Fuel poverty in England is measured using the low income high costs indicator. Under this, a household is considered to be fuel poor if:
- they have fuel costs that are above average
- they would be left with an income below the official poverty line if they were to spend that amount
There are three important elements in determining whether a household is fuel poor. These are:
- Household income.
- Household energy requirements.
- Fuel prices.
More and more people are falling into this group as energy becomes increasingly expensive. Over 4,000,000 people in England are now identified as living in fuel poverty, based on 2009 estimates.
Fuel poverty particularly affects more vulnerable households, such as older people, younger children, the disabled and long-term sick, but it also affects working people and families too.
Causes of fuel poverty
The causes of fuel poverty can include:
- low income
- increasing cost of energy
- leaky buildings and inadequate or missing insulation
- inefficient or inappropriate heating systems, for example, using expensive plug-in radiators to heat a large house
- rural issues such as being off the gas grid, higher transport costs and the cost of heating oil
- under-occupancy, for example, if only one person lives in a large house - heating the house still costs the same as it would if more people lived there and could contribute to the cost
- under claiming benefits - you can check which benefits you are entitled to by contacting Yorkshire Energy Partnership on 01904 545020 and quoting the Hotspots Scheme
Effects of fuel poverty
The effects of fuel poverty include:
- health effects - older people are more vulnerable to suffering from cold related illnesses and each year more than 25,000 people aged over 65 die in the winter months, compared to warmer months (these are known as excess winter deaths and are linked to insufficient heating and poor insulation)
- cold, damp and draughty homes, which may cause environmental health effects such as mould
- people being forced to choose between keeping warm and eating well, particularly in winter
- social exclusion
- under-heating damages the fabric of homes, making them harder to heat
- educational impacts on young people - it is hard to study or do homework in a cold, draughty house
How to spot problems
With rising fuel prices many people are finding keeping warm more difficult. If you are finding it harder to afford to keep your home warm, or if you need to spend more than 10 per cent of your income on energy, it is worthwhile seeing if you can get support to try to reduce your energy bills.
How we are tackling fuel poverty
Home Upgrade Grant - phase 2
This new grant provides energy efficiency upgrades and clean heating systems to low-income households that are not on mains gas.
The Home Upgrade Grant (HUG2) can be used for improvements such as insulation and solar panels to air source heat pumps and smart heating controls. These will help save money on energy bills and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Register your details with us to find out if you could be eligible for the grant.
Other grant schemes
We support a number of grant schemes that can help you to improve the energy efficiency of your home and reduce your fuel bills.
You can find out more about these on our schemes and grants pages.
Avoiding fuel debt and getting advice
If you have built up a fuel debt and are having difficulty paying for it, talk honestly with your energy company. They may be able to help you by spreading the payments, changing your tariff or by installing a pre-payment meter. They have an obligation to consider your situation fairly, taking into account your ability to pay and suggesting a suitable way forward.
You can also visit the Citizens Advice Bureau website for advice on tackling debt, including fuel debt.
Improving the energy efficiency of your home can also help you to reduce your bills and avoid fuel debt. You can find more information on our schemes and grants pages.
Ways to reduce your fuel bills
- change your tariff or supplier so that your per-unit price is lower - visit our oil buying cooperative page for more information (you can also visit the switching energy suppliers page on the Which? website)
- change how you use energy
- increase the energy efficiency of your home through insulation or heating improvements
Many energy companies are part of the warm homes discount scheme, which can help reduce your bills. You must apply for this as it is not advertised, and do so as soon as possible, as energy providers only have a fixed pot of funds, so it is done on a first-come, first-served basis. Visit the Government website for more information.
Additionally, paying energy bills by Direct Debit or using an online tariff can be cheaper. You can find more advice on the Energy Savings Trust website.
The role of community groups
Community groups, neighbourhood teams, church groups and others are a good way to develop and promote activities which help make energy more affordable. This could include raising awareness of energy efficiency grants and potential cost savings to local people, as well as establishing new schemes like oil cooperatives and promoting new renewable technologies like solar water heating.
Home Energy Conservation Act reports
We must prepare a report setting out the energy conservation measures that we consider practicable, cost-effective and likely to result in significant improvement in the energy efficiency of homes in our area.
It is a legal requirement and a key strategy for reducing fuel poverty.
Energy efficiency improvements can bring significant benefits for our residents including:
- helping reduce residents' fuel bills
- helping make homes warmer and healthier
- supporting the creation and maintenance of local green businesses, jobs and skills
- making a vital contribution to reducing local and national carbon emissions
- supporting wider local strategic priorities on issues such as health and poverty
You can read our Home Energy Conservation Act reports