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Fuel Poverty

One of the main domestic uses of Energy is to warm our buildings in the colder months (and something to cool them in hot summers).  For many this will be done by gas central heating, for some electricity is used with night storage heaters or other systems, whilst others rely on oil, bottled gas, solid fuel or, increasingly, wood-burners.

‘Fuel Poverty’ is the term used when people on low incomes are not able to afford to heat their homes adequately.  Rising gas, oil and electricity prices can mean families and individuals either not being able to pay, or unhealthily reducing, their heating bills.  20% of over 60s sometimes stay or live in just one heated room in their home to save money.  Between 2004 and 2008, gas bills rose by 55% and electricity by 42%, and fuel bills are forecast to rise by between 14% and 25% by 2020.

In the UK, there are on average 300 excess deaths every day during winter.  In 2010, 5% of pensioners will skip meals in order to pay for heating.  Single parent households can also suffer from a lack of warmth at home.  In rural areas, where choices of fuel supply are limited, fuel poverty may be hidden but is very real for those affected by it.  In Torridge in north Devon, figures suggest that 26% of the population suffer from fuel poverty.  More generally, 31% of older people in rural areas of the South West struggle with low income and deprivation issues, and last winter excess winter deaths jumped by 49% to 36,700 in England and Wales.

The housing stock in England is notoriously poor at energy conservation and this compounds fuel poverty.  Around £8 billion of energy is wasted in the UK every year because some homes are poorly insulated, have inefficient or poorly controlled heating systems and waste electricity unnecessarily.  This is equal to giving £125 a year to every man, woman and child in the UK!

The Home Heat Helpline (0800 33 66 99) is urging pensioners, families on low incomes and people with health problems or disabilities to get in touch now to seek advice on how they can save money by reducing their energy bills.  Pensioners, families living on low incomes and people with health problems or disabilities can get free, practical assistance.  Government schemes such as Warm Front are available, and grants are available from Local Authorities for better insulating homes, and in some places also for double-glazing and boiler replacement.

Please see websites below for further information:

Strict definition

Fuel poverty is said to occur when in order to heat its home to an adequate standard of warmth a household needs to spend more than 10% of its income on total fuel use. The definition does not take account of the amount that a household actually spends on fuel, nor the amount available for the household to spend on fuel after other costs have been met.