Sharp rise in fuel poverty among Norfolk households

Immediate action must be taken to avoid a crisis point, campaigners say, as new figures reveal a sharp rise in the number of Norfolk households living in fuel poverty.

The county's Rural Community Council has analysed the latest government figures which it says show a 17pc rise – from 52,278 to 61,143 – between 2006 and 2008.

It means 17pc of all households in Norfolk, or just over one in six, were living in fuel poverty by that time and having to make tough decisions about keeping their homes warm.

But with the country since facing a recession, rising unemployment, static wages and rocketing fuel bills, that is likely to be the thin end of the wedge.

The official definition of fuel poverty is where more than 10pc of a household's income is spent maintaining a reasonable room temperature of between 18 and 21 degrees.

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Last night, Emily Millington-Smith, president of Age UK Norfolk and chairman of the Norfolk older people's forum, called the situation 'iniquitous'. She added: 'Quite a lot of older people have said to me, just in the last few days, 'do we eat or do we heat?''

She said the stark rise in fuel poverty was a threat to the dignity of vulnerable – and particularly older – people and action needed to be taken immediately to ensure they got help.

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Mrs Millington-Smith said: 'It's better to make it well now rather than wait for the crisis to arrive. Fuel poverty is perhaps going to be the beginning of a great loss of dignity for many people.'

Norfolk RCC chief executive Jon Clemo said the situation was worst in rural areas, with north Norfolk experiencing the highest levels of fuel poverty in the county at 22pc.

He said: 'Fuel poverty is often high in rural areas as a result of a number of factors: a history of low incomes, older housing stock that is often detached and with very poor standards of insulation, and being off mains gas meaning a reliance on more expensive forms of fuel.'

Mr Clemo said it meant as far as fuel poverty was concerned, north Norfolk had higher levels of deprivation than places like Liverpool, Manchester, and Hackney.

But the 2008 figures are already likely to be a major underestimate of the current situation thanks to the recent recession, high unemployment and rocketing fuel bills which include an 18pc rise in gas prices and 16pc on electricity announced earlier this month by British Gas.

Mr Clemo added: 'With these pressures the trend in fuel poverty unfortunately continues to be upwards.

'What we really don't want is for people to stop heating their homes as this can have a significant impact of health particularly for older people.'

Last night north Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said he would be writing to the energy secretary to ask how the department intended to address the problem along with regulators.

He said pressure needed to be put on energy suppliers who continued to impose major price rises on households.

'The question is whether there is more that can be done to improve tariffs for people on very low incomes to recognise the cost is simply prohibitive for some people. That's something the regulator and the government needs to explore,' he said.

The MP said key to addressing fuel poverty was making homes more energy efficient and the government had schemes in place to help.

Earlier this month, Norwich City Council agreed a deal with British Gas which will see hundreds of council houses given a �800,000 revamp to make them more energy efficient.

The money will be used to improve loft, cavity wall and outside wall insulation, fit new boilers and upgrade windows.

Norfolk RCC has got together with Anglia Farmers' AF-Affinity to create a countywide fuel bulk buying group which aims to help reduce costs.

For more information contact Norfolk RCC on 01362 698216.

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