Fuel billing system 'leading to deaths'

Published on Friday, 11 February 2011 09:31
Posted by Scott Buckler

The system for calculating most domestic fuel bills in the UK is contributing to thousands of deaths each winter, public health experts say

 

The UK Public Health Association says two-tier tariffs - where the first units cost more - penalise the poorest. It wants the "iniquitous" price system changed so cheaper units come first.Energy firms say this would hit many vulnerable people who are at home all day and that they spent £150m helping vulnerable customers last year.

Every year the cold weather brings illness and death. Across the UK each winter there are, on average, more than 30,000 fatalities caused by low temperatures.


UK Public Health Association chairman Professor John Ashton says winter death rates are much higher in Britain than in Scandinavia and should be a matter of of shame.

"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," he said.

"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."

Domestic fuel costs have risen sharply in recent years, but Prof Ashton says the problem is compounded by the two-tier tariff used by most energy companies, with a high initial unit cost which falls when more energy is used.

"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."

The lethal impact of the recent cold snap is already emerging in death figures. In Cumbria there were nearly 200 extra deaths in just over a month over Christmas and the New Year.

Source: ©BBC News

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