PENSIONERS who can afford to forgo their annual Winter Fuel Payment are being encouraged to donate it to those who will struggle to keep warm this winter.

And the Under Sheriff of Oxfordshire, Graham Upton, has become one of the first to donate.

Last year, 170 people died in the county in circumstances related to cold weather.

It is feared even more will perish in 2012 as fuel prices continue to rise.

According to Oxfordshire Community Foundation (OCF), for every person who died, there were dozens more, mainly elderly people, suffering from lack of heat, isolation and hardship.

Now the OCF is encouraging those who can afford to forgo their Winter Fuel Allowance, to donate it to the Surviving Winter Appeal.

Since the campaign started in 2010, £52,000 has been donated and passed on to groups and individuals around the county, to keep fires alight and food in the cupboard.

Prof Upton, the former Vice Chancellor of Oxford Brookes and soon to be High Sheriff of Oxfordshire, said: “We first donated our fuel payments two years ago, and thought it was a fantastic idea.

“Oxfordshire is a county with many people who have a lot and many who do not. For better-off couples like us, who don’t need help paying our fuel bills, this is a great way of knowing the allowance is being spent helping others.”

Prof Upton’s wife Bebe Speed, 65, agreed: “Graham and I are not extravagant with our heating by any means, but we can afford to keep warm.

“Meanwhile fuel prices are rising all the time, benefits are not and it is very upsetting to think there are people out there too frightened to turn on their heating because they fear what the bill will be.”

Ms Speed, who is a psychotherapist and trustee of the Oxford homeless charity Emmaus, added: “The fuel allowance arrives each year, straight into your bank account and what is easier than giving it straight over to the OCF, who can make sure it is spent wisely on someone who will really benefit from it?”

A Winter Fuel Payment is an annual tax-free payment made to eligible people to help towards their winter heating costs. It is a lump sum, normally paid automatically, with people who qualify for state pension receiving £200, and those over 80 receiving £300.

Ashley Merry of the OCF said: “Oxfordshire has many hidden pockets of social deprivation, with many vulnerable households living in fuel poverty, in challenging rural conditions.

“Our case studies include 70-year old Mrs B, who turns off her refrigerator most of the time to keep her bill down.

“And Mrs G, 43, who has a young family who are sleeping fully clothed with extra blankets as they can not afford to heat the house.”

  • Online donations can be made by visiting via the Surviving Winter page. Make cheques payable to Oxfordshire Community Foundation, 3 Woodin’s Way, Oxford, OX1 1HD or text Snow00 (followed by your donation of £1-£10) to 70070.