Living in poverty is hard enough, but living in poverty and being cold all the time is even harder.
Fuel poverty is a big problem in the UK. In 2019, there were 3.16 million fuel-poor households in England alone.
Due to recent fuel price increases and the latest price cap rise from 1 April 2022, the estimated number of households in fuel poverty today is 6.32 million and is predicted to rise to 8.5 million by the end of 2022.
How fuel poverty is defined across the UK:
- England: “Those households that have an income below the poverty line, living in a home with an EPC of worse than C are considered as being fuel poor.”
- Scotland: “after housing costs have been deducted, more than 10% of their net income is required to pay for their reasonable fuel needs (20% for extreme fuel poverty); and their remaining income is insufficient to maintain an acceptable standard of living, defined as being at least 90% of the UK Minimum Income Standard”
- Wales: “households needing to pay more than 10% of their full household income to maintain a satisfactory heating regime.”
- Northern Ireland: “A household is said to be in fuel poverty if it needs to spend more than 10% of its income on energy costs”
The cold hard stats
- 3.16 million (~13 per cent of households) – The official number of households in fuel poverty in 2019
- 6.32 million (~26 per cent of households) – The estimated number of households in fuel poverty today due to the latest price cap rise (1 April 2022).
- 8.5 million (~35 per cent of households) – The predicted number of households in fuel poverty by the end of 2022.
- 2.5 million (~10 per cent of households) – The estimated number of households with children in fuel poverty from 1 April 2022.
Fuel poverty affects millions of people across the UK. For some, it’s not just an inconvenience but a life-changing experience.
Fuel poverty can lead to health issues and even death, especially in cold weather when heating costs are higher than usual.
Public Health England ( PHE ) states that:
There is clear evidence on the links between cold temperatures and respiratory problems. Resistance to respiratory infections is lowered by cool temperatures and can increase the risk of respiratory illness.”
Going on to say “studies have found that visits to GPs for respiratory tract infections increased by up to 19% for every one-degree drop in mean temperature below 5°C”
And with regard to cold, damp and mouldy homes, children were found to “be between 1.5 and 3 times more likely to develop symptoms of asthma than children living in warm and dry homes”
The cost to the NHS alone of poor housing from a recent study by the Centre for Ageing Better is estimated to be £1.4 billion a year!
1. Check if you’re eligible for a winter fuel allowance or other benefits
There are different types of allowances available, so it’s best to find out what you might be entitled to.
Winter Fuel Payment
You qualify for a Winter Fuel Payment if both the following apply:
- You were born on or before 26 September 1955
- You lived in the UK for at least one day during the week of 20 to 26 September 2021 – this is called the ‘qualifying week’
If you did not live in the UK during the qualifying week, you might still get the payment if both the following apply:
- You live in Switzerland or a European Economic Area (EEA) country
- You have a genuine and sufficient link to the UK – this can include having lived or worked in the UK, and having family in the UK
What you get
How much you get depends on your circumstances during the qualifying week. Any money you get is tax-free and will not affect your other benefits.
|Born between 27 September 1941 and 26 September 1955||Born on or before 26 September 1941|
|You qualify and live alone (or none of the people you live with qualify)||£200||£300|
|You qualify and live with someone under 80 who also qualifies||£100||£200|
|You qualify and live with someone 80 or over who also qualifies||£100||£150|
|You qualify, live in a care home and do not get certain benefits||£100||£150|
Warm Home Discount Scheme
You are eligible for the Warm Home Discount Scheme, if:
- You get the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit – known as the ‘core group’
- You’re on a low income and meet your energy supplier’s criteria for the scheme – known as the ‘broader group’
Note: The money from the Warm Home Discount Scheme is not paid directly to you – it’s a one-off discount on your electricity bill for winter 2021 to 2022 of £140 paid between October and March. You may be able to get a discount on your gas bill instead if your supplier provides you with both gas and electricity.
Cold Weather Payment
Pensioners may also be eligible for Cold Weather Payments of £25 for each 7-day period of very cold weather between 1 November and 31 March.
You’ll get a payment if the average temperature in your area is recorded as, or forecast to be, zero degrees celsius or below over 7 consecutive days.
Available from November 2022
This year’s scheme will start on 1 November 2022. You’ll be able to check if your area is due payment in November 2022.
2. Get your home energy-efficient
According to the Energy Saving Trust, there are a number of things homeowners, landlords and social housing associations can do to make their homes more energy-efficient. These include cavity wall and loft insulation, as well as draught-proofing doors and windows with several products available at DIY stores or alternatively you could make your own.
Heavy curtains are also a good way to keep the heat in during winter and out in summer. and using thermal underlay beneath carpets can make a difference to your bills and overall comfort.
Making these small changes can result in an estimated £140 a year savings for a typical semi-detached home. And as well as saving money, it’s also good for the environment.
Tado°, a home climate management firm, conducted a study that found that British houses lose heat far more swiftly than European neighbours, even when outside temperatures are taken into account.
According to the study, conducted between December 2019 and January 2020 across 80k homes, a UK house will lose on average 3°C of heat, after five hours. This is with a starting indoor temperature of 20°C and an outdoor temperature of 0°C.
In comparison to homes in some Western European countries such as Norway and Germany, UK homes lose heat up to three times as fast.
Almost 38% of homes in the UK were built before 1946, compared to 24% for Germany and Sweden.
Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating
The EPC rating of properties is a significant indicator of how fuel poor households will be, with properties in band E or below more likely to be fuel poor.
Since April 2020, landlords are required to renew their EPC certificates on their properties every ten years.
It is estimated that over a million homes across England and Wales would not meet the new requirements of having to be at an EPC rating of E or better.
Energy Company Obligation (ECO)
Check out the Energy Company Obligation (ECO). The ECO is a government scheme to tackle fuel poverty and help reduce carbon emissions.
Since the scheme began in April 2013 it has gone through several amendments with the most recent (ECO3) closing on 31 March 2022.
ECO4, the latest policy, has yet to commence, however, it will apply to measures completed from 1 April 2022 and will run for a four year period until 31 March 2026.
The ECO scheme consists of a Home Heating Cost Reduction Obligation (HHCRO) requiring energy suppliers to promote the installation of measures, such as the installation of insulation and heating measures.
Energy suppliers themselves are able to refer households where they are either struggling with persistent fuel debt and are supported by suppliers, or are using pre-payment meters (PPM) and have regularly been unable to stay connected to their fuel supplies due to financial hardship.
Note: It’s crucial to remember that becoming eligible for the ECO Program does not guarantee that an energy supplier or contractor will choose to implement an energy efficiency measure in your house.
You are eligible for ECO if:
- You are a core group customer from the scheme year 2012 onwards under the Warm Home Discount Scheme
- You buy your energy from a participating supplier and believe you were eligible for a rebate which you have not received
Or you receive at least one of the following benefits and satisfy the relevant income requirements, where applicable:
- Child Benefit
- Pension Guarantee Credit
- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
- Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
- Income Support
- Tax Credits (Child Tax Credits and Working Tax Credits)
- Universal Credit
- Housing benefit
- Pension credit saving credit
Core Group 1
The Core Group 1 are less well-off pensioners who receive Pension Credit Guarantee Credit. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) works with participating suppliers to identify those who receive Pension Credit among their customers. Most eligible Core Group 1 customers are identified in this way.
Check out this for Energy Efficiency Grants to help with household improvement across the UK.
3. Ensure your boiler is maintained
Investing in regular boiler servicing is one of the smartest things you can do to improve your home’s energy efficiency and save money on your energy bills.
Boiler servicing saves money each year by keeping your heating system running more efficiently and reducing the need for costly repairs.
Boilers are complicated machines which require routine maintenance in order to be safe, efficient, and cost-effective.
A properly maintained boiler will last 15-20 years, so it’s important to make sure yours is being regularly serviced.
You may find that your boiler is old and inefficient and it is time for an upgrade. If this is the case, you may be eligible for free or discounted insulation or heating measures. Contact your energy supplier and see if you qualify for the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) scheme or Boiler Upgrade Scheme. This is unlikely to save you money in the near term but you should see a payback over a few years.
4. Understand your rights
If you are a domestic private rented tenant you have certain rights to request energy-saving measures from your landlord.
- Since 1 October 2008, it has been a legal requirement for landlords to provide an EPC free of charge to new tenants under regulation 5 of The Energy Performance of Buildings (Certificates and Inspections) (England and Wales) Regulations 2007.
- Since April 2016, landlords in the domestic private rented sector in England and Wales cannot refuse any reasonable request to install energy efficiency measures (there is a price cap of £3,500).
- Since April 2018, all properties let on a new tenancy agreement must have an EPC of at least Band E (unless they have a valid exemption in place)
- Since April 2020, all properties AND all tenancies must have an EPC of at least Band E (unless they have a valid exemption in place).
Landlords face civil and criminal penalties if they sign any new tenancy, or renew an existing tenancy since April 2018 with fines of up to £5,000 per property if found in breach of the legislation.
Guidance for tenants, landlords and others with an interest in a domestic private rented property is available from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
5. Use less energy
Yes, an obvious recommendation. Turn off lights when you leave a room, only boil as much water as you need etc. but how many of these things do we all do consistently?
Small changes can add up over the year, you could save:
Investing in energy-efficient appliances such as light bulbs, washing machines, and fridges can have a positive impact on household energy consumption also.
6. Talk to your energy supplier
Contact your energy supplier and ensure you are on their cheapest tariff for your gas and electricity taking advantage of any discounts your supplier may offer.
You may find you could get cheaper shopping around, but this is easier said than done in today’s climate as there are not many (any) competitive tariffs on the market.
If you have any concerns that you may not be able to pay your energy bills and are falling into energy debt, then contact your energy supplier as soon as possible. Once your supplier knows you may have a problem, they are required to find a solution by working with you.
Understand your energy bill
If your energy bill has an ‘E’ marked against the meter reading, then your energy consumption is estimated by your supplier and not necessarily reflective of what you have actually used. Taking and submitting regular meter readings to your energy supplier will help ensure your bills are accurate and help you understand usage as you go minimising the chances of any nasty surprises
You may be eligible for a grant to help pay off your energy debts
Your energy supplier may be able to help you pay off any energy debts you may have via an energy hardship grant.
The following are energy suppliers currently offering grants to help their customers:
- British Gas Energy Trust
- EDF Energy Customer Support Fund
- E.ON Energy Fund
- E.ON Next Energy Fund
- Octopus Octo Assist Fund
- Ovo Energy Fund
- Scottish Power Hardship Fund
If your supplier isn’t one of those above, and they do not provide any support you can get in touch with the British Gas Energy Trust which provides grants even if you are not a British Gas customer.
7. Find extra help and advice.
Don’t suffer in silence. There are several organisations that can offer support, such as:
You can also get energy debt advice by calling Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 0808 223 1133 or your local Citizens Advice.