Fuel poverty is when a household spends more than 10% of their household income on heating their home. This is a definition that often shocks many people because it means that a great deal of households could potentially be living in fuel poverty. This definition, however, assumes that they are keeping their home to the recommended temperatures of 21°C in the main room (usually the living room), and 18°C in the other rooms.
Fuel poverty is usually caused by a mixture of low income and high fuel costs. It is determined by a number of factors, including: the cost of energy, how energy efficient the property is, how much energy it takes to heat and power the home, and the household income. However, when we talk about how much energy is needed to heat the home, it is important to recognise that the estimated fuel costs are an estimate of what would be required to keep the home at recommended temperature levels, rather than what energy the household actually uses.
In 2008, 3.3 million households were classed as being in fuel poverty. Single person households are more at risk of fuel poverty, and this risk becomes even higher for older people. Indeed, many households classed as being in fuel poverty are also classed as being vulnerable. A vulnerable household is defined as one with a child, an older person, or someone receiving state benefits.
The risk of fuel poverty is also higher for rural households. Many rural households tend to be off the gas mains, or the properties may be less energy efficient, which makes it harder to keep them warm. Many of these properties may have stone walls, for example, which means that there is no cavity to insulate. The north-east of England is in particularly high risk of fuel poverty, and thus rural areas in the north-east, such as County Durham and the Dales, are even more vulnerable.
Therefore, the people who are most likely to be at risk are older or more vulnerable people, in rural areas, in the north-east. This is the demographic that Hotspots was designed to help.
It is important to remember, however, that some people will not fall into fuel poverty statistics simply because they will not put the heating on. This is usually because they know that they will not be able to afford to pay the bills. They are suffering equally as much as those who are in fuel poverty, but they are not recorded within the statistics. It is for this reason that it is so important for health and social care professionals who do go into clients’ homes to notice whether the home feels warm and to ask questions if it starts to feel cold or damp. It is also important for hospital staff to ask patients if they are keeping warm at home, especially on discharge, to reduce the risk of a patient having to return to hospital. This could lead to a Hotspots referral and we could start to help them.
We have put together a short checklist for identifying fuel poverty. If you can answer yes to any of these questions, it is likely that your client would benefit from a referral:
- Does the client mention the cold regularly?
- Does the house feel cold when you visit?
- Has the client mentioned that their heating system is broken?
- Is the client using blankets or supplementary heating to keep warm?
- Is the client vulnerable?
- Is the client elderly?
- Is the client living with a long term health condition or disability?
- Does the client have a respiratory, cardiovascular or pulmonary health issue?
- Are there young children in the household?
- Could the client be missing out on any benefits?
- Could the client benefit from a home fire safety check?
- Does the client tend to return quickly to hospital with cold related symptoms within a short time of returning home?
- Does the client complain of regular headaches or drowsiness? This may be a sign of a carbon monoxide leak.
From this brief overview of the facts surrounding fuel poverty, we are sure that you can see how many people are potentially at risk. What’s more, every £1 spent on tackling fuel poverty saves 42p for the NHS every year, through reducing GP visits and hospital admissions.
If you have not yet had any Hotspots training, please get in touch with us. Our training sessions only take 10-15 minutes, but they can teach you how to refer to us, allowing you to change people’s lives for the better. If you have already received Hotspots training, please continue to refer to us and together we can help to combat fuel poverty.