Government support needed for those in fuel stress

Charity Age UK is calling on the government to help older people cope with rising energy prices.

According to their research, 24% of older households in England will suffer ‘fuel stress’ when the energy price cap rises at the start of April.

This is up from 12% at present, which means a significant increase in older households facing financial strain due to the energy crisis.

Fuel stress is defined as a household spending more than 10% of their after-tax income on energy bills to maintain an adequate level of warmth in their home.

A new paper published by Age UK warns the number of older households in fuel stress could rise to as high as 35% should energy costs go up again in October.

The analysis also shows that, for the poorest 10% of households, more than half are already living in fuel stress. The proportion of poorer households forecast to be in fuel stress is due to rise to 91% on 1st April when the energy price cap increases.

Even with the proposed £150 council tax rebate, the number of poorer households living in fuel stress is forecast to rise to 82% next April, and then 91% in October, with the £200 discount on energy bills considered.

Age UK is also warning that, for many retirees living on a fixed income, the cost of basics such as food and heating is fast becoming unaffordable.

With the wholesale cost of gas reaching record highs and analysts warning the average household energy bill could exceed £3,000 a year, the charity is concerned that the government support package, announced last month, falls short of what is needed.

They are calling on the government to provide more funding support for vulnerable older people, including a targeted support package to mitigate the whole price cap rise this April.

Age UK would also like to see direct payments of up to £500 for people eligible for the Cold Weather Payment and a discretionary fund of £288 million to enable more people to claim this discount.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director of Age UK, said:

“The current energy price crisis is a nightmare for all of us, but particularly for older people on low and modest incomes. Many struggle at the best of times to manage on their State Pension but the energy bill hikes we are now seeing pose a real threat to their standard of living. However frugal they are, as things stand they simply do not have enough money coming in to cope with such steep rises.

“Unfortunately, the support package offered by the Chancellor last month was nowhere near enough, falling several hundred pounds a year short of the average energy price rises that are coming down the track. How is an older person or couple on a low fixed income supposed to make up the difference? The government has no answer and meanwhile, older people up and down the country are telling us that they are horrified by the letters they’re receiving from their energy companies, making it clear that their bills are set to rise beyond anything they’ve seen before.

“Without a more generous package of support, targeted at those on low and modest incomes, there can be no doubt that hundreds of thousands more older people will be forced to cut back on heating, food, or other essentials, in the process putting their own health at risk. Some are saying that their anxiety about what is to come is already wearing them down.

“These are hugely worrying times, but there is more the government could – and should – be doing to mitigate the risks for our older population who, for the sake of their health, need to keep adequately warm. It’s a sad fact that many pensioners live in older homes that are difficult and expensive to heat, increasing the risks to them of this energy price crisis. The government must intervene to protect them from an unprecedented situation that has come about through no fault of their own.”