The Energy and Climate Change Committee last week warned that the UK Government is failing to meet its own targets on reducing fuel poverty.
The government had aimed to substantially reduce fuel poverty by 2010 and eliminate it entirely by 2016; however, with the average central heating bill hitting a record high last winter, the issue of fuel poverty has, if anything, worsened significantly. The official definition of fuel poverty is any household that spends 10% or more of its income on domestic energy bills, which describes approximately 2.8 million households in England alone; furthermore, an additional 2.4 million households are likely to be classified as suffering from fuel poverty by 2016 if energy bills rise as expected. The majority of the 2.8 million households in England that are already considered to be experiencing fuel poverty are classed as vulnerable because they comprise children, the disabled or the elderly.
Acting Chairman of the Energy and Climate Change Committee, Paddy Tipping, said: “One of the reasons tackling fuel poverty is so difficult is that the government does not have a clear idea about who the fuel poor are”. Mr Tipping’s comments echo the widely held belief that the UK Government’s definition of fuel poverty does not accurately cover the extent of the problem, which is fundamentally caused by high fuel costs in a struggling economy. Fuel poverty has also been affected by the unseasonably cold winter, which was Britain’s worst in several decades, whilst energy companies have been criticised for failing to pass on wholesale fuel savings to customers when it mattered the most; indeed, the so-called ‘big six’ energy companies have only recently lowered gas prices.
Ensuring that homes are properly insulated and that central heating systems are maintained and kept at a reasonable temperature are pivotal in reducing fuel poverty, ministers have argued. Energy and Climate Change minister, David Kidney, said: “as part of the energy bill currently before parliament, we’ll be requiring energy companies to double their collective spend to £300m a year by 2013 on social price support, helping more of their most vulnerable customers with their energy bills”.