12 Aug 2011

Government fuel poverty targets likely to be missed

Washington Correspondent

Exclusive: The Government is seriously underestimating the number of people in fuel poverty according to its own advisor, who tells Channel 4 News the situation is “dire”. Siobhan Kennedy reports.

Rising energy prices and freezing winter temperatures mean the number of people living in fuel poverty is on the rise.

The Government estimates there will be 4.1 million people in England spending more than 10 per cent of their disposable income on energy by the end of this year.

But in an exclusive interview with Channel 4 News, the head of the Government’s Fuel Poverty Advisory Group says the Coalition is underestimating the scale of the problem.

Derek Lickorish said: “The situation is dire and the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group is extremely concerned.

“We’re looking at 6.6m households in the UK in fuel poverty by the end of this year compared to 2m in 2004.

“The chances of eradicating fuel poverty by 2016 is almost an impossible task.”

He added that the budget to fight fuel poverty had been slashed from around £300m to £110m and called for the funding to be reinstated.

So far this year, four of the big six energy companies have announced price rises. The other two are expected to follow suit.

Read more from Channel 4 News on energy prices

Eat or heat?

Rita Young, who lives near Peterborough, is one of millions of people facing fuel poverty this winter.

She has just received a letter from E.ON detailing up and coming price rises.

Rita told Channel 4 News she is “upset” about the sacrifices she will have to make elsewhere in order to pay fuel bills.

Her income is around £161 per week. Impending cuts to the fuel benefits for pensioners, combined with price rises, mean she will be spending more than £16 per week on energy this winter.

“It’s eat or heat. It’s one or the other. You have to cut back on your food, lower grade food or something like that.

“You definitely need to keep the heating up because you need the heat to keep warm.”

Rita is critical of the Government for not doing enough to help pensioners facing fuel poverty.

A Department of Energy and Climate Change spokesperson defended the Government’s position: “We know rising energy prices are hitting households hard, which is why we are requiring the Big Six energy companies to provide discounts of at least £120 off energy bills this winter to about 600,000 of the poorest pensioners.

“We’re also pushing for stronger competition to keep price rises as low as possible. In the longer term, we’ll be helping people use less energy with the Green Deal which will provide extra support for the poorest and most vulnerable to benefit from energy efficiency measures.”