Skip to navigation Skip to content turn2us logoTurn2us - to access benefits & grants.
Search this site

You are here:

Fuel poverty

Along with food and water, electricity and gas are the basics that we need to live our lives. Without them, we cannot heat our homes, switch on the lights or use appliances such as fridges and cookers.

Unfortunately - because of the effects of the UK’s current economic situation on personal finances, the rising costs of energy, and poor energy efficiency - many of us are struggling to pay our bills and may find ourselves falling into fuel poverty.

This section explains more about what fuel poverty is, tips on how to cope and where to get information and advice.

What's in this section

What is fuel poverty?

Until recently, the usual definition of fuel poverty was that a household was considered to be in fuel poverty when it needed to spend more than 10% of its income on fuel – or energy as it is often called.

However, in June 2013, the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) published 'A framework for future action’ which set out the Government’s intention to adopt a new definition of fuel poverty.

This new definition states that a household is said to be in fuel poverty if:

  • They have required fuel costs that are above average (the national median level), and
  • Were they to spend that amount they would be left with a residual income below the official poverty line.

The new definition also uses a fuel poverty gap. This is the difference between a household’s 'modelled' (average) bill and
what their bill would need to be for them to no longer be fuel poor.

Read the Department for Energy and Climate Change's Fuel Poverty framework (link opens in a new window)

Back to top

Key fuel poverty factors

The key factors that can contribute to fuel poverty are:

  • The energy efficiency of the property (and therefore, the energy required to heat and power the home)
  • The cost of energy
  • Household income.

Number of households in fuel poverty is rising

The number of households experiencing fuel poverty is rising at the moment for several reasons:

  • The cost of energy keeps increasing, which means we need to spend more of our income on paying these bills
  • Many of us live in draughty homes, from which lots of heat escapes, and rely on heating systems that are old and inefficient. And because we do not have much money to spare, it is difficult to make our homes more energy efficient, which would reduce our bills
  • The general cost of living is rising and this is also putting pressure on our finances so we have less money to go around. 

Back to top

Coping with rising energy bills

Make sure you’re getting the best deal on gas and electricity

  • If you live in England, Scotland or Wales, there are lots of different companies supplying energy so you can choose to buy your gas and electricity from those that offer you the best deal.  The Citizens Advice adviceguide website has information about energy (link opens in a new window) - NB: Make sure you look at the information for the country of the UK you live in.
  • The way you pay for your gas and electricity also has an impact the amount it costs 
  • Buying both gas and electricity from the same supplier can cost less
  • Paying by monthly direct debit rather than quarterly bill usually saves you money
  • Some suppliers offer benefits such as money off future bills for switching to paperless bills
  • Gas and electricity can be more expensive if you use a pre-payment meter
  • Some energy companies offer you the chance to fix your energy prices over a certain period of time. This means your bills will not go up if the price of electricity or gas goes up – but remember that they will still go up if you use more energy.

Back to top

Read your meters

  • Bills are often estimated, so reading your meter and passing the reading on to your supplier will make sure you only pay for what you have used. The Money Matters to Me website, produced by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Learning, can give you help understanding how to read meters (link opens in new window).

Back to top

Take steps to cut your energy use

You only pay for the electricity and gas that you actually use, so a good way for us to cope with rising prices is to try to use energy efficiently.

  • Cut your bills by turning the thermostat on your heating down by one degree as long as the temperature is already above 21°C, heating your home for one less hour a day and making sure that the temperature of your hot water is no more than 60°C
  • Stop heat escaping by sealing skirting boards, using draft excluders in front of doors and letterboxes and drawing your curtains after dark. Double-glazing reduces the heat loss through windows by 50%
  • Save electricity by turning appliances off rather than leaving them to standby, unplug chargers and switch lights off when not in use
  • Do not over fill kettles and always put lids on saucepans when cooking
  • Only run washing machines, driers and dishwashers with a full load and use lower temperature settings. Driers use lots of electricity, so drying washing on a line will help cut bills
  • Switch to low energy light bulbs. They cost a bit more but last 12 times longer and help cut your electricity bills
  • Insulating your loft and cavity walls, installing an energy efficient boiler and switching to low energy appliances will all help cut costs too.

Back to top

Grants and schemes to help you

There are various grants and schemes available to help you cover the cost of fuel bills and make your home energy efficient.

  • Winter Fuel Payments – this is a payment made to people who have reached pension credit age 
  • Cold Weather Payments – if you are on a low income, you may be eligible for these if the weather in your area falls to 0° centigrade or below for seven days in a row
  • Warm Home Discount - If your electricity supplier belongs to this scheme and you're getting the guarantee part of Pension Credit, you will get an annual  discount of £130 on your electricity bill.
  • Some energy suppliers offer cheaper deals to customers on low incomes together with free or subsidised energy efficiency measures
  • If you are on a low income and a range of income and disability related benefits, you may be able to get a grant to help with the costs of improving the energy efficiency of your home. For example by updating heating systems or insulating. See Grants to help with energy efficiency
  • The Energy Savings Trust (link opens in a new window) has a information to help you search for grants and offers to make improvements to energy efficiency. Please note that you need to look at the information relevant to the country of the UK you live in.

Back to top

What happens if I cannot pay my bills?

If you are struggling to pay your energy bills, you may worry that you energy supply will be cut off. This is always a last resort for the energy companies so it is vital to talk to them straight away and try to work out a solution.

Back to top

Useful information

Back to top

Last updated: 20 March 2014

Energy efficiency grants

Are you eligible for help?

Grants for energy efficiency information

Facebook (opens in a new window) Twitter (opens in a new window) YouTube (opens in a new window) Nominet Award - Doing Good Online Highly Commended