6,000 for a bathroom that had been abandoned as “a death trap” with exposed wires close to running water. Defer dismantled the whole thing and did it right in a matter of days.

Then there was the time Defer answered the call of a woman with leukemia on end-of-life care who was told by a local plumber they couldn’t come out to fix her boiler for less than £2,000. Anderson found another contractor and paid him to do the work right away, at no charge.

With a focus on plumbing and heating, Defer has grown into a comprehensive community service. “If you’re elderly, or in poverty, handicapped, frail, facing danger, tell us what you need,” says Anderson.

Those who are really in need will get help if Defer has people available, says Anderson, who says he is now helping hundreds of people a month. “We can fix electricity, gas, food delivery, boilers, breakdowns, broken pipes, small jobs, big jobs, anything.”

The team has also provided surprise birthday parties and Christmas wish lists for some customers.

Defer offers Christmas gifts for residents in need of help

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Defer offers Christmas gifts for residents in need of help

One customer, Jordan, called Defer after learning that his elderly father-in-law was living in a “cold” house without heating. The family did not have the means to install a new boiler so they contacted Defer on Facebook.

“They were so quick and helpful, just amazing,” Jordan says. “My father-in-law has several health problems and has been in and out of the hospital. It means a lot to him and the family.”

Defar has already attracted some high-profile fans. Green Party colleague Jenny Jones recently called Defer’s engineers “heroes”, while Hugh Grant donated £15,000 to the cause.

For Anderson, the service he provides is not only the right thing to do, but it also makes financial sense for the country.

“We are a lifeline that protects other lifelines, we answer calls from social services from the NHS. We keep people away from the hospital.

“If the government funded us properly we could save those other services an incredible amount of money.”

A customer sends his invoice £0. holds up for

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A customer sends his invoice £0. holds up for

Anderson is there to help tackle Britain’s growing fuel poverty problem Looking to raise £250,000 To expand Defer from its base in Burnley, taking it to the most disadvantaged areas across the country with a large team of engineers and a network of contractors elsewhere.

But his work does not stop here. He is now campaigning for political change, demanding a price cap on the cost of essential works for vulnerable groups.

“You need plumbing, heating, and electrics to survive, so those three trades have to put a limit on what people can charge for customers with disabilities or who are over a certain age, or a certain income. less than.”

He has written to Boris Johnson with his proposals but is yet to receive a response.

If you are experiencing feelings of distress and isolation, or are struggling to cope, Samaritans offer support; You can talk to someone free of charge over the phone on 116 123 (UK & ROI), email [email protected], or visit Samaritans website To get the details of your nearest branch.


Credit: www.independent.co.uk /

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