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We all want to keep our energy bills as low as possible. But for some people, due to fuel poverty, keeping energy bills down isn’t about saving a few pounds each month to spend on life’s little luxuries. It’s about the difference between heating and eating.
We will cover frequently asked fuel poverty questions such as:
Fuel poverty is a huge problem in this country and we want to do our part to end it.
We set up UtilitySavingExpert.com to make it easy for you to switch energy suppliers so you can get a better deal. We believe that the more people who change energy suppliers regularly, the more competitive energy companies will be forced to be, the less we will have to pay for our energy and the less people will suffer from fuel poverty.
But first, read on to find out more about fuel poverty and what can be done about it.
Fuel poverty is such a widely recognised problem in the UK that it has its own official definition.
In England and Wales, the latest definition of fuel poverty was set out by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in June 2013. (DECC was replaced in July 2016 by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.) The definition states that a household is said to be in fuel poverty if:
The definition also uses a fuel poverty gap. This is the difference between a household’s modelled bill and what their bill would need to be for them to no longer be fuel poor. The purpose of the fuel poverty gap is to measure the severity of the problem faced by fuel poor households.
In Scotland and Northern Ireland, the definition is much more straightforward. According to the Scottish Fuel Poverty Statement, published in 2002, a household is in fuel poverty if it would be required to spend more than 10% of its income on all household fuel use in order to maintain a satisfactory heating regime. If over 20% of income is required, then this is termed as being in extreme fuel poverty.
For “vulnerable” households, a satisfactory heating regime is defined as 23°C in the living room and 18°C in other rooms. For other households, it is 21°C in the living room and 18°C in other rooms.
Income is defined by the Scottish Government as that of the householder and their partner not the whole household.
This information helps us to understand how fuel poverty is defined. In the next section we will look at the scale of the problem.
Quite simply, fuel poverty is a big problem for the UK.
These figures mean the UK’s ranking on fuel poverty in Western Europe is 14th out of 16. And the UK is 16th out of 16 when it comes to the proportion of people who cannot afford to adequately heat their home.
We can get an insight into who is most affected by fuel poverty by looking at the figures for Scotland. Here, 59% of fuel poor households are owner occupiers, 27% are social housing residents and 15% rent in the private sector. Older households make up 45% of the households who are affected by fuel poverty.
As well as understanding how many people fuel poverty affects, it is important to look at the problems it causes. Perhaps the biggest problem is in relation to health.
There is a link between living in a cold home and poor mental health as a result of anxiety and stress. People who struggle to pay their energy bills are forced to ration their use of energy, perhaps only heating a single room or having to choose between having a hot meal and having a heater on. Using appliances such as a washing machine and heating water for baths or showers can be a concern too. There is also an increased risk of social isolation if a home is not warm and therefore not welcoming.
These problems all have very real outcomes. The average number of ‘Excess Winter Deaths’, which is linked to cold indoor temperatures, is 27,405 each year. More people die from cold homes than alcohol, Parkinson’s or traffic accidents. (Excess Winter Deaths are defined as the difference between the number of deaths in the four winter months (December to March) and the average of the numbers of deaths in the two four month periods which precede winter (August to November) and which follow winter (April to July).
Fuel poverty also affects the wider economy. It is estimated that in the next 15 years fuel debt will mean £950 million less will spent in local economies, preventing our country thriving as it could. It will also result in an additional £22 billion needing to be spent by the NHS on treating cold-related admissions.
The three biggest factors causing fuel poverty are:
Let’s put some numbers against those three causes.
There is a direct correlation between a poorly insulated home and a fuel poor home: 96% of the homes with fuel poor households are poorly insulated. This equates to the average fuel poor household having to pay an extra £371 per year to stay warm compared to an average UK household.
Energy bills have also been rising sharply in recent years. Figures from 2015 show that in 2005 the average annual gas bill was £317 and the average annual electricity bill was £318. In 2015, the figures had risen to £715 and £584 respectively. These figures far outstrip the price of inflation: according to the Bank of England’s inflation calculator, if gas prices had kept pace with inflation between 2005 and 2015, the average annual gas bill would have been around £427 in 2015.
The means to tackle fuel poverty depend on the area you are talking about: England and Wales has different legislation to Scotland when it comes to fuel poverty and there is a range of policy, legislation and schemes in place at local and national level to do this.
But broadly speaking the solution to fuel poverty is to address the three main elements of fuel poverty – poor household energy efficiency, low incomes and high energy prices. There is a general consensus on the types of measures that need to be taken. They can be summarised as follows:
Tackling fuel poverty in the long term involves strategic change. In the short term, there is help available for those experiencing fuel poverty now.
There are several government schemes available to support those affected by fuel poverty. They include:
A Winter Fuel payment is a one-off, tax-free payment of between £100 and £300 made during the winter to help with heating costs. It is made to households that include someone over Pension Credit age.
The amount a person can receive each winter varies according to their personal circumstances. Factors that might affect the amount include their age or other people living with them who are also eligible.
The Winter Fuel Payment does not count as income when working out entitlement to other benefits.
A Cold Weather Payment of £25.00 is made to people on certain means-tested benefits to help with fuel costs during periods of very cold weather.
The average temperature must be 0ºC or below for at least seven consecutive days and fall between 1 November and 31 March.
The Warm Home Discount Scheme provides a one-off discount of £140 on an eligible household’s electricity bill between October and April.
The discount is available to two groups of people:
There are also grants available to help people improve the energy efficiency of their privately owned or rented home. Such grants might cover the cost of updating a heating system or fitting additional insulation, for example. These grants are operated by the Government, energy suppliers, local councils and other sources. Some schemes are only available to people on low incomes or certain benefits.
National Energy Action’s Fuel Poverty Action Guides are designed to be practical and easy-to-use documents that will help advisors identify the best solutions for householders who are worried about keeping their homes warm and paying their energy bills. The guides are available at www.nea.org.uk/advice/fuel-poverty-action-guides/.
The NEA also provides a fuel poverty assessment tool which is designed to help front-line home energy efficiency assessors and fuel poverty programme workers to calculate whether a resident is living in fuel poverty. It is available at www.nea.org.uk/fuel-poverty-assessment-tool-home/.
Energy Action Scotland has an Advisors Toolkit to help frontline advisors whose clients include the vulnerable and/or those in fuel poverty. The Toolkit offers a wide range of easily-accessible, practical information relating to fuel poverty and energy efficiency in Scotland. It is available at www.eas.org.uk/en/advisors-toolkit_50454/.
While many of the solutions to tackling fuel poverty lie at local and national level, there are some things that an individual can do to minimise the effects of fuel poverty. They can be grouped into three areas:
The first step that someone can take to ensure they are getting the best deal from their energy supplier is to check they are on the best tariff. Tools such as the one provided by UtilitySavingExpert allow people to check the prices of all eligible tariffs so they can find the best deal for them. In many cases, users can switch to a cheaper provider using the UtilitySavingExpert site. If this is not possible, switching supplier is simply a matter of calling the new supplier – the new supplier will then take care of the switch.
As well as ensuring someone is on the best tariff there are a number of other things that can help reduce energy bills:
If someone finds themselves in energy debt, the best advice is for them to contact their energy supplier as soon as possible. This will enable the supplier to work with the person to find a solution.
It is essential that people in fuel poverty ensure they are getting all the benefits they are entitled to. Advice is available from Citizens Advice or by visiting www.gov.uk/browse/benefits. There are also several schemes, including the Warm Home Discount and the Winter Fuel Payment, to which they may be entitled.
The Priority Services Register gives eligible people a wide range of support from their energy supplier and their distribution network operator (the company that operates and maintains their electricity supply) including:
People eligible to go on the Priority Services Register must meet one of the following criteria:
To apply to go on the Priority Services Register, people need to contact their energy supplier and distribution network operator.
Maximising energy efficiency means someone can minimise their energy bills.
The actions can be divided into two areas: everyday actions and bigger actions.
Everyday actions include:
People living in colder homes should also take steps to avoid damp and condensation because these are a cause of ill-health. Suggestions for reducing damp and condensation include:
Bigger solutions to improve energy efficiency include:
We are proud to donate 10% of our profits each year to two charities working to end fuel poverty in the UK: National Energy Action and Energy Action Scotland.
National Energy Action is the national charity working to end fuel poverty in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Its training, project delivery, events programme and other activities support and enhance the work of its members and other stakeholders in treating the symptoms of fuel poverty; as well as providing it with evidence to enhance its policy and campaigning work to ensure that the needs of those in fuel poverty are recognised and addressed.
Energy Action Scotland (EAS) campaigns for an end to fuel poverty in Scotland and is the only national body with this sole remit. It strives to do this in a variety of ways in order to influence both policy and practice. This includes responding to consultations and providing briefings to politicians and government officials at UK, Scottish and local levels.
There is a wealth of information available on the internet. We suggest that the best places to start are our chosen charity websites:
These provide lots of facts, advice and guides as well as signposts to other sources of information.
If you care about ending fuel poverty, one of the first things to do as an individual is to make sure you are on the best possible energy tariff. By switching to a cheaper tariff not only are you saving yourself money you are also sending a message to energy companies to remind them that people need to come before profit.
Get started now with our energy comparison tool.