Fuel 'debt' hits UK families

Children's charity Barnardo's claims Britain's poorest are failing to heat their homes in order save up to £450 a year. A few years ago £723 would have bought you year-round heat and light.

But £723 is £450 below the average £1,165 needed to heat and power the average UK house annually, claims the charity in a new report.

Struggling to pay

"Electricity and gas are so expensive this year. I had a bill for £250 for electricity and £150 for gas for a quarter each," said one person quoted in Barnado's new report. "I cannot afford to pay all of this in one go. Its been agreed with the providers that I can pay in installments. I've paid about £30 for each. I can't pay it all."

That's the experience of many poor households in the UK currently says Barnado's. The actual level of fuel poverty is now thought to number more than five million households.

"2011," says Barnado's, "saw large hikes in energy bills with all six of the main energy companies (the 'big six') increasing their prices between August and November. Gas increased by 17.35 per cent on average and electricity saw a rise of roughly 9.95 per cent."

Fuel debt

Barnado's is now increasingly talking of 'fuel debt' - a big issue among families that it works with. "Over 90 per cent of staff responding to Barnardo's survey of its services said they worked with families that owe debt to their gas or electricity supplier," says the charity.

One of the problems is the the complexity of tariffs and different payment methods, resulting in low income families paying a premium for their fuel. This together with increasing fuel prices, says the charity, "has led to a significant increase in the number of families who are in debt to their energy supplier."

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