Revealed: Norfolk neighbourhoods worst hit by rising fuel poverty
- Credit: PA
Tens of thousands of families in Norfolk cannot afford to keep their homes warm as the cost of living crisis begins to bite.
Soaring energy prices have seen increasing numbers of households plunged into fuel poverty with as many as four in 10 families in some parts of the county now struggling to pay their bills.
Even before the current crisis, Norwich already had the ninth-highest proportion of households living in fuel poverty out of 308 local authorities in England, according to a new report.
Produced by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, based on 2020 data, it shows 12,827 households in the city - nearly one in five - were in fuel poverty.
One area, covering parts of North Earlham and Mile Cross, has a fuel poverty rate of 38.5pc - 235 out of 611 households - which is the 114th highest in England out of 32,844 neighbourhoods.
Erin Fulton-McAlister, Labour city councillor for Wensum ward, which includes the neighbourhood, said: “Things are getting worse for people and they are literally having to choose between heating and eating and on many occasions they are not managing to adequately do either.
“It’s particularly terrible for young families and it is not even as if being in a so-called good job will keep you out of this situation. People’s earnings just don't cover what they need to.”
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Great Yarmouth had 7,863 households - more than 17pc of homes - already in fuel poverty in 2020, with the borough 29th highest in the country.
While in both King’s Lynn and West Norfolk, and North Norfolk, more than 16pc were living in fuel poverty; 11,380 and 8,206 households respectively.
The report shows 8,664 Breckland households (14pc) were in fuel poverty as were 7,486 (13pc) in South Norfolk, while the Norfolk local authority with the fewest was Broadland, where there were 6,748 (11pc).
Charities supporting those struggling with their bills have seen a steep rise in those seeking help after the price of energy rose last month - pushing bills up £693 to £1,971 for a typical household.
Norfolk Citizens Advice said they have seen an 18pc increase in people seeking help for fuel debt.
Steve Nunn, of Community Action Norfolk, which usually runs advice sessions offering energy saving tips, said: “The main issue right now is that many people are simply struggling to actually pay their bills.
“We recently dealt with someone who has storage radiators but he cannot afford to use them so he has moved all his furniture into one room, his kitchen-diner, but he still cannot afford to pay his bills.
“Someone else had their central heating breakdown so their landlord had given them an oil-filled radiator which is costing £7 a day to run, which is about £200 a month just for that one radiator.
“Your heart really goes out to people because we know there isn’t a perfect answer at the moment.”
The group advises people to try to make use of the Household Support Fund, which provides short-term financial support, and the Warm Homes Discount, which provides grants to help insulate and heat homes.
In addition Norfolk County Council has increased capacity of the Norfolk Assistance Scheme, which provides emergency funding to help with living costs.
Energy bosses have said worse may be yet to come, warning without more support for vulnerable households four in 10 people could possibly fall into fuel poverty in October when prices are predicted to rise even further.
The government has announced a £200 rebate to be applied to energy bills in the autumn, which will need to be paid back over the next few years.
E.ON UK chief executive Michael Lewis called for the £200 to be increased if bills go up significantly again in October, and for the repayment period to be extended if necessary.
Scottish Power chief executive Keith Anderson said the government should take £1,000 off the bills of the poorest people in October.
But Mr Nunn said more help was also needed for the more than 76,000 off-gas households in Norfolk that rely on heating oil whose price is unregulated and has also risen sharply, partly due to the conflict in Ukraine.
No gas, hole in roof and sharing ready meals
The cost of living crisis has hit Ashley Ford-McAllister, who along with his wife are both partially sighted and have acutely felt the soaring energy prices having struggled since losing his job just prior to the pandemic.
Despite owning his own home in Lowestoft they use a prepayment meter that has seen the annual price cap for average use rise to £2,017 rather than £1,971 for those who pay by monthly direct debit.
“Our boiler broke down shortly after I lost my job, so we've not actually had gas heating for about three years, which is just as well, as I wouldn't be able to afford gas in addition to electricity, water rates, council tax, food etc,” he said.
“I am currently living with a hole in my roof, which I can't afford to even have looked at, never mind repaired. It is covered with tarpaulin, and fortunately is only over the bathroom, but, obviously, that doesn't help with keeping a house warm.”
He said they often shared a “one-person serving ready meal between the two of us” and that their mental health had deteriorated.
PM acknowledges 'more that we can do' to tackle cost-of-living
Fuel poverty is defined as a household with a low energy efficiency rating whose income would be below the poverty line after taking off housing and energy costs.
Based on the Low Income Low Energy Efficiency (LILEE) it covers the amount of energy people need to consume to have a warm, well-lit home, with hot water for everyday use, and the running of appliances.
Boris Johnson yesterday acknowledged there was more that could be done to help address the cost-of-living crisis.
Challenged with the case of 77-year-old Elsie who has cut down to one meal a day and resorted to travelling on buses to keep warm, he told Good Morning Britain: "What we want to do is make sure that we have people who are in particular hardship looked after by their councils, so we are putting much more money into local councils.
"We have the particular payments to help elderly people in particular with the cost of heating."
Where to get help
Norfolk Citizens Advice
Offers free, confidential and impartial advice on debt, benefits and money issues.
0800 1448 848
Money Support Service
Norfolk County Council service for those needing help with budgeting.
01603 223392 (option 4)
Community Action Norfolk
Charity offering help including warm homes and collective oil buying scheme.
Norfolk Community Foundation
Charity that runs schemes including nourishing Norfolk and community shops.
Norfolk Assistance Scheme (NAS)
Helps people who are in financial hardship and cannot pay their living costs.
A national charity providing practical help to people who are struggling financially.
The Trussell Trust
Free 'Help through Hardship' helpline and food bank search tool.
0808 208 2138