If you need to spend more than 10% of your income on energy to keep warm and meet other energy requirements then you are one of nearly seven million households in England, 50% of whom are under the age of 65, who live in fuel poverty, unable to afford to heat and power their homes.
The interim report of the Hills Fuel Poverty Review found that between 2004 and 2009 the “fuel poverty gap” (the extra amount those with badly insulated homes and poor heating systems would need to spend to keep warm) increased by 50% to £1.1bn as a result of rising fuel prices.
Prices hikes have seen the average annual household energy bill rise to £1,345 according to the energy regulator Ofgem – more than double the average bill of five years ago. Rising wholesale costs could also mean that prices rises this winter could be in the region of 60% for electricity and up to 54% for gas.
Energy experts have warned that these rocketing prices could mean miserable winter months for millions, in particular pensioners and single-parent families. These groups were already hit hard by the government’s decision to reduce the Winter Fuel Allowance, which will be £50 lower for those aged over 60 and £100 lower for those aged over 80 this winter, and to cut funding for Warm Front (which provided grants to more than 2 million low income households to improve their energy efficiency and reduce their fuel bills) from £345 million to £110 million, which the independent group Consumer Focus has estimated could mean that 50,0 00 low income households will not receive help to heat their home and improve energy efficiency.
For many the problem will be far more serious than deciding where household savings can be made. There were over 36,000 excess winter deaths during the 2008/09 winter and many more people became ill and went into debt.
Action is needed at a national level to tackle the soaring cost of energy prices.
The stranglehold of the big six energy suppliers (whose bosses took home collective earnings of more than 10m last year) and their ability to both generate and sell energy to households needs to be addressed. This autumn has seen another round of price rises from the “big six” energy companies, and many of us are paying £300 more than we did this time last year. It is clear that the current system acts as a barrier to new companies entering the market and has clearly failed to minimise prices for consumers
But there are steps that residents who may be affected can take and advice and guidance on how to cut fuel bills can often make a substantial difference.
Some suggested ways to save costs can be found at the following link: http://bit.ly/sU6cKc
The Energy Savings Trust also offers impartial and free advice on how to save energy and cut bills. You can reach them at www.energysavingtrust.org.uk or at 0800 512 012.
Lastly, with almost a million UK households in debt to their gas or electricity supplier, Consumer Focus and Citizens Advice have launched a new drive to help people understand what to do and what their rights are if they fall behind on their energy bills. The organisations are launching the awareness campaign as they are concerned that the number of people in debt to their energy firm and needing help is likely to rise this winter as people struggle to afford higher energy prices. Anyone interested can visit www.consumerfocus.org.uk/get-advice/energy/plug-the-debt for more information. Many households may qualify for a discount off their bills or free insulation to help your home stop leaking heat and cut bills. Constituents should ask your energy company, your local Citizens Advice Bureau or call the Home Heat Helpline 0800 33 66 99 to find out about other free energy help available.