This is a really welcomed guest post from Turn2us, part of national charity Elizabeth Finn Care.
Now that Summer seems like a distant memory, our thoughts have turned to getting cosy and keeping warm indoors. But while many of us think of hot, bubbly baths and cocoa by the fire, the reality faced by millions is a different picture. Having to choose between putting the heating on and putting food on the table is a daily occurrence for 4.75 million people around the UK every winter. Not really what you’d expect in today’s modern society. And not a position you’d want your own family to be in.
But that’s life for nearly a fifth of UK households who are currently living in ‘fuel poverty’.A relatively new term in this country, but one that we are increasingly hearing as energy suppliers raise their prices above inflation, putting a strain on pockets and making it hard to heat poorly insulated homes. And isn’t just about being able to afford heating, as many people assume, it also includes spending money on other necessities to run a house, such as energy for cooking, being able to watch the telly, switching on the lights and washing the kids’ uniforms. The things that most of us take for granted.
The reasons for fuel poverty? Mainly increasing living costs, combined with rising energy bills, inefficient heating systems and poorly insulated homes.
Technically, it means that 10 per cent of a person’s income is spent on heating their home adequately. In practice, it means being out-and-out cold and miserable in the place you call home.
The National Energy Action charity (NEA) estimates that for every 1% increase in fuel prices there is a corresponding 60,000 people pushed into fuel poverty.
Although fuel poverty can affect anyone, it’s often most common among vulnerable households including pensioners, people with children under the age of 16 and people suffering with long-term illness.
NEA research shows that there are approximately 1.2 million dependent children living in fuel poverty – the consequences of which include psychological stress and anxiety, as well as serious illnesses such as respiratory and circulatory conditions. It’s not the best start in life for little ones.
However, if you know where to look, there is a wealth of information and advice available, which could help you be better off.
If you are in fuel poverty, or think you might be at risk of it, it’s worth checking to see if you are entitled to welfare benefits or charitable grants at www.turn2us.org.uk. Turn2us, part of national charity Elizabeth Finn Care, is a free and confidential website which includes a Benefits Calculator, Grants Search database and information on other sources of help.
The charity also has a wealth of information and practical advice on saving your energy bills, as well as detailing the schemes available if you’re having trouble keeping on top of payments. Some energy companies have set up charitable trusts to help customers pay for fuel arrears, and details of these can also be found on the charity’s site.
This Winter every household will receive a new booklet in the post called ‘Staying Connected’, filled with impartial advice on your energy rights, how to get the best deal and where to find help when you need it. It has information about the level of service you should expect, how to switch supplier, what to do and who to contact if something goes wrong. The booklet will accompany your latest energy bill, but it is written by independent consumer watchdog, Consumer Focus.
If you act today, you could not only save yourself some money, but you will feel better knowing that you have done everything you can to keep your family warm as temperatures drop. For more information about fuel poverty, to get help and advice for you or someone you know, the following websites could be useful:
National Energy Action www.nea.org.uk
Energy Helpline www.energyhelpline.com