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Energy crisis: Kent councils considering winter 'warm banks' to help people struggling with bills

'Warm banks' could be set up this winter to help those unable to afford heating amid skyrocketing energy prices.

As gas and electricity bills continue to soar - with another massive hike looming this autumn - some local authorities in Kent are considering setting up centres where struggling residents can stay warm.

Rochester Cathedral is understood to be looking at setting up 'warm banks' at some of its churches
Rochester Cathedral is understood to be looking at setting up 'warm banks' at some of its churches

But a food bank charity says "we will have reached the most desperate of times" if such measures are deemed necessary.

The escalating crisis prompted Money Saving Expert's Martin Lewis to speculate on Twitter last month: "Can't believe I'm writing this, but I wonder if this winter we'll need 'warm banks' the equivalent of 'food banks' where people who can't afford heating are invited to spend their days at no cost with heating e.g. libraries, public buildings?"

It has now been confirmed some parts of Kent are considering setting up such spaces in coming months.

The Diocese of Rochester is understood to be looking into the possibility of launching warm banks this winter - and is currently approaching churches that might be used as potential sites.

Meanwhile Swale Borough Council says while no firm plans have yet been made, such centres are among options being considered to "support residents this winter as energy prices continue to rise".

A spokesman for Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council said: "[We are] aware of the ‘warm banks’ initiative and we are due to discuss later in the summer with some external partners in the first instance."

Canterbury City Council added: "We're aware some councils are starting to explore the idea of warm banks and we're keeping a close eye on it."

But Canterbury Food Bank, which provides food parcels to people in need across the city's district, says the creation of such facilities would be "an act of desperation" and that a long-term solution is needed to combat the energy crisis.

Charity chair Martin Ward said: “If it is necessary to use public buildings to keep people warm this winter we will have reached the most desperate of times.

“We welcome it, but as a stop-gap, because a permanent solution can only be found by government.

“Essentially we are talking about life saving measures and who could argue with that? But this should be seen for what it is - an act of desperation and a safety net of last resort.

“What is needed is an anti-poverty strategy which starts by making essential services like heating affordable to all.”

Martin Ward, chair of trustees at Canterbury Food Bank
Martin Ward, chair of trustees at Canterbury Food Bank

Energy prices have already suffered one significant cost rise this year, leaping by between £600 and £700 in April for the average household on a standard variable tariff.

A second rise of more than £800 is now forecast for October followed by the potential for another swift leap in January - changes that could leave millions of homes facing fuel poverty and struggling to heat their homes by the winter.

Monthly household energy bills could hit £500 by the new year according to the latest gloomy predictions, which one fuel poverty charity described as striking "terror into the hearts of millions of people".

Elsewhere in the county, local authorities say while they are not specifically considering warm banks, they are "concerned" about the energy crisis and are looking at ways of helping residents.

A Thanet District Council spokesman said: "The rising cost of energy is of concern, in particular for our most vulnerable residents.

"We are looking at a range of initiatives to see how people living in Thanet can be supported over the winter."

Dover District Council said: "Like other councils, we are aware of the effects of rising energy prices, and we continue to work closely with our communities to provide help and support to those who are vulnerable."

Some people struggling with rising living costs are able to receive help through the government-funded Household Support Fund scheme.

Over-16s who receive means-tested benefits or have a household income of below £16,200 are eligible for £150 energy and supermarket vouchers under the scheme.

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