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Fuel poverty – can you afford your energy bills?

Shocking research from uSwitch today revealed that 6.3 million households in the UK are suffering from fuel poverty and struggle to pay their energy bills.

Here, National Energy Action, Mumsnet and the charity Gingerbread tell us our views on the rise of fuel poverty in Britain.

‘We’re back where we started in terms of the scale of fuel poverty’ 

Ron Campbell, Chief Policy and Research Analyst, National Energy Action tells us what progress needs to be made:

“So we are back where we started in terms of the scale of fuel poverty. The uSwitch research finds 6.3 million fuel-poor households in Great Britain; in 1996 there were 6.5 million UK households in fuel poverty.

“A decade after the publication of the UK Fuel Poverty Strategy all of the benefits from a wide range of programmes to increase household incomes; to improve energy efficiency standards; and to develop social tariffs have been undermined by relentless increases in domestic energy bills. And there will be more to come. The news that ScottishPower’s gas and electricity prices will increase from August 2011 will inevitably be followed by similar announcements from the remaining Big 5 energy suppliers.

The uSwitch research also suggests that fuel poverty is becoming a growing problem for more affluent households who had previously been thought immune to the threat of unaffordable energy costs. Whilst this has to be a matter of some concern, NEA would emphasise that rising fuel poverty among financially disadvantaged households is a much more disturbing trend and must remain the focus of energy efficiency schemes and other energy cost reduction policies and programmes.

“Most middle income households have the option to reduce energy costs through investment in effective insulation measures and efficient heating systems; this option is not available to low-income fuel-poor families and individuals.

NEA maintains that heating and insulation improvements represent the most rational and sustainable solution to fuel poverty and, in fact, the current Energy Bill offers potential solutions for all households regardless of their financial status.

“The Green Deal will offer financial packages to enable middle and upper-income households to invest in energy efficiency upgrades at no upfront cost. This ‘able-to-pay’ arrangement is subject to the ‘Golden Rule’, that savings from improvement works must exceed the cost of any repayments; this represents a solution for fuel-poor middle-income households.

In the case of low-income households, where the Green Deal repayment model is inappropriate, the forthcoming Energy Company Obligation (ECO) is intended to assist fuel-poor financially disadvantaged households. Provided that ECO resources are devoted exclusively to structured and coherent fuel poverty programmes, we can begin to make positive progress towards ensuring affordable warmth for vulnerable fuel-poor households.”

‘We frequently receive calls’

Fiona Weir, Chief Executive of single parent charity Gingerbread, comments:

“This new research provides further evidence that single parent families are being particularly badly affected by the difficult economic climate, and by rising energy bills. We know that children in single parent families are already twice as likely to live in poverty as those in couple families, and that single parents can find it difficult enough to make ends meet on a day-to-day basis when they are living on very low incomes – let alone when a huge energy bill drops on to the doormat. What is particularly shocking is that so many single parent families in work are facing fuel poverty, with the research showing that 39% of single working parents are fuel poor, making them the most likely group to be in fuel poverty.

“Gingerbread frequently receives calls to our single parent helpline from those who are struggling in fuel poverty. We often find that newly-separated parents find it hard to cope with both a sudden loss of household income and – in some cases – having to deal with household bills for the first time.

“This is why we’ve developed a factsheet for single parents about the best ways of managing household bills and where to go for further help and support. Fundamentally, however, the government must do much more to address all forms of poverty – including fuel poverty – and we urge them to consider these findings carefully as they develop policies to do so.”

If you’re a single parent family struggling with energy bills and need some advice, you can contact Gingerbread on: 0808 802 0925

Carolyn from Mumsnet‘The stress is being felt with by all’

Carrie Longton, Co-Founder of Mumsnet

“Parents are increasingly worried by the rising cost of fuel. Month after month Mumsnetters are spending more of their income on gas and electricity. The stress is being felt by all, with many reporting bills of over £1,000 a year.

“Even in the height of summer this is putting immediate strain on family budgets, but come Autumn and Winter there’s a real worry that families will find the cost of keeping their homes sufficiently warm too great.”

Click to see which demographics are worst hit by fuel poverty

Click to see which demographics are worst hit by fuel poverty

Do you think energy costs are out of control? What can the government do to help? Or maybe you consider yourself middle class but still unable to cope with rising energy prices? Leave your comment and let us know what you think.

  • Anonymous

    Profits will be up, shareholders dividends will be up, the executives pay will be up. This is why our prices keep going up, renationalise now we are paying so much more for our water and energy than others in Europe, this is to fund the greed at the top.

  • Russell Cavanagh

    When I worked in social welfare law, I helped many people balance their budgets to take care of priority commitments like household energy bills (and rent, council tax, etc). By and large, these people had nothing except a very low wage or just benefits coming in.

    Now that the middle-classes are feeling the pinch, I do wonder how my old clients must be suffering even more.

    Middle-class fuel poverty sufferers can probably mitigate the severity of their bills by reducing excesses elsewhere in their household budgets. However, it will be interesting to see how vocal and organised they get – for are consumer revolts not often credited to middle-class unrest?

    In France, energy companies have a 5.5% cap on the amount an energy supplier can increase prices annually. In France, the government is still largely afraid of its people. In Britain, indigenous and foreign power companies just pick at the bones of the population, unfettered by meaningful regulatory constraints.

    On top of sheer profiteering, add too the projected £1 trillion conservatively estimated for the European smart power grid project (amounts that will surely prove higher as time marches on) imposed by remote EU and already being levied from consumers through household bills …

    Something has to break, and it’s not going to be pretty.

  • Mr kieran walker

    How can people on low incomes and pensioners manage or keep track of all these increases which seem to be happening every 3-4 months and is a DISGRACE! but the so called government are doing NOTHING about the energy companies to stop the hikes and most people cant keep up! Mr Cameron get your finger out!

  • Paul

    No link to the Uswitch/YouGov report itself?

  • lee

    I think that fuel poverty is an absolute disgrace and we as a population are being held to randsom by greedy power companies, but why are we being held to randsome you have to ask yourself this, my answer is that we allow ourselves to be, for hundreds of thousands of years man has been able to create fire to keep itself warm and cook its food only now in this modern age have we given up our right to make fire to keep warm in the name of preventing global warming well try telling the 80 year old war veteran sat at home shivering this winter that they are freezing to death for the greater good, i say to all those who are going to suffer this winter due to the greed and deriliction of duty by polititions and businesmen un brick your open fires and burn whatever you can to stay warm because if it is a matter of survival dont rely on the goverment because they will simply allow you to die when the cities are sheathed in smog and the goverment fail to make thier targets for green efficiency then maybe just maybe they will do somthing but dont kid yourself a few thousand frozen pensioners just means a few thousand less pensions to pay. Look after yourselves because nobody else will……..