James Anderson has made it his mission to help elderly and disabled people in the UK who are unable to afford replacement or repaired heating systems. Tom Hogarth reports.

Elderly and disabled Britons are dying by the thousands every winter, and very little is being done to help them. This is the message driving DEPHER, a community interest company set up to help people in the UK who are unable to afford a replacement heating system, or repairs to an existing system.

With 21 years of experience in the heating and plumbing industry, James found himself unable to ignore the issue once he realised the scope. 

He said: “In 2017, I came across a gentleman who was charged £170 by an engineer to come and look at his heating system. 

“This engineer manipulated the system; he put a gas magazine in the tank to stop the water from going through to the cylinder, and manipulated the radiator to make it click. And then he gave him a quote for £5,500 for a boiler conversion that he didn’t need.” 

James contacted the company and explained to them what he’d found. At first they were in denial but, after some additional persuasion, the company compensated the customer and everyone walked away happy. However, James couldn’t stop thinking about the situation.

“The next morning when I got up, I thought it was just going to be another day; get out of bed, do the work, carry on regardless, and come home to the family. But all day it was playing on my mind because this guy was old and he was disabled,” James said. 

“He was in a bed in the living room and couldn’t get up and walk around after people, watching what they’re doing or anything. So I thought; this is just one guy in one little town, what’s happening in the rest of the UK?”

James put his feelings into action and set up DEPHER as a community interest company so that he would maintain sole responsibility, rather than a charity where he would be more restricted. DEPHER began in Lancashire in 2017 and, since then, has completed more than 6,000 jobs to help elderly and disabled people who otherwise may have gone without heating through the winter months.

He said: “One contractor rang me up to ask what my hourly rate was; I told them it was £80 an hour. They then phoned the customer and charged them £160 an hour. 

“They’ve doubled what the engineer is getting paid while they’re sitting in an office nice and warm, but these people are sitting there suffering and can’t afford it. What gives them the right?

“The majority of these people have got no savings or no family, or they’re on very low income. And yet these big companies [still charge these high rates]. These people have then got to choose to stop eating for a week or two and get the heating done, or borrow and get themselves into debt and cause problems in the future, or they’ll just go without heating and have the possibility of suffering in the cold.”

To this end, James has created a petition to encourage the introduction of a cap on the amount of money a company can charge someone who is unable to afford an essential heating system. He has also initiated a crowdfunding campaign, which you can find at www.gofundme.com/depher.

James also proposed a donation model that he thinks would be achievable for most people who want to help, and would be an effective way to support DEPHER.

He said: “If we could get as many people as possible to donate £1 a month by standing order to DEPHER, that’s £12 a year. If we got 10,000 people to do that, that would be £10,000 a month to keep DEPHER going unconditionally. I don’t think I would miss £12 a year.

“It would mean the difference between a good life and a bad life, or life and death for others. If I get the funding and the means to do this, I will do it all over the UK, for every single elderly and disabled person that needs it.”

The model is fairly simple and, according to James, he has trialled it in Manchester already and has seen great success, while his social media feeds are solid proof of how much his work, and that of the engineers who have already volunteered to help him, has directly helped thousands of elderly and disabled people in the UK.

Essentially, DEPHER will build a network of willing engineers and companies across the UK. Customers in need will be able to call a central 0800 number to get in touch with the organisation and request help, at which point DEPHER will contact an engineer or company local to the customer for help. 

DEPHER will pay the engineer £30 to cover travel costs etc., and the engineer will volunteer their labour for free. Meanwhile, DEPHER would supply any necessary materials through a partnership with City Plumbing Supplies.

Any additional ‘regular’ work that comes to DEPHER as a result of the job (e.g. through friends and family) will go to that local engineer or company to be charged at their normal rate. DEPHER will then receive 2% of the earnings from that work to help support the initiative.

As James says, it’s quite simple when you break it down: “We just need people to support us so we can support these people that need help.”

If you would like to get involved with DEPHER, head to www.depher.co.uk and get in touch with James to find out how you can help.