Surge in fuel debt cases

21 October 2009

The number of people struggling with fuel debts has surged in the past year and is likely to increase further once the clocks go back this weekend.

Citizens Adivce reports a 46% leap in the number of people seeking help with their fuel debts between April and September. “We are already seeing large increases in the number of people in fuel debt and it is not yet winter,” says David Harker, chief executive of Citizens Advice. “With fuel prices remaining at historically high levels it is essential that people get all the help that is available.”

Of those seeking help with fuel debt, the majority were of working age while just 5% were over 65 years old. The Citizens Advice survey also shows that, while working people are increasingly struggling to cope with their fuel bills, 80% were earning half of the average income and 32% had incomes of less than £400 a month. Meanwhile, 25% were disabled.

The charity believes that many people don’t know what benefits to help cope with the cost of fuel is available.

"The government must commit to increasing the numbers of people taking up the benefits they are entitled to as currently up to £10 billion worth of means tested benefits go unclaimed,” adds Harker. “This could soften the blow for those unable to afford such an essential service."

It recommends people who are struggling to pay for their energy should consider whether they are on the most competitive tariff for their circumstances.

In the first instance, you should speak to your current supplier to see if it could offer you a cheaper price or whether you might be eligible for a ‘social tariff’ – these are aimed at vulnerable customers, including older people, but also low-income households and those with long-term ill health.

You should also check with other suppliers to see whether they could offer you an even cheaper deal.

There are also various energy efficiency schemes and grants available such as the Warm Front scheme in England and the Home Energy Efficiency Scheme in Wales. If you are over 60 you could be entitled to Winter Fuel payments, or if you are under 60 and on a low income, then you could claim Cold Weather payments.

Contact the Home Heat Helpline on 0800 33 66 99 or via its website for free advice about paying your fuel bills.

Any household that spends more than 10% of its total income on fuel to “maintain a satisfactory heating regime” is considered to be in fuel poverty. The government defines this as 21 degrees for the main living area, and 18 degrees for other occupied rooms.

Earlier this year, the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group found that around four million households fall into the fuel poor bracket.

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