by Molly Hall, Research and Campaigns volunteer
A household is said to be in ‘fuel poverty’ when it spends 10% or more of its disposable income - the money it has left over after essentials each month - on energy costs. Above 10%, people cannot afford to keep their house adequately warm at a reasonable cost.
There are several factors that affect the likelihood of people falling into this situation:
1. The energy efficiency of the property - typically, any home with an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of lower than C is performing poorly.
2. The cost of energy.
3. Low household income.
Fuel poverty can affect you regardless of how you pay for your electricity and gas - whether you are on a prepayment meter, or on a tariff with your supplier where you pay by direct debit.
We’ve previously written about the adverse effect of Covid-19 on people paying their energy bills. At Citizens Advice Gateshead, the number of energy issues we have dealt with this winter has more than doubled compared with last year.
Unfortunately, the number of households in fuel poverty echoes the rise in energy issues that we have seen. The rising cost of energy, draughty homes, and the general high cost of living has caused people to spend more than they ought, or have, to keep warm.
In Gateshead, 9,985 households were deemed to be fuel poor in 2019. This is no surprise, as around 32,700 people living in Gateshead reside in some of the most deprived areas in England.
Often, energy suppliers are the best-equipped to help households in fuel poverty. We would encourage people to get in touch with their supplier to explain the situation and seek support directly. However, if consumers feel like they would benefit from some independent advice and information, this flow-chart is a good guide.
In the past year we helped 745 local people with energy issues. This included anything from advising on simple queries such as understanding energy bills and how to go about switching suppliers, up to more complex issues like fuel debts, supply disconnections and making a complaint.
Citizens Advice Gateshead has two dedicated advice and support programmes available. The Energy Advice Programme provides one-to-one advice to clients in or at risk of fuel poverty, while The Energy Redress Scheme offers targeted support to vulnerable consumers in Gateshead.
For more information on fuel poverty, relevant Gateshead organisations, and information on how to help, read: Fuel Poverty: Cold Hard Facts.
For energy-saving tips and advice, go to Feeling Cold? We can help!.