More evidence of the impact of higher energy bills on the vulnerable

Increasingly we are reading about fuel poverty. To date our policies have been less than successful. Mark Bridge writes an excellent article in The Times about the impact in Britain.


Health warning for elderly as higher energy bills bite

More than a million pensioners say that they will struggle to pay their energy bills this winter, as charities raise fears of a health crisis.

As night temperatures fell to minus 13.5C in parts of rural Scotland this weekend, research seen exclusively by The Times revealed that a two fifths of people in Britain aged 65 and over feared that the cold weather would lead to rising bills – and 11 per cent, equivalent to 1.3 million people, said that they could not afford any increase.

Twelve per cent said that their health already suffered because they limited the amount of heating they used and 20 per cent ate less or bought cheaper food to offset higher energy costs. More than a third (38 per cent) rationed their energy because of the cost, according to a poll of 2,000 respondents aged 65 and over by Comparethemarket, the comparison website.

Pensioners’ decision to limit their energy use comes despite 88 per cent believing that low temperatures present a serious health threat to older people. According to Age UK, each winter one older person dies from the cold every seven minutes.

Energy bills increased by an average of 14 per cent, or £240, to £1,625 last year, with customers on suppliers’ default standard variable tariffs paying the most. Comparethemarket found that a fifth of respondents, equivalent to two million pensioners, were on these deals rather than fixed-rate tariffs. The company said that people aged 65-plus who changed supplier last month saved an average of £200.

In October the prime minister pledged to introduce legislation to cap energy bills. Ofgem, the energy regulator, said this month that a cap could be implemented by next Christmas.

Dermot Nolan, the chief executive of Ofgem, told a parliamentary select committee he accepted that the regulator “should have done better with vulnerable customers.”

More than half of respondents (56 per cent) believed that the proposed price cap would not do anything to reduce their energy bills. Some feared that the cap would be set too high, or that suppliers would make up the reduction in their profits through hidden charges.

Pat Gordon, 71, a widow who lives in Dollis Hill, northwest London, had to borrow money against the value of her house to meet the rising cost of living.

Her bills with British Gas increased by 10 per cent last year and she is concerned about her ability to keep up payments after her equity-release money runs out in the next few years.

The cold-weather health fears of older people are very real,” she said.


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