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Millions of UK households are living in fuel poverty and numbers are on the rise. If you are one of the many struggling to afford to heat your home, you need to find out if you could be entitled to help from the government.

The Committee on Fuel Poverty recently reported that there are 2.55 million households in England which are living in fuel poverty. This is an increase of 210,000 since 2014 despite the government’s Fuel Poverty Strategy which was announced in 2014.

What is fuel poverty?

There are different definitions of fuel poverty depending on where in the UK you are. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland a household is in fuel poverty when it needs to spend more than 10% of its total annual income on energy/fuel.

However, in 2013 the Department of Energy and Climate Change* redefined what was considered fuel poverty in England. Now a household is considered to be in fuel poverty if its necessary fuel costs are above the national average and spending that much on fuel leave them below the poverty line.

*The government closed the DECC in July 2016. Energy issues are now managed by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

Why is fuel poverty rising?

In 2014/15 the government launched the Fuel Poverty Strategy in England which aims to improve the efficiency of ‘as many fuel poor homes as is reasonably practicable’ by 2030 to band level C. Unfortunately, it seems that this target is looking unattainable without an investment of billions of pounds.

The Committee on Fuel Poverty provides an annual update on the strategy and the latest in 2018 stated that ‘progress is stalling’. Over the last 10 years, the proportion of households living in fuel poverty has ranged from 10-12%.

The most important contributing factors to a home being in fuel poverty include the efficiency of the property, fuel prices and the household’s income. Fuel costs are continually on the increase and, unless the household’s income rises at a similar rate it leaves people with less disposable income to live on. A lot of homes are draughty which means a lot of heat (and therefore energy) escapes and many heating systems are aged and inefficient.

The 2018 Annual Fuel Poverty Statistics Report confirms that ageing, inefficient housing has a significant part to play in the rise in fuel poverty.

  • 18.6% of fuel poor households were built between 1900-1918
  • 4.2% of fuel poor households are in dwellings built post-1990.

In addition, the report also found that almost 60% of households considered fuel poor are rented. In rented accommodation it is the landlord who is responsible for the expense of maintaining and replacing the heating and insulation, but the tenant who must pay for the running costs. This leaves many people in a situation where they cannot afford their heating bills but are not in a position to improve the efficiency of the home without persuading the landlord to invest.

To reduce heating bills we should be replacing heating systems with energy efficient models and improving the home’s insulation. However, both of these tasks require money, and when households are already struggling to pay for heating, spending money on new heating systems or improved insulation is unrealistic.

How to Cope With Rising Energy Bills

The best way to reduce your energy bills is to make your home more efficient for the long-term by insulating your cavity walls and loft, switching to low energy appliances and installing a new A rated boiler.

Of course, not everyone has the funds to be able to make these home improvements which is why the government offer grants to help low income households to pay for new insulation and/or a new boiler.

For example, households which meet the eligibility criteria and receive certain benefits can apply for a grant which will cover some or all of the cost of a new boiler. Find out if you could qualify for a free boiler grant here.

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If you can reduce your energy usage this is another effective way to keep bills to a minimum. Simply turning the thermostat down by a degree or turning the heating on an hour later /
turning it off an hour earlier cold make a big difference.

Here are some other ways to ensure your heating bills are as low as possible.

  • There are lots of energy suppliers in the UK and you may be able to save money by switching to a cheaper deal.
  • Try and find a fixed rate energy deal as prices will remain the same for the specified period. This means your fuel prices won’t fluctuate with the market.
  • Sometimes you can get cheaper deals by buying both your gas and electricity from the same supplier.
  • Paying your bill by direct debit is often cheaper than paying quarterly.
  • Some suppliers will offer discounts to customers who want paperless bills.
  • Provide regular meter readings to your supplier so you’re only paying for what you’ve used and not what they’ve estimated.
  • Try to minimise the draughts in your home by sealing gaps in skirting boards and letterbox, close your curtains at night and place draught excluders in front of doors.
  • Don’t leave appliances on standby, switch lights off when not needed and unplug device chargers.
  • Put lids on saucepans, only run full loads of washing (on lower settings) and don’t overfill the kettle.
  • Dry clothes on a line rather than using a tumble dryer.
  • Replace your light bulbs with low energy versions which use less electricity and last longer.

If You Can’t Pay Your Bills…

Some people worry that their energy supply will be cut off if they can’t pay their bills. While this can happen in extreme cases, it’s viewed as a last resort by energy suppliers. If you are unable to pay your bill it’s always best to contact the energy supplier to discuss your options as they may be able to help you find a solution. For example, some companies have charitable organisations set up to help customers pay for late fuel bills.

It’s also worth checking whether or not you are eligible for the supplier’s Priority Service Register (PSR) which offers free support services to people with a disability, visual or hearing impairment, chronic illness or pensioners. If you are on the PSR, the supplier cannot disconnect your energy during winter.

The Citizens Advice Bureau can also offer advice on finding the best energy supply for your situation and can offer debt advice if you need it.

Grants and Schemes

There are some government grants and schemes available which, if you’re eligible, could help you to pay your heating bills and/or improve the efficiency of your home.

  • The Warm Home Discount can give you a £140 discount on your annual electricity bill if you receive the guarantee part of Pension Credit and your electricity supplier belongs to this scheme.
  • Winter Fuel Payments are available to people who are of Pension Credit age.
  • Cold Weather Payments are made to people who receive certain benefits when the weather falls 0°C or lower for seven days in a row.
  • Insulation grants are available to people who meet the eligibility criteria to cover some or all of the cost of improving the insulation of their home.
  • Boiler grants are available to eligible people to cover some or all of the cost of replacing an inefficient heating system.

    How to apply for a boiler grant

    To check if you qualify for a boiler grant you can complete our simple online form – it only takes a few minutes and we’ll give you a quick call back to make sure you meet all the criteria. We’ll ask you:

    • What benefits you receive
    • Your annual household income
    • How many children are living in your home
    • Whether you’re a private tenant or own your own home.
    • The make and model of your current boiler, the condition it is in and where in the home it’s located.
    • Once we have all your information we can get on with finding heating installers in your area who will visit your home to assess what is needed. If you’re approved for a boiler grant, you could get a brand new boiler for free or for a significantly cheaper price.

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