Figures for 2010 show the number of households in fuel poverty fell by 750,000, but critics point out average bills have risen by £150 since then
The number of UK households in fuel poverty fell in 2010, but rising energy bills and the reduction of funds for energy efficiency measures mean the fall is likely to be short lived, experts have warned.
Figures from the Department of Energy and Climate Change showed that the number of households spending more than 10% of income on fuel to maintain an adequate temperature, the official definition of fuel poverty, fell by 750,000, or 11%, in 2010 to a total of 4.75 million.
Despite the fall, one in five households across the UK remained in fuel poverty, and consumer groups pointed out that a £150 increase in average bills since the period the figures cover mean many more people may have been pushed back into difficulties.
The DECC’s Annual report on fuel poverty statistics 2012 said the fall was mainly due to rising incomes, relatively stable energy prices at the time, and reduced energy consumption.
Energy and climate change minister Greg Barker said: “I am encouraged by the fall in fuel poverty, but there is no room for complacency.
“Fuel poverty remains a serious national problem and the coalition is absolutely committed to tackling it.”
Barker said people could still get help with heating and insulation through the Warm Front scheme, while about 2 million households would get money off their energy bills through the Warm Home Discount scheme in 2012.
He added: “The Green Deal will help people pay for home improvements through savings on their energy bills with extra financial help for the most vulnerable.”
However, campaign group Friends of the Earth (FoE) pointed out that the DECC’s projections showed fuel poverty in England could return to its 2009 level in 2012, and said the reduction of money spent on helping people make their homes more energy efficient would have an impact.
FoE executive director, Andy Atkins, said: “Energy efficiency measures played a significant role in cutting the number of households in fuel poverty in 2010, so it’s a disgrace the current government has slashed funds for better insulation and heating in low-income households.
“It is a national scandal that rising gas prices and heat-leaking homes have left millions shivering – and thousands dying – in the cold.”
FoE also said the government’s Green Deal would do little to help those in fuel poverty. The scheme is a long-term loan paid back through an addition to the household’s energy bill, but while it might be attractive to better-off families who can afford repayments, it would need to be radically changed to be of benefit to poorer families.
Audrey Gallacher, director of energy at Consumer Focus, said the government’s projections did not take into account the round of energy price rises that came into effect in late 2011 and as a result were likely to underestimate the problem.
“Current government plans are not sufficient to tackle the scale of this problem. This is clearly demonstrated by the more than 50% cut in energy efficiency help for the homes of the poorest households in England when fuel poverty levels are on the rise,” she said.
“Part of the reason consumer bills are rising is to fund measures to make our energy supply cleaner and more secure. But our bills also include ‘green taxes’ which just go straight to the exchequer, not to improve the energy market or to make Britain more energy efficient. Some of this extra revenue could go a very long way to plugging the funding gap in providing help to those who need it most.”
The DECC figures included a breakdown of fuel poverty numbers around the UK. The latest figures for Northern Ireland, which date from 2009, show 44% of households in fuel poverty. In Scotland in 2010, 28% of the population were fuel poor, and in England the figure was 16%. In Wales the latest available data is for 2008 and showed 26% of households were fuel poor.