‘It’s life and death’: The hero plumbers saving vulnerable people from freezing in their homes

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

He vividly remembers arriving at the home of an 84-year-old woman who asked for his help because she could not afford to heat her house. When he felt her despair, he dropped everything and drove to her home, where he tried to kill her.

“I kicked the door, called the police, and we fixed things for them,” says Anderson. “She didn’t want to end her life, but she felt like she had no one. Nobody would support them. “

It was one of the thousands of calls he has responded to since starting Depher (Disabled & Elderley Plumbing & Heating Emergency Repair) four years ago.

Some customers have been ripped off by unscrupulous building contractors, others simply cannot afford boiler repairs, many cannot heat their homes and receive little support from the government. Anderson’s team doesn’t charge them a dime for their services. Financing is done through donations.

Customers were so grateful that they called his engineers “angels” and “friends for life” on various occasions.

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

A satisfied Depher customer


Energy poverty is already causing an estimated 9,700 deaths each year in the UK – all preventable. With the Arctic weather expected to hit Britain this week, more people will face the terrible choice between food and warmth.

The government’s energy price cap rose 12 percent in October, while millions of low-income households cut their incomes by £ 1,040 a year when universal credit was cut.

According to the Fuel Poverty Action group, another half a million people will not be able to afford adequate heating this winter.

The problem is made worse by the fact that an estimated 400,000 people are in arrears, with much of the debt built up during the series of lockdowns that disproportionately hit the incomes of poorer workers.

In addition to devastating household budgets, Covid has turned global trade routes upside down. In almost all construction, plumbing and DIY work, there is an acute shortage of materials and spare parts.

The United Kingdom is also struggling with a serious shortage of skilled workers, which can be traced back to decades of underinvestment in training and the resignation of EU workers after Brexit.

That messy mix of circumstances means Depher is well on its way to his busiest year since Anderson started in 2017. At the time, he was furious that a minority of traders were ripping off vulnerable people. His passion for fixing the situation has grown every week with the horrors he has seen.

“How are we supposed to make our country fairer when a couple of idiots ask three, four, five times what they should be?” He asks.

“If you want to make 70 percent profit, you’re working for someone with a million pounds in the bank or for a big corporation that can afford it, not someone with a state pension. This bill could make the difference whether you put food on the table or not. “

Hugh Grant donated £ 10,000 to Depher’s GoFundMe

(PA archive)

Anderson is advocating a cap on the amount people in vulnerable groups have to pay for critical businesses like electricity, plumbing, and heating.

Despite rising state pensions and a stroke of luck for some with booming property values, the UK still has one of the highest pension poverty rates in Europe.

In low-income working-class families, 12 years of wage stagnation have led to an increase in in-work poverty. The UK also has the lowest rates of unemployment benefit and statutory sickness benefit of any OECD country.

Anderson founded Depher from his base in Burnley, Lancashire, as a public benefit not for profit that repaired boilers and central heating for free. He realized almost immediately how urgently the service was needed.

Within a year he had closed his profitable plumbing business to focus entirely on Depher. The services of his engineering team are in greater demand than ever this year.

He remembers dozens of customers telling stories about the people he has helped. The Lancashire family charged £ 6,000 for a bathroom that was left as a “death trap” with exposed cables near running water. Depher ripped the whole thing out and got it neatly done in a matter of days.

Then Depher answered a call from a terminally ill woman with leukemia who was told by a local plumber that they couldn’t fix her boiler for less than £ 2,000. Anderson found another contractor and paid for them to do the job right away and for free.

From a focus on plumbing and heating, Depher has grown into a much broader nonprofit service. “If you are elderly or poor, disabled, vulnerable or at risk, tell us what you need.”

Anyone really in need gets help when Depher has people available, Anderson says. “We can handle electricity, gas, food deliveries, boilers, breakdowns, broken pipes, small orders, large orders, anything.”

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

A customer holds up her bill for over £ 0


A customer, Jordan, called Depher after finding out that her older father-in-law had lived in a “freezer” with no heating. The family didn’t have the funds to install a new boiler, so they contacted Depher on Facebook.

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

Depher has already attracted some high profile admirers. Green Party’s Jenny Jones recently called Depher’s engineers “heroes” while Hugh Grant donated £ 10,000 to the cause.

For Anderson, his service is not only right, but also makes financial sense for the country.

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

“If the government finances us properly, we could save these other services an incredible amount of money.”

Anderson plans to raise £ 250,000 to deploy Depher with a larger team of engineers in the most deprived areas and a network of contractors elsewhere nationwide.

Depher has donated Christmas presents to needy residents


But his work doesn’t stop there. He is now campaigning for political change and calling for a price cap on the cost of vital labor for vulnerable groups.

“You need plumbing, heating, and electrics to survive, so these three professions should have a cap on what people can charge for customers with disabilities, above a certain age, or below a certain income.”

He wrote to Boris Johnson with his suggestions, but has not yet received a response.

If you experience a sense of need, isolation, or difficulty coping with it, The Samaritans offers support; You can speak to someone on 116 123 (UK and ROI) for free and confidential, email [email protected], or visit the Samaritans website for details on your nearest branch

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