Families who rely on heating oil to keep their houses warm are at high risk of falling into fuel poverty as further price hikes are predicted.
Energy increases from the 'Big Six' providers have sent heating bills sky-high but gas is still the cheapest way to heat a house and rural households relying on heating oil are in a much more severe situation.
Heating oil is used to heat 1.1 million UK households. And as those without gas heating are more likely to live in older housing with solid walls, which leak more heat and are harder to insulate, these consumers are likely to be forced to fork out more money to stay warm this winter.
The cost of heating oil increased by 70% last year and as the cold weather set in worried customers panic-bought to keep their houses warm, leading to fears of shortages and threats of rationing.
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Experts are predicting the same to happen again this year, as rural households are still not buying sufficient supplies despite predictions of another bitterly cold winter. Prices have already risen this year and in the second quarter they were up by nearly 29% from the same period last year, due to a rise in the price of crude oil.
Audrey Gallacher, director of energy for Consumer Focus, says: "With heating oil and other similar fuels so difficult to afford, much more needs to be done by the government to target help to these households to make their homes more energy efficient and cheaper to heat. As those without gas heating are so much more likely to be in fuel poverty they should be a key target for help."
Donal Murphy, managing director of DCC Energy, says people should think about their heating needs in advance: "Customers typically wait until the weather turns very cold before ordering. The best time for consumers to buy their product is in the summer, when prices are cheaper."