Energy experts and charities have warned of the increasing fuel poverty crisis in the south west of England.
Driven by the rising cost of gas and electricity, fuel poverty affects any household that spends at least 10 per cent of its income on heating. In the south west of England, the rate at which more homes are entering fuel poverty has caused concern among energy watchdogs and charities.
According to the latest statistics, more than 100,000 West Country homes have entered fuel poverty in the past four years, bringing the total number of fuel poor households up to 367,000.
The UK Government has been criticised in recent years for failing to do enough to help domestic customers afford their central heating bills. Unfortunately, the problem has worsened following the austerity measures imposed by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition, which has scrapped a £310 million scheme designed to support vulnerable energy consumers in making their homes more energy efficient.
The coalition Government also suspended new applications for the Warm Front scheme, which provided £110 million a year to homes that could not access mains gas. Many homes have suffered as a result of the decision, not least because the cost of oil central heating – often the only alternative to gas – has increased substantially during the past year.
Alec Rice, fuel poverty projects manager at Community Energy Plus, an energy conservation charity based in Cornwall, said: “We welcome the fact that the Government is looking at these issues but it needs to be more up-front about who is going to be paying. This is the crux of the issue – if it is coming from people’s bills then it needs to be said.”
Mr Rice added that it is almost inevitable that many more thousands of homes in the south west and other parts of the UK will fall into fuel poverty because the Government’s aim appears not to be to help consumers but to serve the leading energy companies.
Mr Rice said: “The Government plan is to put everything onto the energy supplier – they will help them but will pass charges onto the customer.”