What is fuel poverty?
Fuel poverty in England is measured using the Low Income High Costs (LIHC) indicator. Under the LIHC indicator, a household is considered to be fuel poor if:
- They have required fuel costs that are above average (the national median level)
- Were they to spend that amount, they would be left with a residual income below the official poverty line
There are three important elements in determining whether a household is fuel poor:
- Household income
- Household energy requirements
- Fuel prices
More and more of our citizens are falling into this group as energy becomes increasingly expensive. Over 4,000,000 in England are now identified as living in fuel poverty (based on 2009 estimates).
Fuel poverty particularly affects more vulnerable households eg older people, younger children, disabled and long-term sick but it also affects working people and families too.
Causes of fuel poverty
- Low income
- Increasing cost of energy
- Leaky buildings and inadequate or missing insulation
- Inefficient or inappropriate heating systems e.g 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 (ie 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 “Hotspots Scheme”
Effects of fuel poverty
- Health effects – people are more vulnerable to suffering from cold-related illnesses and each year more than 25,000 people aged over 65 die in 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 are 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 impact on young people (it’s hard to study or do homework in a cold, draughty house)
How to identify/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% of your income on energy, then it’s worthwhile seeing if you can get support to try and reduce your energy bills.
How the Council is tackling fuel poverty
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 in the Housing Grants and Assistance section.
Avoiding fuel debt and getting advice
If you have built up a fuel debt and are having difficulty paying for it, in the first instance try talking honestly with your energy company. They may be able to help you by spreading the payments, changing your tariff or by installing a prepayment meter. They have an obligation to consider your situation fairly, taking into account your ability to pay and suggesting a suitable way forward.
- Visit the Citizens Advice Bureau for advice on tackling debt, including fuel debt
- Visit the Housing Grants and Assistance section. Improving the energy efficiency of your home can help you to reduce your bills avoid fuel debt
Ways to reduce your fuel bills
- Changing your tariff or supplier so that your per-unit price is lower. Visit our Collective switching or oil buying cooperative pages for more information. You can also visit Switching Energy Suppliers
- Changing how you use energy (behavioural changes), or by
- Increasing 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’s done on a first-come, first-served basis.
Additionally, paying energy bills by direct debit or using an online tariff can be cheaper. You can find more advice by visiting the Energy Savings Trust.
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 co-operatives and promoting new renewable technologies like solar water heating.
The Rural Community Energy Fund (RCEF) is a £10 million fund that has helped rural communities become cleaner and more sustainable by supporting rural communities across England wanting to set up renewable energy projects in their area.
Home Energy Conservation Act (HECA) 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 residential accommodation in our area.
This is the starting point for action by central and local government to significantly improve the energy efficiency of residential accommodation across the country. It’s a legal requirement and a key strategy for reducing fuel poverty.
Driving local domestic energy efficiency improvements can bring significant benefits for our residents including:
- Helping reduce residents’ fuel bills
- Helping make homes warmer and healthier
- Support 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