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Energy Becoming a “Luxury” Millions of People Can’t Afford

November 17, 2023

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Read our 2023 Fuel Crisis Report to view our full findings and to find out how we propose to implement change.

Energy is becoming a “luxury” for millions of households in the UK, a national fuel poverty charity has warned.

Fuel Bank Foundation, which provides emergency financial support to homes that have prepayment gas and/or electricity meters or use alternative fuels, said many of the basics people take for granted, such as cooking a meal, having a hot shower or bath, or washing clothes, have become “nice to haves” for households struggling to cope with higher fuel, food and other essential bills.

A survey of people the charity has helped in the past 12 months found rationing heating, hot water, and not using household appliances were some of the most common ways people tried to save energy and money. Skipping meals and buying less food were also commonplace.

According to the findings of the survey, which are published in Fuel Bank Foundation’s new report, ‘This is not cosy, this is a crisis: The cold, dark truth about winter’, more than half (51%) said they were choosing between food and energy at least once a week, while three quarters (75%) were rationing heat and/or hot water.

Almost all (99%) of the people surveyed were making at least one financial sacrifice, with 21% making four or five and 23% seven or more financial sacrifices.

Younger people (aged 18 – 35) are more likely to be constantly living in fuel crisis.

Fifteen per cent run out of money to top up their meter daily, while 26% were already disconnected from their energy supply when they applied for an emergency fuel voucher.

Matthew Cole, head of Fuel Bank Foundation, said this winter will be as bad, if not worse than last winter for many households.

“All the indicators point towards this being another really challenging winter for low income and vulnerable households,” he said. “The energy price cap may have been reduced but unlike last year, it’s unlikely there will be any Government support to help with energy bills, which means in real terms they will only be around seven per cent lower than last winter. Households are also still grappling with higher mortgage and rent payments, and food costs, while also trying to pay off previously accrued debts. As a result, people are having to make difficult choices to save money.”

"The sad reality is that things many of us take for granted, like switching on the kettle to make a hot drink, watching TV or putting the heating on, are becoming a luxury that many people can’t afford.”
Matthew Cole, Head of Fuel Bank Foundation

There are 6.3 million households in the UK that are in fuel poverty, up from 4.5 million in 2022. Four million homes have a prepayment energy meter. In the last 12 months, Fuel Bank Foundation has seen an 85% increase in demand for financial support.

Mr Cole said the charity is doing all it can to help people who can’t afford to top up their prepayment meter but called on the Government and the energy sector to do more to prevent more households being forced into Fuel Crisis.

“The number of people turning to us for help has already increased this year and currently we’re forecasting a further 26% increase in demand in 2024. This isn’t sustainable."
Matthew Cole, Head of Fuel Bank Foundation

“Action by the UK Government to tackle the fuel poverty crisis has been woefully inadequate. We need a long-term, strategic action plan, coupled with immediate support for those who are going to struggle this winter. Next week’s Autumn Statement is an opportunity for the Chancellor and the Government to implement measures to ensure families can stay warm this winter.”

“Based on the findings of our report and insights from our client group and stakeholders, we have made several recommendations on how this can be achieved, including improving the energy efficiency of the UK’s housing stock, with priority given to homes that are hardest to heat, introducing policy to help the most vulnerable, such as increasing benefits in line with inflation, and requiring energy suppliers to provide better customer support to prepayment meter users.

“Without change, we will not be able to stop vulnerable people being forced to live in cold, dark and dank homes.”
Matthew Cole, Head of Fuel Bank Foundation