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Experts Warn of Deaths Caused by Fuel Billing System

By Laura Elahi on February 21, 2011

The UK Public Health Association has warned that the UK’s two-tier system for calculating domestic fuel bills could be causing thousands of deaths each year.

According to experts at the UK Public Health Association, Britain’s poorest households are penalised unfairly by the two-tier tariff system that charges the most money for the first units of energy used.

Branding the system “iniquitous”, the public health experts have demanded change – not least because current figures estimate that more than 30,000 people in the UK die each winter because of low temperatures. Most of these deaths are caused by strokes, chest infections and heart attacks.

Professor John Ashton, chairman of the UK Public Health Association, said: “What’s happening in a lot of these houses is that you’ll have an elderly person, perhaps a widow on their own on a low pension, struggling to keep the house warm. She’ll keep one room warm and then at bedtime she’ll go up to her bedroom which is cold. She’ll get chilled and then she’ll get a chest infection, go on to get pneumonia and that’s it.”

The cost of running domestic central heating systems in the UK has risen sharply during recent years, despite energy companies enjoying relatively low wholesale fuel prices. With fuel poverty worsening for millions of households in the UK and unseasonably cold weather having struck twice in as many years, Professor Ashton argues that the two-tier tariff system is merely compounding the problem.

Professor Ashton added: “We spend a lot of effort trying to prevent premature deaths at all ages but particularly in the elderly. This is something that we ought to be able to do quite simply and one of the things is addressing this iniquitous pricing structure.”

Professor Ashton suggested that the lowest charges could be applied before the highest charges, so that the first units of energy used are the cheapest. Christine McGourty, of Energy UK, disagrees with Professor Ashton’s suggestion, however, stating that most high energy users are families with children at home during the day. Ms McGourty argued that changing the system could make matters worse for some households.