4.5m UK homes 'in fuel poverty'
An estimated 4.5 million UK homes are living in fuel poverty and the Government is not doing enough to tackle the crisis, according to a report.
The UK Fuel Poverty Monitor, from the charities National Energy Action (NEA) and Energy Action Scotland (EAS), said the VAT from energy bills could be used to bring all UK housing occupied by low-income households up to the standard of a new home.
The study said those in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland were more likely to live in fuel poverty but also more likely to receive support for energy efficiency measures.
The average investment on energy efficiency programmes for low income households in England was just £3.52 per electricity customer, compared to £36.48 in Scotland, £31.31 in Wales and £27.55 in Northern Ireland, the report stated.
It said the discretion given to energy companies to meet their efficiency targets had led to those technically eligible for assistance either not receiving it because the measures they needed were too costly or they were being asked for a contribution they could not afford.
The NEA said it should be up to the Government to ensure that schemes were in place to help the poorest households.
The report is released to coincide with national Fuel Poverty Awareness Day, which aims to raise awareness of the problem of fuel poverty and the solutions available to keep people warm in their homes.
NEA chief executive Jenny Saunders said: "4.5 million UK households are living in fuel poverty - on low incomes and with unaffordable energy bills.
"The only sustainable way to tackle this problem is to invest in our old and cold housing stock.
"In England, only £3.52 in Government funding is available per domestic electricity consumer to improve domestic energy efficiency compared to an average spend of £31.78 in the other nations.
"Additional resources must be made available to improve the heating and insulation of our poorest households."
EAS director Norman Kerr said: "Despite policies and targets derived in Westminster impacting on the whole of the UK there is currently no joined up approach to tackling fuel poverty across the nations.
"We need greater and more transparent coordination across the Westminster and devolved governments on all consumer energy issues, and are calling for a formal working group to be established to drive up energy efficiency standards across the UK and report on their actions."
Consumer Futures director Adam Scorer said: "Energy prices are soaring and look set to rise further.
"That leaves millions of households desperate for a government-wide strategy to tackle fuel poverty.
"Instead, the combined impact of levies on people's bills is increasing and public funding of fuel poverty programmes in England has been cut.
"A credible and enduring response to the scourge of fuel poverty has to be a large scale energy efficiency programme that keeps homes warmer, bills lower, carbon saved and some of the costs associated with infrastructure investment safely avoided.
"If frozen carbon taxes are to stay on consumers bills, then households should feel the benefits."
A Department of Energy and Climate Change spokesman said: "The Government is doing everything within its power to help hard-pressed families keep their energy bills down.
"In December, we announced plans that will save customers around £50 on their energy bills, protecting support through the Energy Companies Obligation scheme for vulnerable households, extending the scheme for an extra two years and making an additional £450 million available to make Britain's homes more energy efficient.
"This is on top of the support already available to vulnerable households through schemes like the Warm Home Discount, whereby well over one million low income pensioners will receive £135 off their bill, and Winter Fuel Payments.
"The Government intends to publish the fuel poverty strategy consultation in the spring which sets out the long-term commitment to tackling fuel poverty."