Getting support for fuel & water poverty

Two young people are sitting on piggy banks, with a bill and a dripping tap behind them representing water and fuel poverty
National Energy Action (NEA) is the national fuel poverty charity, working in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to make sure that everyone can live in a warm home. We spoke to them about the rising costs of household bills, fuel poverty and ways you can find financial support. Read on to get their expert advice.

What is fuel poverty?

Across the UK, cold homes are already making life miserable for the poorest households. A year ago, more than four million households were living in fuel poverty, meaning living on a low income, and unable to keep their homes warm. But energy prices have increased by over 50% this year; they are going up again in October and the average cost of water bills is also rising. This will have a huge impact on millions on people.

Rising cost of water & fuel

Even before this crisis, millions of households struggled with their energy bills. About a quarter of young adults, who were living separately from their parents, and almost one in five young families were experiencing fuel poverty. Those that were struggling with energy bills will find it even harder to keep up with their energy bill payments. And millions more will experience fuel poverty for the first time. NEA estimates that the number of households in fuel poverty could double compared to a year ago if prices increase again.

The risk of energy debt

Increases will be felt two ways. Some households will ration their energy use, deciding not to heat certain rooms, to eat hot meals less often, and to reduce their washing. Some households will use the same amount of energy, but be unable to afford it, and will therefore rack up significant debts to their energy supplier. Many will ration their energy but move into debt anyway.

While not paying bills and moving into energy debt can help to keep you to keep warm at home initially, the impact it can then have is drastic. If debt is persistent, energy companies will look to collect the debt with a debt repayment plan, and households might be asked to move onto a prepayment meter – or even be forced to through legal means. A debt repayment plan adds to the energy bill, making it even less affordable, and making energy rationing even more likely.

If you need support with debt, here’s a list of organisations who can help and a useful guide to paying off your debt.

Visit The Mix’s money page for tips on money management.

Fuel poverty & mental health

The impacts on mental health are stark too. The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute says that half (46%) of people in problem debt also have a mental health issue, and that almost four in ten (39%) people with a mental health issue said their financial situation had made it worse. Research from NEA has shown that it is not only debt that can have an impact on health, but living in cold temperatures too.

If your mental health is being impacted by money issues, you’re not alone, get in touch with The Mix’s team for support and advice on any issue.

What can I do if I can’t afford heating?

High energy prices that will lead to significant debt, energy rationing, and cold homes, present a serious problem to the UK, and more will need to be done by governments and regulators in order to soften the blow.

The Government has put in place some things to help people through this. There is the Warm Home Discount, a £150 payment to households receiving a means tested benefit with a high energy cost. This is applied automatically if you’re eligible. There are rules for energy suppliers that mean they must account for their customers’ ability to pay when setting up a debt repayment plan.

New support includes a £150 council tax rebate for those living in homes with a council tax band of A-D, an automatic £400 electricity bill rebate for everyone in Great Britain this winter, and automatic one-off payments to households that include someone in receipt of means tested benefits, with a disability and/or a pensioner.

How else can I get support for fuel poverty?

If you’re having trouble paying your energy bills, there are lots of things that can be done to help. Here are a few top tips:

  • Get in touch with your energy supplier as a first step, they can help you set up a debt repayment plan
  • Make sure you’re getting all the financial help you’re entitled to (take a look at NEA’s guide here)
  • Sign up to the Priority Services Register – this is a system energy providers use to make sure support is given to the most vulnerable customers. You can contact your gas and electricity supplier to find out more and to register
  • Check out this list of trusted organisations who can support with fuel poverty
  • You might be eligible for energy grants, such as discounts on insulation or heating measures; find out more here

Make your home more energy efficient

  • Buy draught-proofing materials from your local DIY shop to fill any gaps that might be letting in the cold
  • Use radiator reflectors and put them behind your radiators to help keep more of the heat in the room
  • Use thermal layers underneath carpets and close curtains to keep more heat in
  • Replacing your boiler can save lots of money in the long term, if it’s old or doesn’t work properly (contact your landlord about this if you’re renting)
  • Loft and cavity wall insulation can also make a big difference to bills and help keep you warmer
  • Take a look at this useful resource to find top tips on using less energy around the home

What more needs to be done?

The latest government support is significant and will help millions stay warm this winter. However, in the medium term, it’s key that the Government does more, beyond this year, to help people stay warm at home while prices remain high. NEA has several recommendations for the Government to achieve this:

  1. Make energy tariffs more affordable for low-income households by offering a lower cost price cap for them.
  2. Help indebted energy customers to pay off their energy debts through a debt repayment matching scheme, where for every £1 of debt cleared by a household, the Government contributes £1 to debt clearance.
  3. To insulate low-income households from future price spikes, dramatically increase spending on energy efficiency schemes, permanently reducing energy demand, and therefore energy bills.

If the Government takes our ideas into consideration, then the energy crisis will be significantly easier for fuel poor households across the UK. If you would like to support NEA’s calls on the Government to take more action, sign our petition on ActionStorm.

Next Steps

  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

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Updated on 01-Jul-2022

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