Nearly a quarter of people in England and Wales are concerned they won’t be able to afford their energy bills as the mercury falls this winter.
That figure rises to 40% among the poorest households, according to a survey from business consultancy Yonder. The poll quizzed 4,000 respondents about how confident they were about affording their gas and electricity bills this winter.
It found that in London, the North West and the West Midlands, just two-thirds of households can comfortably afford their gas and electricity bills. The rest may be forced to ration heat or fall into debt to their suppliers.
Every year millions of households struggle to afford heating, often turning down thermostats and coping with cold and dark rooms. But this year, with many households financially hit by the coronavirus crisis and facing higher energy bills due to home working, the figures look grimmer.
Manfred Abraham, Co-CEO of Yonder Consulting, said: “Between the end of the furlough scheme and the prospect of even more redundancies, wallets are tighter than ever this winter. At the same time, increased remote working means homeowners this year will be shouldering a much bigger share of the bills than in previous years.”
An energy bill crisis could exacerbate health problems, including the pandemic, Matt Copeland, from the fuel poverty charity National Energy Action, explained to Wired. “Cold homes can cause or exacerbate a range of serious health conditions such as asthma, strokes and heart disease.
“If these homes are cold, damp and draughty they could be placed at greater risk of the worst effects of Covid.”
Earlier this year End Fuel Poverty Coalition warned that an additional 200,000 households could slip into fuel poverty this year, creating a dangerous confluence of deprivation and illness, including susceptibility to Covid-19, that could overwhelm the NHS.
William Baker, from Solutions to Tackle Energy Poverty and a member of the coalition, said: “We could see a perfect storm of cold homes, high winter fuel bills and a future wave of Covid-19 hitting the NHS during winter—a period when it always struggles to maintain services.”
He implored the government to “fix the roof while the sun is shining,” upgrading millions of homes to boost their energy efficiency.
The government has committed £2 billion to the Green Homes Grant scheme, giving households vouchers of up to £5,000 or grants of up to £10,000 to upgrade their homes with new insulation, double glazing and new heating systems. The scheme, which launched 30 September, has attracted significant interest, with 62% of homeowners telling YouGov they’d like to participate.
However, the number of vouchers is limited to just 600,000, and applicants are struggling struggled to find certified local tradespeople to perform the work before the six-month deadline. The Simple Energy Advice website, which is supposed to direct applicants to Trust Mark-accredited contractors in their area, has reportedly been recommending builders across the country.
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