As the cold weather bites, how do we ensure everyone has enough money for fuel?

On Fuel Poverty Awareness Day, Abby Jitendra, Senior Policy & Press Officer, looks at what help is available for people unable to afford fuel & what needs to change

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“I am constantly writing letters and making phone calls to see what help or advice I can get. I am at breaking point, as each day there is something else to contend with. I feel helpless, mentally exhausted and so low. I really don’t know what I am going to do. I cannot get by month to month. It’s hard enough doing it week to week on a low income. I can’t afford to use my heating, even though it is so cold and my son suffers with his chest and lungs. No doubt he will end up in hospital during this cold period.”

This Fuel Poverty Awareness Day, we want to want to raise awareness not only of fuel poverty, but also the responses, both amongst local communities and through policy, that can stem the tide.

Foodbanks in The Trussell Trust’s network don’t currently measure how many people come through their doors facing fuel poverty. The University of Oxford research however, found that half of people at foodbanks can’t afford to heat their homes and households referred to foodbanks had, on average, £319 of income in the month preceding their referral and 1/5 of people still needing to pay housing costs over and above this. Even with housing benefit added in, this falls well below low income thresholds, and far below median income. Half of people at foodbanks were disabled, and 75% had a health condition, all making it more difficult to keep up with energy costs.

We asked foodbanks in our network how they were tackling this issue, and the results were both inspiring and heart-breaking. Inspiring, because it shows the sheer strength in communities coming together to help protect local people. Heart-breaking, because they highlight how people are restrained by the lack of help available, locked into a cycle of low incomes and high bills.

At least a quarter of Trussell Trust foodbanks were offering some help to make sure people weren’t left scrimping to keep the lights on, or having to sit in cold homes: from providing fuel vouchers, warm clothes and hot water bottles, to redistributing donated Winter Fuel Allowance funds, supporting communications with energy suppliers, providing signposting and advice, and even creating oil purchasing cooperatives.

We know there is good help out there – each energy provider has their own scheme to help people who are vulnerable or fuel-poor, and local authorities have schemes to help people struggling with energy costs. The Fuel Bank, our partnership with npower, has provided over 120,000 people on pre-payment meters help with their fuel costs, and has made a measurable difference in the lives of people who hit crisis. Yet, only 60% of foodbanks identified some sort of support being provided by their local authority, and much of this was not easy to access, nor long-term. And all the while, people are still referred to foodbanks up and down the country having not eaten a hot meal, or taken a hot shower in weeks.

We need to fix this, now.

This week, The Trussell Trust has submitted its response to the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s consultation on fuel poverty, in support of an amendment to legislation which would allow data companies to receive information about people’s benefit status, in order to place them on a safeguard tariff automatically. We know that people often don’t access the help available because it isn’t targeted to them, or they are simply hiding in plain sight – skipping meals or sitting in the dark. This would go a long way to solve that.

This Fuel Poverty Awareness Day, we’re calling for:

  • ‘Data matching’ between public authorities and energy companies, as proposed in the Government’s latest BEI consultation on fuel poverty measures
  • Maintaining safeguard tariffs or ‘price caps’ per unit of energy
  • Simplifying access to Warm Home Discounts to help vulnerable groups who may be disengaged
  • A standardised or comparable measure of fuel poverty across the UK
  • More targeted financial support for people facing fuel poverty to avoid ‘self-disconnection’
  • Increased statutory provision of energy efficiency measures to fuel poor households
  • Increased coordination, and improved accessibility, of energy and debt advice from local authorities and Jobcentres for vulnerable or hard to reach groups
  • A review of the impact of the Fuel Poverty and Health Booster Fund

You can read our Parliamentary briefing here.

Abby Jitendra, Senior Policy & Press Officer