Thousands more face fuel poverty

By Liz Stephens

Higher energy prices coupled with rising unemployment could push hundreds of thousands more homes into fuel poverty, a group of influential government advisors has said.

The Fuel Poverty Advisory Group (FPAG) said about four million households in England are already in fuel poverty – which is defined as spending more than ten per cent of available income on energy.

Households in England in fuel poverty rose almost four-fold between 2004 and 2008.

This is in stark contrast to the dramatic falls in the numbers in fuel poverty during the early part of the decade.

The FPAG have urged the government to set out a detailed plan for how it intends to meet its own target to end the problem by 2016.

One of the key causes of fuel poverty is high energy prices. Average domestic fuel bills have increased by 125 per cent over the past five years.

The report warns the likely long-term trend on prices is upwards, due at least in part to the huge industry investment needed to meet green energy targets.

Unemployment is also becoming a key factor, the report added.

Jonathan Stearn of consumer watchdog, Consumer Focus welcomed the report.

“If the government is serious in its aim to end fuel poverty, it needs to do much more to help the most vulnerable households,” he said.

At particular risk are those who use pre-payment meters (PPM’s), who currently pay more for their energy.

In the worst cases, customers on PPM’s are paying up to 255 a year more for their energy, the report said.

Energy regulator Ofgem has said it plans to ban unfair price differentials between PPM’s and other payment methods.

But in a statement it added: “Primary responsibility for tackling fuel poverty rests with the government, which must look at improving the housing stock and raising income levels for the fuel poor.”

The government says it has spent 20 billion on cutting fuel poverty since 2000.