Nearly five million people in fuel poverty cannot afford to keep the lights on and pay energy bills, according to new research published today.
Research by the Debt Advice Charity found that 4.7 million people across the UK are frequently cut off from their electricity supply, because they cannot afford to top-up pre-paid electricity meters.
Pre-paid meters are usually more expensive than other payment options, but fuel poor households say they rely on them to better manage energy costs.
Around 25% of families across the UK rely on pre-paid meters to help pay energy bills, with one in ten saying they are in arrears with gas, water or electricity.
18% of households questioned by the Debt Advice Charity said their gas supply is cut off on average every few months, while 7% were left without gas at least once per week.
Around 6% of respondents said they were regularly left without electricity at least once a week.
Households in the West Midlands and East Midlands have the highest rates of fuel poverty, with 63% of those in the East Midlands struggling to afford to top-up pre-paid meters.
Fuel poverty is defined as households who spend more than 10% of the overall income on fuel and energy costs.
A Debt Advice Charity spokesperson said:
“To see this level of fuel poverty in the UK is very worrying. Heating, lighting and hot water are basic necessities that everyone should have access to, yet there are many vulnerable households who are forced to go without.
“We would like to see more help given to households in danger of losing their energy supply.
“I would advise anyone whose energy is at risk of being cut-off to speak to their supplier as soon as possible to ask for help, and also, to contact the Home Heat Helpline for free advice on getting out of fuel poverty.
“The Debt Advisory Centre would also like to see those customers who are able to demonstrate that they can pay energy bills to be taken off pre-paid meters and put on to cheaper deals.”
Energy giant Npower recently announced the creation of a fuel voucher scheme for families struggling with energy costs. Dubbed “fuel banks” by critics, vouchers will be made available through Trussell Trust food banks.
The scheme is open to all families struggling with energy costs and not just Npower customers or pre-paid meter users.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 12 May 2015
Families in poverty who are forced to switch off their gas and electricity supply because they are unable afford spiralling energy bills will be offered free charity fuel vouchers under a pilot scheme. The so-called “fuel banks” initiative will provide a £49 credit for struggling families who use prepayment meters in a move designed to address the austerity-era dilemma of “heat or eat”. It is being run by energy firm nPower and poverty charities including the food bank network Trussell Trust.
The vouchers, which will provide enough credit to restore power, and keep lights and heating on for up to two weeks, will be available to people in crisis referred to food banks by welfare advice agencies, GPs and social workers.
Labour MP Frank Field, who has campaigned against fuel and food poverty through his all-party Feeding Britain initiative, described the scheme as an “important breakthrough” that would help families who face an agonising choice between putting money in the gas meter or food on the table.
But critics said it was a public relations move that could not substitute for low wages and cuts to the welfare state hardship funds, or distract from the “profiteering” fuel prices charged by the Big Six energy firms – including npower.
Inability to afford even switch on the cooker or heat bathwater has been a striking feature of poverty in the UK in recent years, as low-income households struggle to cope with shrinking wages, rising living costs and welfare cuts such as the bedroom tax.
Last year it emerged that Trussell’s food banks were issuing special “kettle box” food parcels designed for clients who could not afford to cook, or in extreme cases, “cold box” parcels for those who could not even afford to heat water.
The fuel bank scheme is explicilty aimed at households who “self-disconnect” from prepayment meters to save money. Research by the Citizens Advice Bureau suggests more than 1.6 million people go without electricity or gas every year in the UK.
The scheme, which will be available to all referred people, not just npower customers, will be piloted in 21 locations across County Durham, Kingston-upon-Thames and Gloucester. If deemed successful, npower will roll out the initiative nationwide, with the aim of support up to 13,000 households in the first year.
The vouchers will be distributed using Trussell’s food bank protocols, to individuals and families referred to them after being identified by professionals as being “in crisis”. Clients would be allowed three fuel vouchers in a year.
David McAuley, chief executive of the trust, said:
“In many cases people coming to food banks can be facing financial hardship that leaves them both hungry and in fuel poverty. By providing npower fuel bank vouchers at food banks, we can make sure that people who are most vulnerable are not only given three days’ food, but can turn on the energy supply to cook it and heat their homes too.”
Matthew Cole, npower’s head of policy and obligations, said the energy company had always worked hard to help its most vulnerable customers:
“It [the fuel bank scheme] will provide immediate and hassle free support to households where often the choice is between food or warmth.”
Matthew Cole of the Fuel Poverty Action campaign said:
“These fuel banks will do nothing to hide the harmful actions of the Big Six, including home break-ins to install unwanted prepayment meters, visits by bailiffs, and energy supply disconnections to vulnerable households.
“Our current, for-profit energy system is broken – only an affordable, public, and renewable energy system will make a meaningful difference to those affected by fuel poverty and energy debt. With the huge majority of public opinion in favour of public energy, it’s no wonder the Big Six are trying to improve their image.”
The Trussell trust, which this week announced that its 445 food banks distributed enough emergency food to feed almost 1.1 million people for three days last year, said that it was looking to create more business partnerships. It already has a food collection partnership with Tesco.
Source – The Guardian, 23 Apr 2015
OFTEC, the UK trade body for oil fired heating, has written to parliamentary candidates in Northumberland urging their party to put fuel poverty high on their list of election pledges. Statistics showed that fuel poverty in Northumberland directly contributed to 100 excess winter deaths in the winter of 2012/13.
In the letter, OFTEC called for candidates to support better measures aimed at reducing fuel bills as well as carbon emissions of homes in Northumberland, including providing cash for households to improve their insulation and replace their old, inefficient boilers.
Malcolm Farrow, of OFTEC, said:
“It is a scandal that 100 people in Northumberland died during the previous winter simply because they could not afford to heat their home properly. There’s a great opportunity for the new government to introduce energy policies that help ordinary households across the county and this is why we have challenged party candidates to support the measures we put forward.”
The letter was sent to Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem, UKIP and Green candidates in all rural constituencies across Northumberland. It was co-signed by rural communities’ charity ACRE and FPS, the federation of petroleum suppliers.
For more information about reducing your fuel costs visit http://www.oilsave.org.uk
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 22 Apr 2015
Nearly half of all households who cannot afford to heat their homes are in work, a shocking new report reveals.
Damning research from the right-wing think tank Policy Exchange, reveals how the Government is spending less than half of the £1.2 billion needed to tackle fuel poverty in England.
The government is currently investing £490 million a year to move all fuel poor homes in England to a ‘Band C’ energy efficiency rating by 2030. However, Policy Exchange has estimated the true cost to be £1.2 billion a year, leaving a £700 million per year funding gap.
‘Despite some recent improvement, the UK’s housing stock remains woefully inefficient compared to other European countries’, says Policy Exchange.
Policy Exchange calculates that fuel poor households would need to spend up to £1,700 extra a year to heat their homes to a suitable level (between 18 and 20 degrees Celsius).
Just over 1.1 million working households in England are classed as ‘fuel poor’, with 10% of all households in England now living in fuel poverty. The problem is most severe in rural communities, where many homes are off the gas grid.
The research also shows that fuel poverty has been made worse by rising energy bills, with gas prices rising by 128% over the last 10 years.
The findings may play into the hands of the Labour Party, who have pledged to freeze energy prices for 20 months if they win the next general election. Labour claim the move could save average households £120, but cost energy companies around £4.5 billion.
Policy Exchange suggests three ways to meet the gap in current Government funding:
- Energy efficiency subsidies should be more focused on fuel poor households. At present, only 33% of fuel poverty funding actually benefits the fuel poor. Refocusing the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) scheme on fuel poor households would raise £375million a year to allocate to fuel poor households.
- Only 10% of Winter Fuel Payment recipients are actually in fuel poverty. Introducing an ‘opt-in’ for the Winter Fuel Payment could save £400million a year which could be reallocated into energy efficiency measures for the fuel poor.
- Energy efficiency should be viewed as a ‘Top 40’ national infrastructure priority – utilising some of the government’s £100billion infrastructure budget over the next five years.
Author of the report, Richard Howard, said: “The facts paint a startling picture. There are over one million working households struggling to afford their energy bills, and living in under-heated homes.”
A government spokesperson said: “Fuel poverty has fallen year on year under this government, and we’re spending more than ever before to ensure more people stay warm this winter”.
Ed Miliband has challenged David Cameron to fast track legislation giving Ofgem the power to cut energy bills. The Labour leader has also called for a new measure on living standards.
Ed Miliband said: “The key test for success of an economic policy is its impact on living standards for working people and the next government will take radical action to restore the link between the wealth of our nation and family finances.
“Millions of people have been ripped off by the big energy firms who never seem to pass on savings to customers. In the last year, wholesale energy costs have fallen by between 9 per cent and 20 per cent but no supplier has reduced the price of their standard tariff.
“The next government is committed to making to [sic] big changes in our energy market: freezing energy prices until 2017 so that bills can fall but not rise, resetting the market and bringing in a tough new regulator to stop the rip-offs in the future.
He added: “But now George Osborne, who used to warn such measures were impossible, is claiming he understands that the energy market is broken. So next week, we’ll give him, David Cameron and Nick Clegg the chance to help all those families they have been ripped off by the energy companies under this government.
“They have been making noises about energy bills. Now they can put their money where their mouth is because, if we work across party lines, we can bring in new powers for the regulator to cut bills and force energy firms to pass on savings to consumers.
“This can begin in Wednesday with a vote in the House of Commons on fast track legislation.
“This zombie Government has had no new meaningful legislation for months. But, with this vote Parliament can require the government to bring forward fast-track legislation. It would mean we would still do some good before Parliament is dissolved before the General Election. All it takes is other parties to abandon their previous opposition to fixing our broken energy market.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 11 Jan 2015
A charity is urging the Government to take urgent action to help more than 250,000 households in the North-East and many more across the UK living in fuel poverty.
National Energy Action (NEA) estimates 276,782 households in the North-East are unable to heat their home to a comfortable and healthy level – 8.9 per cent of the population.
In Yorkshire and the Humber this figure stands at 244,850 – 10.9 per cent of the population.
Last year, 1,710 of the 5,700 excess winter deaths across both regions were attributed to cold homes.
And NEA claims one person dies every five minutes due to the “UK cold homes crisis,” with an estimated 4.5 million British homes affected.
Research has revealed many vulnerable people are forced to choose between eating properly and heating their homes due to soaring energy prices and dwindling incomes.
In response, NEA has joined forces with other charities, local authorities, health agencies, community groups, MPs and energy efficiency installers and manufacturers, to urge the Government to take action.
Its Warm Home Campaign calls on the Government to provide automatic energy discounts and targeted energy efficient measures to low income families and vulnerable people in hard to heat homes.
Phil Wilson, Labour MP for Sedgefield, County Durham, has backed the campaign.
In his constituency, an estimated 3,756 households are living in fuel poverty.
“It is devastating and something needs to be done – people’s lives are at risk,” he said.
“Having a warm home is something many of us can take for granted and it is important we raise awareness of the full extent of the problem.
Maria Wardrobe, director of external affairs at NEA, said:
“The Prime Minister, ministers and MPs have been forewarned that local health services will not be able to cope this winter with cold-related hospital admissions and repeat GP visits.
“The NHS is currently bearing a yearly burden of £1.5bn treating cold related illnesses and 10,000 lives could have been saved last year alone.
“In the longer term we need an ambitious fuel poverty strategy that prioritises the improvement of energy efficiency in low-income households.”
For more information about the campaign or to make a donation to NEA visit nea.org.uk
Source – Northern Echo, 01 Jan 2015
> I think it’s worth adding a comment made – by workingagepoor – to the above item…
I am not the only one but I cannot afford to heat my home exccept for very short periods of time. No amount of energy efficiency or other measures alter this fact.
Safety messages such as keep one room in your house are meaningless if you cannot afford to turn your heating on.
The temperature in my house is often below that which we are told places a person at risk of hypothermia.
Each slight percentage fall in my income makes this situation worse. Poor people don’t know how to cook, are feckless, scrounge benefits, work will make you better off are the messages that today’s politicians send us.
I can survive, I will fight but when will people wake up and start seeing what is being done to those at the lower end of society.
Meanwhile whilst people sit in their cold homes that have been made colder by austerity measures placed upon them so that they pay for the deficit brought on by greed and corruption by politicians and financiers who protect their own wealth by inflicting hardship upon others.
Bombs are being dropped on people of another nation in yet another conflict at great expense. These people and others that we have inflicted pain and misery upon are also fighting back. Politicians cannot realise that ultimately all of this cruelty comes back to them.
Pause to consider what we are becoming. Do not commemorate wars that killed millions. Stop being blinkered. Don’t think of how you yourself can be better off. Help those less fortunate than yourself.
Peace and kindness will bring more warmth to a person than any amount of heating. I have a roof over my head for which I am grateful but I do not want to be a part of a system that destroys the homes, children and lives of others.
New prepayment meters are being installed in hundreds of homes to help residents pay for their gas and electricity.
From the end of the month, Derwentside Homes will install the new smart meters, which display how much gas and electricity is being used and how much it costs, in 200 homes.
Under the pilot project, the meters will be installed in the company’s properties as they become vacant.
It follows a deal between Derwentside Homes and energy provider Ovo.
Vicky McCourt, new business development manager at Derwentside Homes, said: “The deal we have struck with Ovo will go a long way to helping our residents to reduce their energy use – and to cut their bills.
“Prepayment meters can be very expensive for customers on low incomes, who often have no choice but to have this type of supply arrangement.
“However, Ovo are consistently very competitive on the market when it comes to prepayment deals and by supplying customers with real time information on their energy use, and its costs, we can help to bring prices down even further for our residents”.
The first meter has just been installed at a house in Moorside, near Consett and Derwentside Homes says it ultimately hopes to have smart meters installed in all of its properties.
Ms McCourt added: “New residents will be set up with Ovo as their supplier – but, importantly, they will have the choice whether to stay with them or switch to an alternative provider.
“We believe this exciting initiative has the potential to reduce fuel poverty among Derwentside’s residents.”
Source – Northern Echo, 25 July 2014
100 ? Tip of the iceberg !
Reposted from The Green Benches
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