A report launched today revealing how fuel poverty can lead to mental illness, is urging UK policymakers to make major changes.
Around 21 per cent of those surveyed said that housing conditions had resulted in a major impact on their mental health within the last five years. The research by the Energy and Utilities Alliance (EUA) highlighted England had the second-highest fuel poverty rate in Europe, with around one in ten UK families experiencing fuel poverty and four million struggling to heat their homes.
The EUA have made a series of recommendations, such as encouraging data sharing between agencies, connecting homes to the existing gas grid and making energy efficiency a priority. The older generation and those suffering from ill health may be particularly vulnerable due to limited finances and employment not being an option.
Mike Foster, former government minister and chief executive of the EUA, said: “There needs to be an urgency amongst policymakers in order to tackle endemic fuel poverty; this really is a life or death scenario.
“We have heard shocking anecdotes of people self-disconnecting, facing the ‘heat or eat dilemma’ or experiencing mental health problems or severe isolation, as a result of their fuel poor status, from organisations working on the ground.”
Earlier this month, the Scottish Government at the fuel poverty summit, pressurised the Big Six energy suppliers on their use of pre-payment meters, urging them to focus on vulnerable customers.
Statistics show that each year cold homes kill over four times the amount of people as rail and road accidents, and nearly four times as many people as drug misuse. With cold homes possibly causing the majority of 28,500 excess winter deaths, the research points to insufficient policy, the digital divide, off-grid households, inefficient heating systems and lack of information as causing factors.
The energy industry has responded that it takes its commitment to protecting its most vulnerable customers, including those in fuel poverty, extremely seriously.
A Energy UK spokesperson said annual investment to help support consumers, through energy efficiency measures and direct financial assistance, approaches £1 billion each year.
“The Government must ensure programmes, like the Warm Home Discount, are better targeted and support those that are genuinely in need – the fuel poor. Energy efficiency must also be a national priority, as improving the energy efficiency of Britain’s homes is the best way to address fuel poverty in the long term.”
SSE has rolled out schemes such as the Warm Home discount, the Priority Assistance Fund and employs specially trained advisors to talk to customers directly to enable them to understand the range they offer.
A spokesperson for SSE, added: “SSE takes its responsibility towards vulnerable customers very seriously, proactively identifying customers we believe may be in fuel poverty or require extra support and tailoring the help that we offer to suit their needs.
A spokesperson at Npower, said: “We’ve conducted detailed research into fuel poverty and looked at what kind of help makes a real difference to people’s lives.
“We’re now having ongoing conversations with charities and experts to help us explore how can we embed these interventions into our processes – for example, we’re currently piloting training for some of our customer service specialists around how to help people with mental health issues, including being aware of indicators and flagging what help is available.”
Npower have been working closely with Macmillan Cancer Support to target families who may have someone living with the disease and experiencing problems paying their fuel bills.
A spokesperson at EDF Energy, said: “We are training our specialist Priority Services Team and working with a number of organisations, including mental health charity MIND, to better equip our employees to understand the impacts of mental health issues and provide appropriate support to affected customers.”
British Gas has been working with the CLIC Sargent charity, to identify families with young cancer sufferers needing support.