Fuel poverty could affect a further 300,000
Published on 17 December 2012 11:30 AM
Around 300,000 more households are likely to in 'fuel poverty' by Christmas thanks to recent increases in energy prices, according to an advisory body.
The Fuel Poverty Advisory Group (FPAG) is calling on Prime Minister David Cameron to take stronger and more ambitious action to tackle 'spiralling' fuel poverty levels.
The group said recent price rises have resulted in a 7% increase in average annual energy bills and direct debit customers now pay £1,247 per year, while those paying by cash and cheque pay £1,336.
Recent estimates have shown that over nine million households could be living in fuel poverty by 2016, according to the FPAG.
It said that nearly half of the households currently considered to be in fuel poverty - which is defined as having to spend over 10% of income on heating - are older people.
A third of fuel poor households contain someone with a disability or illness, a fifth house a child aged five or under and a tenth someone aged 75 or over.
Fuel poverty 'set to sky rocket' if action isn't taken
The FPAG is urging the Government to create a cross-departmental group on fuel poverty and carry out an urgent assessment of the impact of welfare reforms.
It is also suggesting the creation of a new duty for local authorities to meet fuel poverty targets.
Chairman of the FPAG, Derek Lickorish said: 'With a cold winter, welfare reforms cutting incomes, and all at a time of austerity measures and other rising household costs, the plight of the fuel poor has never been more serious.
'Millions are living in misery due to high energy bills. Yet time is running out for the Government to fuel poverty-proof the homes of those on the lowest incomes.
A toxic cocktail of rising wholesale prices, the high cost of energy reforms and cuts in incomes for many households means fuel poverty levels are set to sky rocket without radical action.'
Ways to tackle fuel poverty
Government proposals that would only allow energy companies to provide four tariffs per fuel and require them to place all customers on the cheapest available deal for their chosen tariff have recently been announced.
However, critics say that the plans could put an end to cheap deals, reduce competition and consumer switching between suppliers, and ultimately lead to an increase in bills.
Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director General at Age UK commented: 'Living in a cold home is miserable. During cold weather it can lead to serious health problems and at worst kills people. It was the independent Hills Fuel Poverty Review that said that even if only 10% of excess winter deaths are due to fuel poverty that would be more deaths per year than the fatalities on our roads. This report confirms that fuel poverty is increasing and people are suffering.
'The only sure way to help people manage rising energy costs is to help make their homes more energy efficient and reduce their need for energy - especially for households in fuel poverty. If worried, free impartial advice is available from our helpline, website and local Age UK offices to help older people, and check if they are missing out on any support available through benefits.'