More homes in Northampton get hooked up to gas mains - but thousands could still face higher bills

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More homes in Northampton are getting hooked up to the gas mains, offering them potentially lower fuel bills this winter, but thousands still face an expensive winter.

Data from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy reveals 5% of households in Northampton do not have access to gas - a total of 4,935 homes.

This is down from 6% in 2015, and is lower than the national average of 13%.

The energy regulator Ofgem says access to gas can make a big difference to living standards for people in fuel poverty, as gas is a cheaper method of cooking or heating a home than other fuels.

A spokesman for the charity National Energy Action said: “Off-grid gas properties can have significantly higher energy costs than those with connections due to a reliance on expensive alternatives such as oil, LPG or electricity in order to heat homes.

“This high cost means households can struggle to adequately heat their properties, which can lead to poor health, wellbeing and even mortality.”

Around 11% of households in Northampton are in fuel poverty, according to the latest figures.

In England, a household is defined as being in fuel poverty when it has higher than average energy costs and would be left with an income below the poverty line after these energy costs are deducted.

Households without access to gas are more likely to be in fuel poverty.

Under an Ofgem scheme, gas distribution companies are required to connect more vulnerable and fuel poor households to the grid.

The companies cover the cost of the initial installation, which is then recovered from the household over time.

Each gas distribution company has a target for the number of fuel poor households it needs to connect by 2021.

However, more than 3.5 million households in Great Britain remain cut off from the gas network.

The North East is the most connected, with only 6% of homes going without a supply.

The worst regions for a lack of gas connection are the South West (21%), followed by Scotland (20%) and inner London (18%).

National Energy Action said it was welcome news that more homes were being connected to the grid, but called for further action.

The spokesman continued: “It is clear that more needs to be done.

“Ofgem should use their upcoming price control review to extend and expand the scheme, so that more fuel poor households can be given gas connections.

“They should also ensure that low income households have access to financial assistance to help install gas boilers and energy efficiency measures to complement the connection, so they aren’t left with a connection that they are unable to make the most of.”

A spokesman for Ofgem said more than 105,000 homes had been hooked up since 2008 through its gas network extension scheme.

He said: “We want to help more households get connected to the gas networks and are challenging network companies to go the extra mile to make this happen.

“In 2015 we increased the target for new connections by 20%, to at least 91,000 additional homes between 2013 and the end of the current price controls in 2021.”

Ofgem is now consulting on whether to retain the scheme beyond 2021.