Poorest families ‘priced out’ of heating homes by £450 per year

Published on Tuesday, 21 February 2012 11:33
Posted by Scott Buckler

A new report from the UK’s largest children’s charity Barnardo’s reveals how the poorest families are scrimping on heat by up to £450 per year as they are ‘priced out’ of keeping their homes warm

Households with the bottom ten per cent of incomes in England need to spend around £1,165 per year in order to adequately heat their homes but Barnardo’s analysis finds those with the lowest incomes are spending just £723, creating a ‘fuel gap’ that leaves homes cold and is potentially detrimental to families’ health and well being.

Barnardo’s Priced Out report also reveals how an increasing number of households on low incomes are having to use pre-payment meters to pay off their debt to energy companies but in doing so can find themselves paying up to £80 more per year for their gas and electricity than those on direct debit tariffs.

Barnardo’s Chief Executive Anne Marie Carrie says,

"If we’re serious about tackling child poverty then we need to get serious about tackling fuel poverty, too.  Families should never have to choose between whether to heat their homes or put food on the table for their children.

Many of the families Barnardo’s works with are bearing the brunt of companies’ unfair tariffs because they are using pre-payment meters to pay off their debt and to pay for gas and electricity. Effectively these families are being penalised by their payment method at a time when they need the most financial help.

Energy companies have a moral duty to behave responsibly by ensuring that the poorest families are on the lowest tariffs available and that prices for pre-payment meters are brought down to the same rates as online tariffs. Furthermore, we would urge the government to tackle the issue of fuel poverty by the root, by bringing forward the requirement on landlords to make their properties energy efficient for tenants.

Barnardo’s report comes in the wake of huge hikes in energy bills - all six of the main energy companies increased their prices in 2011. Whilst the ‘Big Six’ have recently started to announce some reductions in their prices, Barnardo’s notes that many customers are now locked into fixed tariffs which means they will not benefit from these price reductions.

As the stress and pressure of rising energy bills continues to mount on families, Barnardo’s has launched a Child in Crisis fundraising appeal and is calling on supporters to help the most vulnerable families and their children.

Priced Out recommends that:

a) Energy companies bring down pricing for pre-payment meter tariffs so that they match online and direct debit payment tariffs

b) Energy companies take responsibility for ensuring that customers on low incomes or in debt are on the lowest possible tariffs and the UK government should legislate for this if companies fail to comply

c) The UK Government should bring forward its requirement on private landlords to make their homes energy efficient

d) The UK Government should replicate the Welsh Assembly Government’s approach by including a specific target in its strategy to end child poverty by 2020 that commits to tackling fuel poverty (3)

e) Public Health England and local authorities should monitor the effects of fuel poverty on the health of children and families.


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