Fuel poverty is defined as the need to spend more than 10% of household income on fuel costs to maintain adequate warmth for health and comfort. The most recent official government statistics, based on 2009 data, put the total number of households living in fuel poverty in the UK at 5.5 million. According to NEA projections, after the most recent round of energy price increases there are now approximately 6.6 million UK households in fuel poverty.
Fuel poverty is caused by three factors:
- inadequate heating and insulation
- low incomes
- the continue high cost of energy
It is most prevalent among vulnerable households, including:
- those on low incomes
- people with children under the age of 16
- people with disabilities or suffering from a long-term illness
- older people
However, with almost 1 in 4 households now estimated to be in fuel poverty it is a problem no longer limited to these groups.
The consequences of fuel poverty range from psychological stress, worry and social isolation, to causing or exacerbating serious illness such as respiratory and circulatory conditions. Those in fuel poverty often have to face the stark choice between spending what they need to heat their home adequately and falling into into debt; or rationing their energy use and living in cold damp homes that are dangerous to their health. Others spend money on fuel and reduce their purchasing of other necessities, such as food.
Fuel poverty can be particularly severe in rural areas where properties are often oldder, are not suitable for caving wall insulation, and are off the gas network and have to rely on more expensive forms of heating.
Action across a number of specific areas is needed to ensure all households are helped, including measures to reduce essential energy demand through energy efficiency programmes; measures to provide financial support for energy costs through income supplements; and measures to defray energy costs through discounted charges.
The following document highlights real examples of people in fuel poverty that NEA has worked with. They cover each vulnerable group and show the difficulties faced before practical solutions were delivered in helping them overcome fuel poverty.
For further information and to access advice on the different schemes and agencies in fuel poverty solutions across the UK please refer to NEA's Fuel Poverty Action Guide.