Despite spring having arrived over a week ago, many of us are still eagerly awaiting warmer weather.
Some are waiting for sunnier days to plan picnics or spend time outdoors enjoying the vitamin D.
But others impatiently await warmer weather for another reason — to get a respite from expensive heating bills that eat up 15% or more of their entire income.
According to uSwitch, these households are considered ‘fuel vulnerable’, and there are 4.8 million of them in Britain.
This figure is not limited to pensioners (who are often considered to be the ones suffering due to limited income): 1.3 million of fuel vulnerable households are families, and 350,000 of those are single-parent homes.
In fact, fuel affordability impacts both young and old: the figures include 16% of those under 30 and 673,000 homes with disabled residents.
The independent research (compiled by Europe Economics) also took a look at how the issue breaks down regionally: the highest rate of fuel vulnerable homes is in Wales (24%), with the West Midlands close behind (23%).
Warm Home Discount help
Currently, the government offers the Warm Home Discount scheme. However, it has limited scope and non-standardised eligibility criteria. And, because the payments are managed via suppliers, there is variance in who offers it and how it is applied.
About 2 million homes receive the discount — a one-off payment of £140 applied sometime between October and March. Those who are considered in the “core group” get the discount automatically, while others have to apply manually.
However, even if a household meets the eligibility requirements, if they are with a small supplier — likely the case as small suppliers have been increasingly competitive — that supplier may not support the scheme.
‘Urgent action needed’
Ann Robinson, Director of Consumer Policy atuSwitch.com, says this could lead to illness and is already leading households to ration their fuel in the winter months:
“Energy is a basic human need and it is shocking in this day and age that so many consumers – both young and old – are struggling to pay for it. The figures underline the fact that energy affordability affects a large cross section of society, including working families and disabled people. As a result, many could be suffering ill health by rationing their energy use to cope with sky-high bills.
“Urgent action is needed to help the millions of fuel vulnerable households across Britain. The Government should extend the Warm Home Discount to more consumers who are struggling with energy costs, especially as so many of them don’t currently qualify. The scheme should also be extended to all energy suppliers – not just those with over 250,000 customers. The cheapest tariffs are often from newer, smaller providers, and so they’re often out of the reach of those who need them the most.
“Energy companies must also continue to do all they can to help fuel vulnerable customers to reduce their bills and offer support for home efficiency improvements.”