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|Failure of companies to pass on
wholesale price falls hits Britain's poor this winter.
seven million households struggle to pay their fuel bills, almost
double the official estimate, according to new research published
In an opinion poll for the National Housing Federation, two-thirds
of people in "fuel poverty" said they heated their homes less than
would like because they could not afford the high prices of gas and
electricity. The research adds to pressure on ministers to take
action against energy suppliers to bring down bills and increase
social support for vulnerable households to ensure they can stay
healthy in the cold.
Fuel bills average £1,239 a year, having fallen by only 4 per cent
in 2009 despite the costs of wholesale gas and electricity more than
According to the Government's official fuel poverty statistics
released in October, 4 million homes in the UK in 2007 were in fuel
poverty, spending at least 10 per cent of their income on heat and
power. But in the latest research, a YouGov poll of 2,050 adults, 29
per cent of those surveyed said they spent more than a 10th of their
income on fuel, equating to 7.25 million households.
Sixty-one per cent of people claimed to be "worried" or "very
worried" about how they would pay their energy bills.
An overwhelming majority, 72 per cent, also said energy suppliers
should stop charging prepayment meter customers for the installation
and maintenance of meters, which can cost families an extra £108 a
year. As part of this newspaper's campaign against the Great Energy
Rip-off, The Independent is calling for a 10 per cent reduction in
bills and for powers for the regulator Ofgem to act against
suppliers which fail to pass on falls in wholesale costs.
In a separate analysis published today, the Conservative Party
claims that 2.4m pensioner households – one in three – are in fuel
poverty following the sharp rise in energy prices. Although official
figures will not be released for two years, the Tories have
calculated the impact on pensioners of energy price rises. The party
says that the number of pensioner households spending at least 10
per cent of their income on fuel has risen fourfold since 2004, when
it was 604,000 – one in 12.
The Tories say Labour will miss its target to abolish fuel poverty
in vulnerable households, including those with a pensioner, by 2010.
Greg Clark, the shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary, said:
"Ministers' warm words will have a hollow ring this Christmas as
many pensioners are forced to choose between heating and eating."
In the National Housing Federation's poll, 5 per cent thought Ofgem
was doing a good job of protecting vulnerable customers, with 46 per
cent saying it had performed poorly.
David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, an
umbrella group for housing charities, said: "The findings of our
poll are truly shocking. As the recession continues to bite, up to 7
million households are in fuel poverty. Huge numbers of vulnerable
people will go cold this winter because they can't afford to heat
their homes. The spiralling cost of energy and the impact of the
downturn mean heating our homes has become a luxury rather than a
basic necessity – particularly for the elderly, low paid and