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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

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Fuel poverty figures for Cumbria revealed

New figures have highlighted the plight of Cumbrians suffering in the cold and living in fuel poverty.

Although nationally the number of families in fuel poverty fell slightly in 2011, the latest Government statistics show that some parts of the county – particularly remote areas – are among the worst-hit areas of the country.

Households are said to be in fuel poverty if they spend more than 10 per cent of their income heating their homes.

Some people are struggling so much to pay their gas and electricity bills they are forced to choose between heating and eating when winter weather is at its coldest.

The Penrith and the Border parliamentary constituency is the worst-hit area of Cumbria with 27 per cent of people living there classed as being fuel poor.

Copeland and Workington are the second worst off constituencies, with 20.3 per cent, followed by Barrow and Furness with 19.8 per cent and Carlisle with 18.4 per cent.

The statistics did not surprise Andy Beeforth, of Cumbria Community Foundation.

His organisation has been at the forefront of an appeal to give grants to people struggling to pay their heating bills when conditions are at their most severe.

Mr Beeforth said: “A lot of people who live in Penrith and the Border use solid fuel or oil. They live in stone buildings in a cold place. For many, they are also on fixed or low incomes.

“Last year we asked people, who didn’t need it, to donate their Winter Fuel Allowance to us – we raised about £45,000 and gave out grants of about £86,000 in the financial year to March 2013.”

Issues with people struggling to pay their bills this year are likely to have been made worse by the cold weather carrying on later than normally expected, so people have had heating systems running for longer.

Two separate campaigns have been launched in Cumbria aimed at tackling the problem. In Penrith, Opt 4 Community Energy – a charity which aims to use greater bargaining power to drive down prices – is underway.

Wigton, meanwhile, has been named as a “smart grid” pilot town, giving people more ways to control the energy use and who they buy it from.

The fall in the number households suffering from fuel poverty, was attributed to rising incomes, particularly among low earners. It was also down to reduced energy consumption as a result of improvements in the energy efficiency of homes, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) said.

Some 3.2 million English households spent more than 10 per cent of their income on heating their homes to a reasonable level in 2011, the last year for which figures are available, down from 3.5 million in 2010.

Across the UK, the number of households in fuel poverty fell from 4.75 million families in 2010 to 4.5 million in 2011.

But the department also revealed that those in fuel poverty were struggling more in 2011 than in 2010, with the average bill outstripping what they could afford to pay by £448, an increase of £26.

Across England, those in fuel poverty faced bills totalling £1.15bn more than they could afford.

Energy and Climate Change Minister Greg Barker said: “There is still an unacceptably high number of people living in cold, damp conditions.

“However, after years of year-on-year growth in the number of fuel-poor households we are starting to make progress, but the coalition Government is determined to do even more.”

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