Fuel poverty is a growing problem in the UK.
The latest figures from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy show that in 2015, there were an estimated 2.5 million households living in fuel poverty – that’s 11% of the population, and represented an increase of 0.4% on 2014.
The figures are made all the more alarming by the fact that fuel poverty was at an all-time low of 1 million households just over a decade ago – but what exactly is fuel poverty, why is it on the increase, and what can be done about it? Let’s take a look…
What is fuel poverty?
Fuel poverty is directly related to income, and a fuel poor household is one that needs to spend more than 10% of its income on gas and electricity to adequately heat its home. In the UK, an adequately heated home has a living room temperature of 21°C and a temperature of no less than 18°C in other occupied rooms.
What causes fuel poverty?
Low wages and high energy costs are the two main drivers behind fuel poverty – so, given the UK’s current climate of stagnating wages and increasing energy cost, it’s no surprise that fuel poverty is on the rise. There’s also a third factor at play – energy efficiency.
Households with insulated cavity walls are less likely to be living in fuel poverty, than those without – 6% compared to 18% - and older properties, which weren’t necessarily built with energy efficiency in mind, have a higher proportion of households in fuel poverty (18%) than newer build properties (4%).
It’s those living in privately rented properties that are among those being hit the hardest - 21% of tenants with private landlords are living in fuel poverty, compared to just 7% in owner-occupied properties. A combination of soaring rental costs, falling wages, and a dereliction of duty by some landlords will all be contributing to this particular problem.
The most depressing statistic though, is that the highest instance of fuel poverty is among lone parents with dependent children, almost a quarter (23%) of whom are struggling to adequately heat their homes.
What are the effects of fuel poverty?
It’s easy to dismiss fuel poverty as a problem that can be solved by simply ‘putting a jumper on’, or ‘being more energy efficient’, but the truth is that this problem goes well beyond putting on a couple of extra layers, and millions of people can’t afford the relative luxury of double glazing, or to have adequate loft and cavity wall insulation installed.
And there are landlords out there whose homes don’t meet minimum energy efficiency and even safety standards, as a recent study from AXA Insurance, found that 5% of properties pose an ‘excess cold hazard’ to residents as they fall into the worst-rated energy-efficiency bands. This means one in every 20 rental properties are at risk of contributing to fuel poverty for tenants and increased CO2 emissions.
The effects of fuel poverty are far-reaching and long-lasting, and it’s a problem that contributes to:
How to fight fuel poverty
Fighting fuel poverty has been a legal obligation for the government since 2001, when it became mandatory for the ruling party to implement initiatives and policies to tackle the problem. During this period, energy suppliers have also recognised they have certain responsibilities, particularly where vulnerable customers are concerned.
If you’re struggling, check out whether you’re eligible for the Warm Home Discount, the Cold Weather Payment, or the Winter Fuel Payment, which is a tax-free cash payment of between £100 and £300 to help pay your heating bills, available to anyone born on or before May 5, 1953.
If you’re on certain benefits, and own your own home, or are a private tenant, you might be able to get help to improve its energy-efficiency, such as free or subsidised loft and cavity wall insulation, as well as heating upgrades, including replacing or repairing your boiler. For more information, and to find out what you might be eligible for, go to GOV.UK.
And regardless of whether or not you’re a vulnerable customer, or on benefits, there are steps you can help to fight fuel poverty, including:
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If you’re struggling to make ends meet, and energy bills are adding to your worries, get in touch with Citizens Advice, or give their consumer helpline a call on 03454 04 05 06
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