More than a third of people living in affordable housing went without heat during the past 12 months to save money - an increase of 50% on the same period the year before according to new research from housing provider, Orbit.
The problem is widespread, affecting more than half (55%) of those who are unemployed, 28% of full-time workers, 43% of part time workers and almost a third (31%) of retirees.
Respondents to the research also said they were struggling financially, with 64% saying money is either tight or insufficient to cover their outgoings.
The data involving more than 700 households was collated by Orbit, which is taking a proactive stance to tackling energy affordability by introducing a raft of measures as part of its ‘Better Days’ programme to help customers manage their finances, maximise their income and reduce the pressure of cost-of-living increases.
The research, which was conducted during September, shows that fuel poverty is taking hold at unprecedented levels and Orbit fears it could worsen as the energy price rises filter through. They estimate* 66% of Orbit households in the South East included in this survey would be deemed fuel poor – eight times higher than ONS data would suggest. There is a similarly worrying picture in the West Midlands and the East of England, with 63% and 55% of households involved in the survey in fuel poverty.
In the research, 44% of respondents said they did not know how much they were spending on energy but of those that did, 80% said it was more than 10% of their income and one in ten said it amounted to half of their income. In addition, just 15% of households indicated they had already received discounts from energy, water, or broadband suppliers.
To help, Orbit has commissioned fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA) to deliver direct support to its housing customers through the ongoing energy crisis, including a specialist telephone energy advice service for customers most in need, which will provide help accessing energy grants, fuel debt applications, liaising with energy suppliers, and changing tariffs or payment types.
Together, Orbit and NEA are also hosting face-to-face Winter wellbeing events and distributing 1,000 ‘Winter Warmth’ support packs containing useful resources for people struggling with their bills.
Paul Richards, Group Director of Customer and Communities at Orbit, said: “When we published our research ‘Working with Customers to Make Net Zero Carbon a Reality’ last year, many customers were already struggling with their heating and energy bills, with one in four of our households having gone without heating in the past 12 months to save money, and a large number of customers spending more than 10% of their take-home income on energy bills.
“Just 12 months on - and before the major impact of the energy crisis - we are seeing a much-worsened situation. Fuel poverty is a growing reality for many in the UK as the cost-of-living crisis deepens.
“The recent Autumn Statement did provide some welcome clarity on the support available with energy bills, with a greater focus on the most vulnerable groups. However, getting information to households about how to be more energy efficient in a way that doesn’t mean simply going without heat is vital.
“And, as our report last year demonstrated, taking our customers on a journey to net zero carbon, whilst making sure it does not add further to the deepening fuel poverty crisis, will require careful and joined up decisions regarding investment, policy, technology and how we communicate the benefits of retrofitting homes.”