Consumer: Facing up to cold hard facts about fuel poverty

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Figures in a recent report by Leeds City Council reveal that one in five households in the city can be classified as being in fuel poverty.

These numbers are brought into even sharper focus by newly published research, which has found that half of Britons are worried that they will not be able to afford their energy bills this winter.

According to the survey by analyst Mintel, concern peaks in the colder regions of the North, and young people under 35 and women are the groups most worried.

The poll also suggests that fuel poverty is not just an issue for the worst-off households. While concern is highest among those on lower incomes, payment is also an issue for more than a third of better-off consumers.

In terms of fuel providers, almost half of those surveyed worried that they were not on the best tariff.

Overall, more than half of consumers admitted that they find their energy bills confusing.

Mintel senior retail analyst Jane Westgarth said: “Escalating domestic energy bills can take a large chunk of the household budget, particularly for low earners, so making it easier for people to manage their usage and spending will help to reduce the anxiety surrounding paying the bills.

“Schemes which allow people more options about ways to plan and manage their spending will help and energy companies could reduce the price differences between pre-payment and billed accounts.

“People find the appeal of fixing prices very compelling as it takes away some of the uncertainties about how their bills will change and reduces the concern that the direct debits might escalate or that bills will become unaffordable. So marketing that builds reassurance about being able to plan ahead and avoid unexpected bills will chime with people.”

Three quarters of those surveyed agreed that they should make their home as energy efficient as possible, but around half said they are put off by the potential costs.

Almost two thirds said that wasting energy in the home was a big concern for them.

However only a quarter agreed that it is worth paying more for greener energy.

Ms Westgarth said: “For the majority of consumers, acting to get greener energy is secondary to finding the best deal on price.

“While consumers are aware of environmental issues, this may not affect the way that they act or choose which power to buy.

“When it comes to the environment, many would prefer the state to make the big changes but do not necessarily think it is something they can influence themselves.”

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