HEATING BILLS PUSH 11% OF HOUSEHOLDS BELOW THE POVERTY LINE
Around 2.5 million households were struggling to pay their fuel bills in England in 2015, official figures show.
Some 11% of households faced heating bills that pushed them below the poverty line in 2015, the latest year for which figures are available – a slight rise from 10.6% in 2014.
The gap between the bills that fuel-poor households faced and what they could afford to pay was more than £350, but had fallen since the previous year, the statistics show.
Levels of fuel poverty, measured as facing high bills and low incomes, were highest in the private rented sector where more than a fifth (21.3%) of households faced an average shortfall of £410 to pay their bills.
Among different kinds of household, the highest prevalence of fuel poverty was for single parents with dependent children, with almost a quarter (23.6%) in difficulties.
People living in uninsulated, solid-wall homes and older buildings were more likely to face fuel poverty, while those in newer and well-insulated homes were least likely to be struggling.
One of the best ways to reduce fuel bills is to install external wall insulation on uninsulated solid wall properties.
In 2015, the average fuel poverty gap between what people could afford to pay and what they needed to heat their homes to a decent level was estimated at £353, a decrease of 5.6% in real terms from 2014.
The total gap across all fuel-poor households shrank slightly to £884 million.
But the annual rise in the number of homes in fuel poverty was the second in a row, and official projections suggest the proportion facing high bills and low incomes will be similar in 2016 and 2017.
Peter Smith, director of policy and research at anti-fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA), said it was “hugely disappointing” to see fuel poverty in England continue to rise.
“Sadly we think cold homes needlessly kill up to 80 people per day in the winter months. This is not acceptable in the fifth largest economy in the world.
“Cold homes also cause untold havoc to our national health services.
“This costs us all as taxpayers well over £1 billion a year as well as increasingly long queues to see GPs, get treated at accident and emergency (and) hampers efforts to discharge vulnerable patients out of hospital.”
He called for UK-wide resources to stop “tragic winter deaths” and a joint ministerial summit on health and fuel poverty.
A LOT OF EXTRA WORK NEEDED TO REDUCE FUEL BILLS
In the wake of the figures, shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey said: “During the election campaign Theresa May promised an energy price cap, but now it’s nowhere to be seen.
“Dither and delay from this weak and wobbly government won’t return bill payers the £2 billion the Competition Markets Authority says they’re being overcharged.
“Meeting the Conservatives’ fuel poverty targets written in their manifesto would require ‘roughly doubling’ the funding provided, as pointed out by the Government’s own Committee on Climate Change.
“Austerity has failed and Theresa May has shown herself to be too weak to deliver. Labour stands ready with a plan to reduce bills and alleviate fuel poverty.”
Labour has said it would bring in a cap on domestic energy bills, insulate four million homes, provide interest-free loans for homeowners to improve their properties and improve Landlord Energy Efficiency regulations.
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: “With the recent hot weather people are not thinking about fuel poverty but as soon as the cold weather hits, many will be worrying about how they’ll pay their energy bills this winter.
“Some of the poorest people in our society will be left with the choice between heating and eating. The Government are failing in their basic duty, helping the most vulnerable.”
James Taylor, head of policy and public affairs at disability charity Scope, warned that disabled people often faced far higher costs than others, and a third were forced to cut back on energy consumption in the past year.
“As a result, many are forced to skip meals or borrow money in order to keep up with payments,” he said.
“Disabled people frequently have to use more energy because they can be less mobile, need to regulate their body temperature, or have to charge specialist equipment.
“Government, regulators and energy companies must take real action to tackle disability-related costs.
“This must include better identification of disabled people when they initially become customers and support to manage their spending during their contract.”
A spokesman for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “The Government is committed to tackling fuel poverty and support worth £770 million is helping to decrease the fuel poverty gap, as these figures show.
“The best long-term solution is to improve energy efficiency which is bringing the cost of heating homes down, and that’s exactly what we’re doing through programmes like ECO: Help to Heat, which will upgrade more than 200,000 homes each year.”