Housing

Meet the Brits going without heating this winter as fuel poverty skyrockets: 'I'm terrified'

As the cold weather arrives, Brits have described the freezing reality of not being able to afford heating

Close Up Of Senior Woman In Wheelchair With Energy Bill By Radiator In Cost Of Living Energy Crisis

Energy bills are forecast to rise again in 2024. . Image: Shutterstock

“Lonely,” “scared,” and “anxious” – as the cold weather bites and fuel poverty worsens, Brits have described the freezing reality of not being able to afford heating.

A quarter of UK households living in social housing were forced to go without heating at points last winter, according to Switchee Housing Fuel Poverty Index. Thousands more face fuel poverty this year. The longer-term outlook offers scant relief. Today, Britain’s leading electricity market forecaster predicted that electricity prices will increase by a third in 2024.

For millions of Brits, these grim headlines are a daily reality. Kareen, 54, can’t afford to pay the bills for her Northampton social housing flat – the cost is “far, far higher” than her budget allows.

Water, gas, everything – I’ve probably used about 20 hours total since I moved in in July. I feel like I’m shoplifting when I use it,” she says. “I’m actually terrified. I don’t know what I’m going to do when the weather gets colder. I really don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Kareen moved to the flat after a stint in a women’s refuge, fleeing a stalker who pursued her relentlessly.

“My life has been abnormally crazy for about six years,” she says. “My stalker broke into my room while I was sleeping; it was terrifying. I had to leave.”

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Her new flat is in the small village of Roade. It has a food bank, but there are no warm banks – dedicated heated spaces – where she can go to escape the biting weather. She has two adult children, but they are based in Leicester. “I can’t afford the ticket to go and visit them as much as I would want,” she adds.  

Kareen is on universal credit, but diabetes and complex PTSD from her stalking “nightmare” have made it difficult for her to maintain employment. Fears about fuel poverty and money make her PTSD more difficult to deal with, too.

“The depression sets in, and the anxiety. And then any tiny noise will set me off – it’s very triggering,” she explains. “The whole situation is overwhelming. I don’t really know how I’ll cope.”

Sadly, Kareen’s story is far from uncommon. National Energy Action – the national charity working to end fuel poverty in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – have warned that “too many” people will be “saddled with unmanageable energy debt” this winter. Between October and December, typical bills will be £1,923, according to the Ofgem price cap – an unfathomable amount for thousands of families who are already making every penny count.

In Leeds, retired nurse Mary is “struggling” to afford energy amid the cost of living crisis.

 “Heating my home is the worst problem,” the 85 year-old says. “I don’t have a work pension as I worked on and off part-time whilst raising my family, so was never really part of any pension schemes. I rely on my state pension and savings.”

 “The state pension doesn’t go very far at all, especially now everything has gone up; my tax, water, gas, electricity and rent have all increased but my money hasn’t.”

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According to Lottie – a later living marketplace – internet searches for ‘energy bill support’ have increased by around 5,000% over the past 30 days alone.

Mary hasn’t put the heating on yet this year, making do with hot water bottles and blankets for now, or by heading to the heated local community centre. She’s tried to save on energy bills by insulating her house with thick curtains and rugs, but that only goes so far.  

“I think a lot of people like me will think you just have to make do, but there needs to be more heating allowance to support people with health concerns,” she says. “I have a number of health conditions, such as arthritis and Raynaud’s, which means I need to stay warm otherwise I find myself in a lot of pain.”

Unfortunately, bills will remain high for a while yet. According to analysts at Cornwall Insight, Britain’s wholesale power prices will rise from an average of £96.64 per megawatt-hour so far this year to £129/MWh next year.

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