One in 10 homes are suffering fuel poverty in Northamptonshire, according to latest Government statistics.
Fuel poverty can be defined as being where people spend more than 10 per cent of their disposable income on their heating costs. Government figures suggest one in 10 households have reached this point.
And Northampton advice charity Community Law Service, based in Hazelwood Road, says that welfare reforms have seen more and more people slip into its criteria.
Sarah Hayle, advice services manager, said: "The causes are generally low household income due to ill health preventing or limiting work, or unemployment perhaps.
Sarah said welfare reforms have had a cumulative effect for many people. For example their benefits have been frozen for several years, they have a "spare room" so have to pay some bedroom tax, or the council tax reduction scheme doesn't cover all of their Council Tax bill.
"These can all effect the same person," Sarah said. "Additionally people can live in poorly insulated properties and costs of fuel has increased."
Community Law Service is leading on a project to help thouands of fuel poverty victims out of this problem.
The Northamptonshire Energy Saving Service is free, confidential and independent and offers:
- an energy comparison review, (to show savings or better deals)
- a home energy assessment (with measures to reduce energy consumption)
- a financial health check, (with help applying for grants, benefits or allowances plus debt assistance)
- an information and advice pack (to help people reduce utility bills)
- gas safety checks, servicing and minor boiler repairs
"We are tackling this in an holistic way working with partners and hope we can have a positive impact on the lives of people in the county who are experiencing fuel poverty."
Rural parts of the county are disproportionally affected, with higher levels of fuel poverty compared to more urban areas, and the gap between the cost of their bills and what they can afford to pay is significantly higher at over £600, double that for urban areas.
This is despite oil heating, one of the main fuels used by rural homes, being significantly cheaper than other forms of heating for homes not connected to mains gas.
The higher cost of heating, however, is largely due to rural homes typically being older, poorly insulated and less energy efficient, making them more expensive to keep warm.
In response to the growing concern, OFTEC, which represents the oil heating industry, has written to local MPs saying that more support is needed for rural households, especially after last winter’s extreme cold weather.
Malcolm Farrow from OFTEC commented: “We often take our heating for granted and turn up the thermostat when the weather gets cold without a second’s thought. Unfortunately, as this latest report reveals, for many households across Northamptonshire keeping warm is a constant source of concern and often anxiety.
“Many health problems are associated with living in a cold house and there is a particular concern for older people who struggle during the winter months. Whilst steps have been taken to try to alleviate the problem, still not enough support is available.”