Does Debt Breed Fuel Poverty?
Without a doubt, one of the biggest factors affecting whether people are able to keep warm in the winter is cost. There are many people who simply can’t afford to pay the high prices of their energy bills. What’s more, the least well off are those who spend the highest proportion of their income on energy. This is an example of fuel poverty, which rises as household income falls, and usually goes hand-in-hand with a variety of other debts. As debts build up, it’s very easy for people to slip further and further into fuel poverty.
Many heating systems are inefficient, which means that customers have to have the heating on higher or for longer, both of which result in larger bills. As their fuel bill grows, it may take time for somebody to realise just how much energy they are using, and often by the time they receive their bill, they are already in debt. Anybody who pays their bill via direct debit may have had their payments set up too low when they initially signed up with their energy company, which means that they are building up a debt without being aware of it. When this bill eventually arrives, many people often can’t pay it off.
Coping strategies for people trapped within fuel debt often involves turning their central heating down, or turning it off altogether. Another coping strategy that many people use is to spend the day at friends’ houses or in warm public places such as libraries. This allows them to leave their heating switched off for the day. However, these are not a real solutions to the problem.
As fuel debt increases, many people agree to have a pre-payment meter installed, but it is a more costly way of paying for fuel. It often leads to the heating not being used, as the cost of their usage along with paying off the debt proves to be too expensive.
It has been noted through research that most people struggling with fuel debt tend to deprive themselves of warmth, rather than installing efficiency measures such as insulation. However, when somebody is already in debt, they can’t afford to pay for these measures, and are often unaware that there may be schemes or grants to help them in their local area.
Just as fuel poverty can exacerbate illness, illness can also exacerbate fuel debt. This is because many vulnerable people who are suffering from long term illness will spend more time at home and may be more sensitive to the cold. These people are also often on sick leave from work, or have had to give their jobs up entirely, which means that they do not have the disposable income to pay off their debts when they mount up. What’s more, many people do not know what benefits they could be entitled to, or how to go about receiving a benefit check.
It is for these reasons that schemes such as Hotspots are so important in recognising those people who are trapped within fuel poverty or fuel debt. However, we can’t find these people without you. We need health and social care pofessionals to refer to us, so that we can recognise those in need of assistance to keep warm and keep healthy. If you are a professional in County Durham, and you are concerned about a client that may be suffering from fuel debt, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
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