Heating oil costs push up to 1.5m into fuel poverty
Published on 18 January 2013 11:00 AM
An estimated 1.5 million older people who live in the countryside are struggling to keep warm because they live in areas off the gas grid and can't afford expensive heating oil, according to Age UK.
In December, the cost of oil in some parts of the UK reached 70p a litre. Official figures show that the average price rose from just over 54 p a litre in July 2012 to 65p in December 2012 - representing a 20% increase, or over seven times the annual inflation rate.
In addition to the sharp price rises, as oil companies will only deliver a minimum of 500 litres of oil, users faced bills of at least £350 plus VAT - out of reach of many older people surviving on their pensions.
The disturbing figure comes as the winter's latest cold snap has descended on the UK with temperatures plummeting and the prospect of heating oil prices rising again, leaving those who are unable to keep warm at risk of heart attacks, strokes and other cold-related illnesses.
No protection against price rises
Sales of heating oil are unregulated in the UK, giving consumers no protection against prices which are significantly higher than national grid gas available to people in urban areas. Yet, older people in rural areas are often among the UK's poorest and tend to live in old badly insulated buildings which require more heating.
Age UK is calling on competition regulators to monitor the industry and intervene if there is evidence of unfair pricing or poor sales practices to help make heating oil more affordable for those who rely on it.
It is also calling on the Government to prioritise making 'off-grid' homes energy efficient.
Age UK's Charity Director General, Michelle Mitchell commented, 'Many of our poorest and most vulnerable older people live in the country and have little
choice, but to use heating oil to keep warm. A significant number can't afford the hundreds of pounds they have to pay up front and simply do without, often, in the coldest months of the year.
'We know older people are three times more likely to suffer strokes if they do not keep warm. So it's just common sense that the Government makes sure they can afford to keep warm by ensuring pricing in the industry is fair.'
Three times more likely to die from a preventable death
Age UK research has shown that people living in the coldest homes are three times more likely to die from a preventable death than those living in warmer ones. Last winter more than 23,000 people aged 65 and over died from strokes and other cold-related illnesses in the UK.
Several Age UKs around the country including West Cumbria and Northumberland are already working to support older people who are struggling to play for heating oil.