#ThereWithYouThisWinter: Council predicts increase in fuel poverty

Ten per cent of households in North Somerset are fuel poor.

Ten per cent of households in North Somerset are fuel poor. - Credit: Archant

North Somerset Council has called for the Government to uphold its Universal Credit uplift and increase winter fuel payments to prevent people falling into fuel poverty.

Households are considered to be in fuel poverty if they have low energy efficiency and would be pushed below the poverty line by housing costs and the energy bills needed to have a warm, well-lit home.

The authority predicts 13,000 people in North Somerset will be affected when the Covid-induced £20-per-week uplift is rescinded this week.

Mike Bell.

Cllr Mike Bell estimates that 13,000 people in North Somerset will be worse off after the Universal Credit uplift is stopped. - Credit: Sub

The council's deputy leader and executive for housing solutions, Cllr Mike Bell, has told the Mercury and Times that it has already drawn up a strategy to tackle a potential rise in fuel poverty across the district.

Cllr Bell said: “The latest Government data shows that North Somerset has one of the lowest rates in the South West at 8.5 per cent of homes in fuel poverty, compared to the England average of 13.4 per cent.

"However, one home in fuel poverty is one too many and we are currently consulting on a new Housing Strategy which invites residents to give us their views on how to best make use of existing housing including home energy efficiency improvements.

"Beyond our new strategy, we are already working to reduce fuel poor households mainly through the Warmer Homes, Advice and Money (WHAM) project."

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According to the latest data released by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (DBEIS), 8,322 out of 97,431 homes in North Somerset were considered to be fuel poor prior to the Covid pandemic.

The DBEIS is yet to release figures which take the impacts of the pandemic into account.

Cllr Bell believes that it is most likely that the pandemic, and stopping the Universal Credit uplift, will only increase the number of homes in fuel poverty.

He said: “The £20-a-week reduction in Universal Credit support for the lowest paid will hit nearly 13,000 households in North Somerset. 

“While the uplift was a temporary, Covid measure, at a time when household budgets are still under pressure and energy prices are soaring, this is clearly not going to help. 

"The Government should keep the Universal Credit uplift and increase the Winter Fuel Payment this year to help lowest-paid households pay for day-to-day essentials like food, heating and clothing.”

Winter Fuel Payments were introduced in 1997 to tackle fuel poverty among pensioners. 

Households with someone receiving a state pension are automatically entitled to a tax-free sum of between £100 and £300 each year towards the heating bill. Payments are normally made in November or December.

There are currently 48,180 winter fuel recipients in North Somerset, down six per cent from the 52,400 recipients a decade.

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