New figures reveal rural areas still struggling with high levels of fuel poverty

A new government report has shone a spotlight on the fuel poverty crisis facing the country with 2.53 million households struggling to keep warm and pay their energy bills.

The latest statistics* for 2017 reveal one in ten homes in England are 'fuel poor' which means their energy costs are above average and their remaining disposable income after paying their bills puts them below the poverty line.

This is a decrease of just 0.2% since the previous report for 2016, suggesting little progress has been made to support the most vulnerable in society.

The average fuel poverty gap, the reduction in energy bills that the average fuel poor household needs to come out of fuel poverty, is £321. However, rural areas are disproportionately affected with the figure rising to £571, nearly double that of urban areas.

This is largely due to rural homes typically being older and poorly insulated, making them more expensive to keep warm. The report also highlights a lower uptake of energy efficiency improvements as one of the drivers for the increase in fuel poverty.

In response to the findings, OFTEC, which represents the oil heating industry, is urging the government to provide more support for rural households.

"Whilst some progress has been made in tackling the fuel poverty epidemic facing the country there is still a long way to go, with many people still struggling with high energy bills and poorly insulated properties", says Malcolm Farrow of OFTEC.

"Whilst current temperatures provide a summer respite, in a few months' time when the winter weather returns, keeping warm and managing energy bills will once again become a source of concern for many households. It is shocking that in 2019 so many people still cannot afford the basic human right of living in a warm house."

The report also highlights that fuel costs for the least efficient properties (Band G) are three times higher than those of the most efficient (Band A). As a result, those living in Band G properties are twice as likely to be fuel poor. This is despite many rural households relying on oil heating which is the cheapest option for those living off the gas grid.

Malcolm added: "A key issue we need to address is improving the energy efficiency of our housing stock which is some of the worst in Europe. This can be achieved through better insulation and upgrading to modern boilers which are more efficient and cheaper to run. There is government financial support available for the poorest households, such as the ECO3 scheme, and a local OFTEC registered technician will be able to advise on how to access this help."

*Annual Fuel Poverty Statistics Report, BEIS June 2019