Life got a little harder for many last year when the last of” the big six” energy firms hiked prices to the maximum (SSE) – hitting customers with an average 10.3% price rise. This has increased the gap between the cost of energy and what people can realistically afford by 9%, worsening the ongoing national issue of inadequately heated homes. Joe Bradbury of discusses the human cost:


Back in 2018, annual energy bills for five million vulnerable households increased by up to £47 after the UK industry regulator raised the cap on prices for the second time that year on the back of higher wholesale costs. The rise saw the level of the safeguard tariff rise to £1,136 a year for a typical customer using both electricity and gas. Suppliers cannot currently charge more than the cap but are expected to increase their tariffs to the maximum.

This was the second rise in energy costs in 2018, with all of the big six energy suppliers (and many of the newer challenger firms) raising their prices earlier this year and blaming it on an increase in wholesale costs.


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Prior to the second rise, Ofgem naturally attempted to add a positive spin to the increase, saying that the new limit will save UK consumers around £1bn per year. However, the reality is that there are around 4.5 million fuel poor homes in the UK. There are also a further 21 million UK households suffering with poor energy efficiency – below B and C on an Energy Performance Certificate.

Flash forward to the present and see that SSE have become the last of the big six energy firms to hike prices to the maximum allowed under the new cap on standard variable tariffs (SVTs) – hitting customers with an average 10.3% price rise.

These changes make things even harder for those people already struggling to pay bills and push new people into the bracket of fuel poverty, further exacerbating a problem that is currently out of control in Britain today.

What is a fuel poor household?


A fuel poor household is roughly defined as one which needs to spend more than 10% of its income on all fuel use and to heat its home to an adequate standard of warmth (21°C in the living room and 18°C in other occupied rooms).

Fuel poverty is a perpetual annual cycle of misery for those affected. In a bid to try and struggle through the winter many tenants resort to either using their central heating sporadically, or using small space heaters instead.

Unfortunately, this often leads to high levels of condensation within a household, where small sections of the house are warm and the surrounding rooms are cold. Where cold air meets warm surfaces is the perfect environment for mould and damp to flourish, leaving poor health implications and damaged property in its wake.

Make no bones about it – fuel poverty is a tragic crisis.


How sustainable heating and ventilation solutions can help


The only tangible long-term sustainable solution for alleviating fuel poverty would be to establish a properly funded programme to insulate all affected homes and ensure an efficient and up-to-date heating system is installed. Of course, guaranteeing this outcome would require significant investment – estimated at about £1.7 billion per annum over 15 years.

Although such significant investment seems unfeasible, one must consider how fuel poverty can severely affect people’s health because homes are often under-heated.


The human cost


Fuel poverty puts enormous pressure on hospitals and doctors surgeries across the country. This is not only because of the physical and mental impact of living in a cold home, but also because it can actually extend the period of time a vulnerable patient is kept in hospital, with some actually not being discharged until their home is renovated to habitable state once again.

The impact is estimated to burden the NHS with costs of £1.36 billion per annum.

According to the ‘End Fuel Poverty Coalition,’ there are around 4.5 million fuel poor homes in the UK today. There are also a further 21 million UK households suffering with poor energy efficiency – below B and C on an Energy Performance Certificate.

Evaluations undertaken by both ‘Warm Front’ and ‘the Scottish CHP’ indicated that residents with bedroom temperatures at 21°C are 50% less likely to suffer depression and anxiety than those with temperatures of 15°C.

According to the NHS, keeping warm over the winter months can help prevent colds, flu or more serious health conditions such as heart attacks, strokes, pneumonia and depression.

Fuel poverty is often thought of as a financial problem, but at best poses several health and wellbeing issues for an affected tenant and at worst claims lives.

According to e3g, England has the second worst record on cold weather-related deaths out of 30 European countries. Figures reveal a staggering 32,000 excess winter deaths in the UK over the last 5 years – with 9,700 each year estimated to be linked to living in cold homes.

It is also a known contributor to the 25,000 excess winter deaths per year in England and Wales. As the ageing population increases, with diminishing pensions so will the health risks and related cost.

Renewable heating systems such as air source heat pumps can immediately help alleviate fuel poverty.


In summary


The price cap keeps getting bigger, along with the gap between action to deliver warm homes and the apparent ambition to do. Whilst the price hike makes financial sense for energy supplies it has to be a step in the wrong direction for society. Everybody has the right to a warm home and we have the technology at our disposal to provide that. Let’s get to work removing the financial and political constraints that are currently keeping people in the cold… and let’s do it quick because it’s still cold out!

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