Around four million people in the UK live in fuel poverty. Image: Pexels
An energy cap rise this April could mean average families pay double the amount to heat their homes than they did earlier this year, fuel poverty experts have warned.
Figures published by National Energy Action (NEA) showed fuel bills have increased by more than £230 per year since last winter – and risk soaring by another £550 per customer within months.
Around 4.5 million households are experiencing or at imminent risk of falling into fuel poverty, research showed, forced to choose between eating and staying warm in winter.
“The cost of living in the UK is at its highest level in a decade with household energy bills the biggest driver,” said Adam Scorer, chief executive for NEA. “When the costs of essential services go up, those on lowest incomes get hit hardest.
“Bills have increased by well over £230 since last winter and millions now face a daily heat or eat dilemma. We estimate energy bills will rocket again in April, doubling the average householders’ heating bills since last year.”
UK energy bills rocketed just as the government cut universal credit by £20 per week, or £1,040 per year – double the amount families could soon see added to their fuel charges.
“Just think about that,” Scorer added. “For people already on a budgetary knife-edge, the cost of keeping a family warm has exploded while budgets have collapsed.
“No amount of useful tips or savvy shopping can cope with that.”
Experts have said the dramatic rise in wholesale energy costs around the world combined with Brexit-driven changes in the UK’s relationship with EU energy trade are behind soaring bills.
Ofgem is expected to further increase the energy price cap in April to help energy suppliers, several of which have already gone bust. The current cap keeps energy bills at an average £1,277 for 14 million households.
Six out of 10 adults in the UK told researchers they would be forced to cut their use of heating at home by a “fair amount” or “great deal” if the cost of energy doubles as predicted.
Responding to fuel poverty figures, Green MP Caroline Lucas said the government’s “appalling record” on home insulation schemes “urgently needs to be reversed” and called on ministers to restore the £20 per week universal credit increase.
Children live in around 1.4 million households experiencing fuel poverty, according to the latest data, which experts said is likely an underestimate.
They are statistically more at risk of missing days of school because of cold-related illness and have reported struggling to complete homework in extremely cold homes, where often the only well-heated area is the busy living room.
Cold homes “cause needless deaths and unnecessary physical and mental harm, impacting precious health services over the busiest winter months,” Scorer said. “Growing up cold can also permanently damage childhood development and future life chances.”
He added that government inaction will mean the country “walk[s], with our eyes wide open, into a disastrous combination of problem debt, physical and mental harm and increasing numbers of avoidable deaths.”