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Fuel poverty crisis worsens across the UK

February 8, 2021

A growing number of people are turning to charitable organisations to help heat and light their homes, Fuel Bank Foundation has warned.

The charity, which provides emergency financial support to people in fuel crisis, said it has seen a significant increase in demand for its services since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. On average, the number of people seeking help has risen 23 per cent across its Fuel Bank centres, with some centres seeing an increase in demand of more than 300 per cent.

One of the main reasons for the spike is the amount of time people are spending at home as a result of the national lockdown restrictions, increasing gas and electricity usage and placing additional demand on household budgets.

A survey of people who have turned to Fuel Bank Foundation for help found that 89 per cent are currently struggling to top up their gas and/or electricity meters, with 81 per cent struggling with household bills, mainly food and water.

Of those surveyed, 82 per cent said the pandemic and national lockdowns had made them more worried about running out of money to pay for energy. Families with children are significantly more likely to worry (92 per cent) than those without (72 per cent).

For people in fuel crisis, prioritising household budgets and rationing gas and electricity is a regular occurrence. Almost all (96 per cent) of survey respondents have had to make the choice between topping up their meter and buying food for their family, with 60 per cent having to make that choice on a daily or weekly basis.

Ninety-one per cent said they have had to ration heating and hot water, while 80 per cent have had to make the sacrifice between having a cooked meal and relying on cold food instead.

Fuel Bank Foundation’s Fuel Crisis Report also highlights the different circumstances that led people to seek financial support, including using emergency credit on their meter, borrowing money from friends and family to keep their meter running and running out of gas and electricity, causing meters to be switched off.

The results of our survey paint a stark picture of how difficult life currently is for many vulnerable families and individuals. Our Fuel Bank Centres across the UK have all reported increased demand for financial support from people struggling to pay for gas and electricity over the past 12 months. In some of the worst areas, we have seen demand increase by more than 300 per cent. Running out of fuel completely and having meters switched off is the worst-case scenario. The majority of those who end up in this situation were or had been borrowing money from friends or family and using emergency credit on their meter. It’s like they have exhausted their options for support and have no choice but to disconnect. Covid-19 is undoubtedly exacerbating the situation and as the pandemic continues, with a third national lockdown now imposed, living and financial situations are likely to worsen.
Matthew Cole, Chair of Trustees - Fuel Bank Foundation

Emergency credit, such as that offered through the Fuel Bank scheme, can provide immediate respite and help avoid the risk of disconnection. As well as ensuring people’s basic physical needs are met – heating, hot water, cooking and cleaning – Fuel Bank Foundation’s research found that having access to financial support to pay for gas and electricity had a positive impact on people’s mental health.

Eighty-nine per cent of people surveyed said their mental wellbeing had improved following Fuel Bank’s intervention, with 85 per cent saying their physical health had also improved.

“We know that fuel poverty has a detrimental effect on people’s physical health,” said Matthew Cole.

“For example, living in a cold home increases the risk of serious illness and even death, particularly among the elderly. However, the impact on mental health is less understood.

“The people we spoke to as part of the survey mentioned struggling with mental health as a result of money, food and living worries. But, by having their physical wellbeing improved, there was a sense of relief from these worries, even if just in the short term.”

Since it was launched in 2015, Fuel Bank has helped 400,000 people and provided more than £6million of funding through its voucher scheme to support vulnerable families and individuals unable to pay for fuel. The scheme works by providing a £49* fuel voucher to top up prepayment meters.

Today, Fuel Bank Foundation operates more than 140 Fuel Bank centres across the country, working in partnership with advice agencies and food bank charities, including The Trussell Trust and Feeding Britain.

You can read the full Fuel Crisis Report here.

*Fuel vouchers are £49 in winter months and £30 from 1st April to 31st October.