PEOPLE in Somerset who can afford to do so are being asked to donate their Winter Fuel Payment so older residents in the county don't have to choose between heating and eating.

Somerset Community Foundation (SCF) has launched its annual Surviving Winter appeal, encouraging people to donate some or all of the seasonal payment to help older vulnerable people living in fuel poverty.

The government payout goes to people born on or before September 26 1955, regardless of their means.

SCF chief executive Justin Sargent said: “We estimate that at least 9,000 older people households in Somerset will not have enough money to afford to heat their homes sufficiently this winter.

"Cold weather is a prime cause of around 500 preventable deaths a year, with older people and those living in older or isolated rural homes most likely to experience the largest degree of fuel poverty.

“Thanks to the bright idea of one generous pensioner, we can make sure that hundreds of older people in Somerset are being supported to stay warm, safe and well every winter through our Surviving Winter campaign.”

Every year Surviving Winter helps around 500 elderly people living in Somerset through the winter thanks to generous donors who last year donated more than £150,000 to the appeal.

This year, the first £15,000 of donations will be boosted by 50 per cent through matched funding from the Field House Trust.

Glastonbury Festival organiser Michael Eavis has again offered his support to the SCF initiative.

He said: "I’m very pleased to be donating to Surviving Winter again this year.

"We would be so pleased if you would consider giving some or all of your Winter Fuel Payment to the appeal.

"It is a simple and easy way to help people in our community who will be struggling to stay warm and healthy this winter.”

SCFaims to raise £120,000 to help at least 500 isolated and vulnerable older people - to donate, visit or call 01749 344949.

The Surviving Winter appeal has raised more than £950,000 in Somerset, where the initiative was started before spreading across the country.

The costs of running the appeal are met entirely from Gift Aid contributions, to ensure donations reach those who need it the most.