The burning issue of fuel poverty and the help available
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New figures show that almost 16pc of people in north Norfolk are living in "fuel poor" households. Out of the 49,840 households in the district, there are 7,866 households where the residents cannot afford to fuel their homes as the winter months draw near.
So what can be done to help? Today we launch our 'There with you this winter' campaign, which will give you information and organisations to turn to if you are struggling this winter and need some advice.
There has also been a rise in people claiming Universal Credit in north Norfolk. In July 2019, 1,784 people were signed on. Since the coronavirus pandemic that figure has skyrocketed, and in July this year there were 6,353 people claiming Universal Credit - showing more people than ever are going to need support this winter.
But the number of people receiving winter fuel allowance has fallen over recent years which the Department for Work and Pensions has put down to changes to the state pension age.
Successive governments have raised the state pension age for women in line with men. Hiking up the age of entitlement for women meant fewer of them could claim winter fuel payments. The DWP says this drop more than offset the increase in the overall number of pensioners in recent years.
A DWP spokesman said: "The Government makes more than 11.5 million winter fuel payments totalling £2 billion a year to help people pay their heating bills. Nearly all are automatic without the need to claim.
"As the state pension age for women has increased since April 2010 it follows that the annual numbers eligible for payments will fall slightly."
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There With You This Winter
Record high energy costs and an overall surge in the cost of living will push many people into financial hardship this winter.
Thousands more will be plunged into fuel poverty and middle-income families will feel the pinch too.
Household bills will increase this month as a higher energy price cap, set by energy regulator Ofgem, takes effect.
But it is vital our readers understand they are not alone. Like we did during the coronavirus pandemic, we intend to stand by you again.
Today we’re launching our There With You This Winter campaign to recognise the financial challenges you face, raise awareness and offer support during the cold winter months.
Campaigners from a spectrum of organisations have warned fuel poverty could become endemic in Britain as energy suppliers fold, pushing customers on to higher tariffs and the country continues to reel from the Covid pandemic.
Simon Francis, of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, said: “The latest rise in wholesale (energy) price means that we face the possibility of more households facing fuel poverty than ever before.”
If Covid taught us anything, it is that our power is bringing people together, using our special place in the community to make sure the vulnerable or struggling members of our communities have a place to turn.
What is Fuel Poverty?
There are three factors used to measure whether or not a household is classed as being in fuel poverty. These are fuel prices, household income and energy efficiency.
Despite caps by energy market regulator Ofgem, rising fuel costs can impact on low-income families.
Households with lower incomes are likely to spend a higher percentage of their budget on fuel, and as a result, any leftover income is low enough to push the family below the threshold. If homes are not using energy efficiently, there is a bigger chance that energy is being wasted and these households will spend more to keep their homes warm.
Here to Help
Among the local groups offering support and advice on fuel poverty is Community Action Norfolk (CAN).
Its chief executive, Rik Martin, said around 40,000 households across Norfolk were affected by fuel poverty, which meant an extra 600 premature deaths per year.
Mr Martin said: "It’s driven by three factors – household income, energy costs and the energy efficiency of the home.
"At Community Action Norfolk we run advice sessions for anyone who’d like to learn how to save on their gas, electricity or heating oil bills. We usually advise people to look at switching supplier to get a better deal but with the steeply rising costs of energy just now, the focus is more on looking at easy ways of reducing energy consumption around the house."
Anyone who would like advice or guidance can join an online session run by CAN, call 01362 698216 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
Mr Martin added: "We can give one-to-one advice too if needed."