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Revealed: The charges keeping electricity bills high

Freezing households are being hit by 14 obscure energy charges that are keeping electricity bills expensive.

The figures are revealed in the latest Warm This Winter Tariff Watch Report by researchers at Future Energy Associates which examines the electricity network costs which are added to customers’ standing charges and bills. [1]

Among the 14 charges which get passed onto bills through the Ofgem price cap, customers are hit by costs such as the ‘Non-Locational demand residual banded charge’, ‘Available Supply Capacity Charges’, ‘Electricity Systems Operator Internal Allowances’ and ‘Ancillary Services costs.’ [2]

Also hidden in the charges are so-called “Line Losses” which set out the amount of energy lost while transmitting electricity around the network. These losses are added to consumers’ bills as a set amount, rather than reflecting the actual wastage incurred.

The combined impact of some of these costs and charges has meant Electricity Standing Charges have surged 119% since winter 2020/21 and account for £194 a year for every household. 

Separately, the report reveals rules which allow Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) who maintain and upgrade the grid to keep money charged to consumers but not spent.

The DNOs forecast budgets in advance and overestimation of these costs can mean that DNOs underspend and could potentially profit under a complex system called the “totex incentive mechanism” (TIM). This splits the benefit of any underspend between customers and the DNO. 

Between 2015 and 2022, DNOs spent £933 million less than they forecasted, but those that did underspend will have only given around half of that money back to consumers. [3]

The new findings also reveal that energy firms have underspent on plans to upgrade the electricity network. While these firms have overspent on short-term costs, the lack of investment in the grid is one of the reasons that electricity prices remain high despite Britain’s successful renewables industry. [4] 

The Warm This Winter Tariff Watch report also paints a poor picture for consumers looking to switch around for the best energy deal. While there are more tariffs on the market, the researchers could only find a handful of deals worth switching to and these all came with complex conditions or caveats.

Two groups which continue to lose out are those who pay on standard credit terms and are subject to a 6.2% premium and those on Economy 7 tariffs. 

One EDF overnight tariff, aimed at EV owners, offers an average nighttime electricity unit rate of just 8.00 pence per kWh across all DNO regions. In stark contrast, the Standard Variable tariff, serving as an Economy 7 equivalent from the same firm, imposes a significantly higher night-time unit rate of 16.63 pence per kWh.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, commented:

“The complex world of electricity pricing should now be firmly in the sights of regulators and ministers.

“There must be a review into how we have arrived at so many covert charges and Ofgem must improve the transparency in the calculation of how our standing charges are arrived at.

“Of particular concern is the system whereby we are paying upfront for vital infrastructure upgrades which could help bring down electricity bills, but which are seemingly not delivered.

“We need a full audit of what has been charged, what has been spent and what could be returned to the bill payer.”

Fiona Waters of the Warm This Winter campaign, which commissioned the report added:

“The findings of the latest Tariff Watch Report reveal a disgraceful picture.

“Hardup households are being punished multiple times by energy giants. Our energy bills are still forecasted to remain well above 2021 levels for the rest of the year and the vital grid infrastructure upgrades needed to bring electricity costs down are potentially not being delivered.

“Perversely, the failure to upgrade and maintain the grid then results in line losses, which consumers also have to pay for via their bills.”

Dylan Johnson, Director at Future Energy Associates commented: 

“Ofgem must improve transparency around Distribution Use of System (DuOS) charges. There’s a clear need for a centralised repository on their website, detailing these costs, and the formulas used for their calculation. 

“Additionally, Ofgem should revisit their methodology for Line Losses, especially as we transition to a more decentralised energy system. 

“For instance, in areas like Cornwall during sunny hours, Line Loss calculations must reflect the reduced losses when electricity is generated and consumed locally. This change is crucial for a fair and efficient energy system.”

ENDS

[1] This press release refers to England, Scotland and Wales only. For full details, methodology and sources, the full report is available to download: https://www.endfuelpoverty.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Tariff_Watch-3-FINAL.pdf

[2] Full list of charges:

  1. Non-Locational demand residual banded charge – all domestic users contribute to the fixed costs of maintaining the transmission network.
  2. Transmission Network Use of System Non-Half-Hourly demand tariff – cost of using the transmission network to supply electricity and factors in the cost of infrastructure investment and the need to ensure network reliability and capacity for future demands. Paid by consumers on unit rates.
  3. Distribution Use of System Consumption Charges – charges are based on the electricity consumption of an organisation, with rates varying according to the time of use.
  4. Meter Point Administration Number Standing Charges – a fixed daily charge applied per Meter Point Administration Number (MPAN), covering the fixed costs of electricity distribution.
  5. Available Supply Capacity Charges – These are levied based on the assigned Available Supply Capacity (ASC) of an organisation, with higher capacities incurring greater charges.
  6. Reactive Power Charges – Applied for the reactive power used by an organisation, which is essential for maintaining voltage levels within the distribution network.
  7. SOLR Fixed charge – to cover costs associated with collapsed energy firms
  8. Excess SOLR Fixed charge – to cover costs associated with collapsed energy firms
  9. Eligible Bad Debt Fixed Charge Adder – an additional charge to cover the costs associated with uncollectible debts.
  10. Balancing Use of Systems Balancing Mechanism – when there is a variance between scheduled energy generation and actual demand, the Balancing Mechanism activates to maintain grid stability.
  11. Ancillary Services costs – this covers a range of services, including frequency response, demand flexibility service, reactive power and reserve services. 
  12. Electricity Systems Operator Internal Allowances – Internal costs (allowed revenue) are calculated in the Price Control Financial Model.
  13. Balancing Use of Systems Energy Trading Costs – these are costs for trading done with generators outside of the balancing mechanism e.g. forward trading via bilateral agreements.
  14. Line Losses – the amount of energy lost while transmitting electricity around the network.

[3] Electricity North West, National Grid Electricity Distribution and UK Power Networks are the worst offenders. These three companies taken together have a combined underspend of more than £1.1bn.

The reason this is more than the 933m total is that some DNOs – especially Scottish Power Networks – have overspent. Scottish Power Energy Networks (operates MANWEB and South Scotland) does have some of the highest standing charges in the UK. 

DNO allowance and expenditure cumulative 2015-16 to 2021-22:

DNO Operator (sharing rate) DNO Region Allowance Expenditure Difference
£m £m £m %
Electricity North West (58%) North West          2,085         1,917 -168 -8%
Northern Power Grid (56%) North East          1,472         1,515     43 3%
Yorkshire         1,953         1,921 -32 -2%
National Grid Electricity Distribution (70%) Midlands         2,318         2,329       11 0%
East Midlands         2,346         2,312 -34 -1%
South Wales         1,228         1,163 -65 -5%
South West         1,890         1,831 -59 -3%
UK Power Networks (53%) London         2,007         1,741 -267 -13%
South East         1,941         1,657 -284 -15%
East Anglia         2,889         2,622 -268 -9%
Scottish Power Energy Networks (54%) South Scotland         1,747         1,792       45 3%
MANWEB         1,952         2,037       85 4%
Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (56%) North Scotland         1,492         1,519       26 2%
Southern         2,635         2,670       34 1%
Total GB       27,957       27,023 -933 -3%

[4] Underspend has generally been in longer term investment in networks i.e. network reinforcement and replacing equipment and totals c.GBP2.5bn. Conversely over-spend has generally been in shorter term operational activities and totals c.GBP1.5bn.

Public priced out of essential warm home measures

Nearly four in 10 UK households (39%) say they cannot afford to insulate their homes, according to new data commissioned by the Warm This Winter coalition, prompting campaigners to demand the government urgently refocus its efforts on boosting energy saving measures.  

Half of all Londoners (50%) say that they cannot afford energy efficiency measures, the highest in the country, followed by households in Wales (46%) and Yorkshire and Humber (45%).

And the UK has some of the leakiest homes in Europe, with the majority rated EPC Band D or below and around a fifth of homes have no roof insulation, leaving consumers paying higher energy bills for colder homes.

Analysis shows that it would take 190 years to upgrade the energy efficiency of the UK’s draughty housing stock at the current rate of the government’s flagship programme, the ‘Great British Insulation Scheme’, which installed just over 1,000 energy efficiency measures between March and October 2023. 

Upgrading inefficient homes to EPC band C would collectively save consumers £24 billion on their energy bills by 2030.

It would also give the UK more energy independence as insulation lowers the amount of gas required to heat homes, and gas will increasingly come from abroad as the North Sea continues its decline. Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho has conceded that the Government’s new Oil and Gas Licensing Bill won’t bring down energy bills. 

Tessa Khan, executive director of Uplift, commented:

“This government is obsessing over oil and gas drilling, which will do absolutely nothing to lower bills, while progress on energy efficiency, which is the quickest and cheapest way to keep people warm this winter, has slowed to a crawl.

“Ministers need to realise that millions of people cannot afford to insulate their homes and that, by turning its back on them, it is condemning people to live in cold homes.

“The more the temperature drops, the more enraging it is to watch this government waste time and effort trying to wring the last drop of gas from the North Sea, when saving energy would help people so much more.”

The start of this year saw energy bills increase by a further £94 for the average household.  A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition added:

“While households struggle in cold, damp, mouldy homes and struggle to pay their bills, Ministers are sitting on their hands.

“They refused to introduce an Emergency Energy Tariff for vulnerable households and have refused to set up an industry wide scheme to help people repay their energy debts.

“Instead, they have allowed energy firms to restart using the courts to force households onto prepayment meters and have now ruled out reform to energy tariffs to help those most in need. 

“What we need to see is urgent action on energy bills and the cost of insulation. But Ministers would rather play politics with a ridiculous Oil & Gas Licensing Bill that will do nothing to improve energy security or lower bills.”

ENDS

Opinium conducted a nationally representative survey among 2,000 UK Adults from the 24th – 28th November 2023 or 20th – 24th October 2023. Results were weighted to be nationally representative.

4,950 excess winter deaths caused by cold homes last winter

Following publication of new official data, the End Fuel Poverty Coalition has estimated that 4,950 excess winter deaths in the UK were caused by living in cold homes during winter 2022/23. [1]

Historic records also indicate that when the mean winter temperature in the UK drops below four degrees centigrade, the level of excess winter deaths sky-rockets. The average temperature last winter was 4.3 degrees. [2]

While December 2023 was exceptionally warm, average daily temperatures for the UK in January are forecast to dip as low as -1.6 degrees and fell to -14 in some parts of the UK last night. [3]

The Government continues to rely on Warm Homes Discounts, Cold Weather Payments and Winter Fuel Payments as the measures of support to households, however these are limited in eligibility and impact.

This winter the Government refused demands to support households through an Emergency Energy Tariff and a help to repay scheme for those in energy debt.

But the Government’s approach is an increasingly dangerous strategy with the effects of climate change taking hold. 

The Met Office official guidance is that El Niño winters are more likely to be colder in the UK and scientists predict that these El Niño winters could become more common as global temperatures increase. With 2023 being declared as the hottest year on record, campaigners have urged politicians to grasp the seriousness of the situation.

A spokesperson for End Fuel Poverty Coalition, commented

“Figures from the Warm This Winter campaign show that 8.3m adults are living in cold damp homes this winter and, as temperatures drop, these conditions go from being uncomfortable to downright dangerous.

“But while households struggle, Ministers are sitting on their hands and leaving matters of life and death to chance.

“Instead of taking action on energy bills, they have allowed energy firms to restart using the courts to force households onto prepayment meters and have now ruled out reform to energy tariffs to help those most in need. 

“They would rather play politics with a ridiculous Oil & Gas Licensing Bill that will do nothing to improve energy security or lower bills than take meaningful action to help households struggling right now.”

Jan Shortt, General Secretary of the National Pensioners’ Convention, which is part of the Warm This Winter campaign, said: 

“We are very concerned at the level of disinterest shown by the government in the welfare of older people at a time when the temperature is dropping well below freezing. 

“It fell as low as -14 degrees this week and even in towns and cities it does not get much warmer until later in the day. This presents a real dilemma for older people struggling with the cost of energy and other inflated bills – we know many are already afraid to turn the heating on at all. 

“Add to this the decision by Ofgem and the government to allow the force-fitting of energy prepayment meters to resume, while energy providers continue to enjoy inflated profits, smacks of abandonment of those struggling to pay their bills without any relief on the horizon.”

Greenpeace UK’s climate campaigner, Georgia Whitaker, said: 

“This is a national scandal. The UK has the least insulated homes in Western Europe. We’ve known this for years. Yet every year thousands of people are dying as a result. And our government is doing practically nothing to fix the problem. 

“Insulating homes at speed and scale right across the UK would drastically reduce these unavoidable deaths, as well as helping to tackle the cost of living and climate crises by lowering bills and slashing household emissions. But until that happens, this shameful government negligence will continue to cost people their lives, and without climate leadership the government will be punished at the ballot box.”

UPDATE: In February 2024, the ONS launched a consultation on the methodology associated with this calculation and also set out new figures for excess deaths in a particular period (rather than excess winter mortality levels as set out in the figures above). Even after these new measures are introduced, the old data which is set out above is not technically incorrect, however the metrics used for calculating the figure may be less accurate than the new measures.

ENDS

[1] 2022/23 Data: ONS (for England & Wales) table 10, updated on 17 January 2024 combined with NRS and NISRA data then applying IHE methodology to estimate the number of Excess Winter Deaths caused by living in cold homes. Previous End Fuel Poverty Coalition estimates put the figure at 4,706 Excess Winter Deaths caused by cold homes.

[2] ​​Excess winter deaths caused by cold damp homes and average winter temperatures (End Fuel Poverty Coalition records)

Winter Number of excess winter deaths caused by cold homes  Mean winter temp (C) 
2010/2011 6,232 2.4
2011/2012 5,608 4.5
2012/2013 7,321 3.3
2013/2014 4,206 5.2
2014/2015     10,475 3.9
2015/2016 6,035 5.5
2016/2017 8,211 5
2017/2018     11,997 3.6
2018/2019 5,665 5.2
2019/2020 2,439 5.3
2020/2021     14,502 3.5
2021/2022 3,229 5.2
2022/2023 4,950 4.3

[3] December 2023 stats – 5.8 degrees mean: https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/research/climate/maps-and-data/summaries/index

January 2024 stats: 

https://www.netweather.tv/charts-and-data/average-uk-temperature (accessed 16 January 2024 at 1400)

Ofgem allows energy firms to force fit prepayment meters

Ofgem has given the green light to energy firms to resume force-fitting prepayment meters in people’s homes.

The practice was suspended in early 2023 after investigations by the i and the Times newspapers.

EDF, Octopus and Scottish Power can now install the meters again after meeting new rules set by Ofgem, the industry regulator.

However, a spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, commented:

“It is outrageous that energy firms are seeking to use the courts to force people onto prepayment meters in the middle of winter. These meters have the potential to leave them without heating in the middle of winter.

“We still have grave concerns about the processes energy firms have in place for assessing vulnerabilities. Late last year, Scottish Power were found to be trying to seek warrants to force vulnerable households onto prepayment meters.

“Ultimately, without a change in the law, we knew this day would come. MPs and Ministers – who ignored pleas to introduce a full ban – can only hope that it is not their vulnerable constituents who are forced onto these meters.

“If anyone receives a court summons from their energy firm they must contact Citizens Advice, a local law centre or other advice provider as soon as possible to see if help is available to them. Customers should not ignore these letters as the consequences of doing nothing could be severe.”

Jonathan Bean from Fuel Poverty Action added:

“We are horrified that Ofgem has taken the cruel and dangerous decision to allow Scottish Power and others to break into homes and limit energy supplies in the middle of winter. This will leave many people traumatised and cold.”

National Pensioners Convention General Secretary, Jan Shortt said:

“While we understand that energy debt needs to be dealt with, force fitting Prepayment Meters through the courts is a draconian measure the NPC would very much like to see abandoned.  We will be monitoring very closely any efforts to apply warrants granted.

“There are many reasons for energy debt – not least the doubling of costs last year and the cost-of-living crisis making it very difficult for the majority of ordinary people and pensioners to eke out their income to pay ever-increasing bills.

“We urge the Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero to engage with the energy providers, the Regulator of Ofgem, the NPC and the End Fuel Poverty Coalition to debate and consider a plan to enable those in debt to be able to make payments according to their ability, not the energy providers to top-load plans.

“We would also welcome some understanding from energy providers in terms of customer responses to their communications on debt.  Firstly, they should understand that for most older people, there is no spare money, and they are not members of the ‘won’t pay’ brigade.  The overt assumption that everyone in debt is deliberately not paying is erroneous, spiteful and completely unnecessary.

“Secondly, the energy providers need to rebuild trust between themselves and their customers as a result of those choosing to work outside of their moral obligations.”

Before suppliers can restart involuntary installations, they must meet the conditions set out by Ofgem. These include:

  • Suppliers must conduct an internal audit to identify wrongfully installed involuntary PPMs installed before the PPM moratorium (in place from February 2023) and offer compensation and a return to a non-prepayment payment method to any affected customers.
  • The supplier must commission and conclude an independent assessment to verify their readiness to comply with the new rules.
  • The suppliers’ Board must attest that the supplier is ready to restart involuntary PPMs in compliance with the Code, and pay redress to customers of wrongly installed PPMs
  • If the PPM Market Compliance Review finds major concerns, the supplier in question will need to take corrective agreed with Ofgem

A statement by Ofgem added that once suppliers meet the above conditions and restart involuntary PPM installations, they must also provide regular monitoring data to the regulator, so that concerning practices can be identified early.

Customers and consumer groups will be able to check energy suppliers that can install prepayment meters without household permission on the Ofgem website.

While EDF, Octopus and Scottish Power can now proceed with considering involuntary PPM installations as a last resort, they will still be required to follow a robust set of rules put in place by Ofgem. These rules include:

  • Making at least 10 attempts to contact a customer before a prepayment meter is installed
  • Carrying out a site welfare visit before a prepayment meter is installed
  • Refrain from all involuntary installations for the highest risk customers (the ‘do not install’ category) including:
  • Households which require a continuous supply for health reasons, including dependence on powered medical equipment,
  • Households with an older occupant (aged 75+), without support in the house,
  • Households with children aged under 2 years old,
  • Households with residents with severe health issues including terminal illnesses or those with a medical dependency on a warm home (for example due to illness such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis, sickle cell disease).
  • Suppliers must also assess the suitability of a PPM when one of the below disabilities/characteristics/conditions is a factor:
  • Children 5 and under,
  • Other serious medical/Health Conditions (such as neurological diseases (Parkinson’s, Huntingdon’s, Cerebral Palsy), respiratory conditions (COPD) and mobility limiting conditions (Osteoporosis, Muscular Dystrophy, Multiple Sclerosis)),
  • Serious mental/developmental health conditions (such as clinical depression, Alzheimer’s, dementia, learning difficulties, Schizophrenia),
  • Temporary situations (such as pregnancy, bereavement)

Call for the abolition of the January price cap change

Campaigners have called on Ofgem to scrap future January energy bill changes as a five percent hike in prices hits households at the worst possible time.

The Warm This Winter campaign has called the increase a step too far for ordinary households in the UK, many of whom face the choice between eating and heating.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition commented:

“Struggling households are facing an assault from all sides. Energy bills are going up just as winter bites hard, Christmas debts have to be paid off and the ongoing wider cost of living crisis continues into another year.

“Ofgem needs to abolish this January price hike. The cruel impact of a change in bills at this time of year can’t be underestimated.

“We criticised the policy strongly when it was introduced as we feared this would be the result of it – bills going up at the worst time of year.

“Given the way the price cap is structured, it is unlikely we’ll ever see a decrease at this time of year. Changing the price cap three times a year would be enough to pass on any reductions in wholesale prices to consumers and ensure we would not have a change of bills in the middle of winter.”

Warm This Winter spokesperson Fiona Waters added:

“Without additional support, it will be anything but a happy new year for people trapped in Britain’s broken energy system.

“We need to see the UK Government introduce an Emergency Energy Tariff for vulnerable households and a Help To Repay scheme for those in energy debt.

“Failure to avert this cold homes crisis will lead to pressure on the NHS, a mental health catastrophe and additional winter deaths caused by living in cold damp homes.”

It follows Warm This Winter’s latest research which revealed 16% of adults (8.3m people) live in cold damp homes, exposed to the health complications that come from living in fuel poverty. Of those, vulnerable households and customers on prepayment meters are more likely to live in dangerous, cold damp homes.

The NHS warns that people with damp and mould in their homes are more likely to have respiratory problems, respiratory infections, allergies or asthma.

Unaffordable energy prices are here to stay and even in winter 2024/25, energy bills are expected to be 60% higher than winter 2020/21.

“People have had enough of these sky high energy bills and today’s price cap places yet another huge burden on families who are stretched to the limit, we need an end to this vicious cycle. The UK Government needs to take much more action to help people stay warm this winter and every winter through increased support for home insulation and cheaper renewable energy,” added Fiona Waters.

Households at risk from mould in cold damp homes crisis

A third of the UK population (29%, 15.4m people) experiences mould in their homes frequently or occasionally as Britain’s energy crisis bites hard.

The new data is based on research for the Warm This Winter campaign and reveals that 10% (5.3m people) experience mouldy living conditions frequently.

Among the major cities, the data shows a clear geographic split in an unwelcome league table of mouldy properties. Cities in the west of the UK were found to be significantly more likely to experience dangerous living conditions.

  1. Cardiff – 42% frequently or occasionally experience mould (19% frequently)
  2. Plymouth – 36% (14%)
  3. Manchester – 35% (16%)
  4. London – 32% (10%)
  5. Leeds – 31% (10%)
  6. Bristol – 31% (4%)
  7. Sheffield – 30% (11%)
  8. Glasgow – 29% (14%)
  9. Liverpool – 29% (13%)
  10. Birmingham – 29% (8%)
  11. Belfast – 26% (10%)
  12. Southampton – 24% (10%)
  13. Newcastle – 23% (6%)
  14. Brighton – 22% (14%)
  15. Nottingham – 22% (6%)
  16. Edinburgh – 18% (2%)
  17. Norwich – 12% (2%)

Even in areas where mould is less common it can still result in tragedy. Recently a coroner reported that a 52 year-old tenant of one East Midlands council died of lung disease made worse by living in mouldy conditions and an estate in Edinburgh has been described by one resident with lung conditions as “riddled with damp and mould“.

Not only does damp and mould produce mould spores and other toxins that are harmful to health, but even excessive moisture can lead to the growth of mould and other fungi, certain species of house dust mites, bacteria or viruses. 

The tragic case of Awaab Ishak highlighted the need to take the issue of mould in UK homes seriously and the NHS advises all young children to be kept away from damp and mould. But the figures show 3.4m people who have frequent or occasional exposure to mould and who have a child under 6 or who are pregnant.

Becca Lyon, head of child poverty for Save the Children UK, said: 

“Children should not grow up in homes with mould that risks their health. We know budgets are so tight that housing is becoming ever more difficult to afford and that 140,000 children in the UK are in temporary accommodation.

“This story should make the UK government take notice, and endeavour to do more for families. Reform to the Local Housing Allowance was a good start but measures like scrapping the unfair two-child limit to benefits would put more money in families’ pockets to help them heat their homes.”

The Government warns that the “more serious the damp and mould problem and the longer it is left untreated, the worse the health impacts and risks are likely to be.” The solutions to mouldy damp homes are insulation and better energy efficiency of buildings as well as access to cheaper renewable energy.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, commented:

“We urgently need an Emergency Energy Tariff for vulnerable households and a Help To Repay scheme for those in energy debt to help people ensure their homes are free from mould. 

“Vulnerable households, including young families and expectant mothers, are struggling because of Ministers’ failure to provide emergency financial assistance this winter and longer term failures to invest in the permanent solutions to fuel poverty, such as insulation and reform of energy pricing.”

Chia Harrington from Fuel Poverty Action commented: 

“In Glasgow, mould is a real problem and it can contribute to lower life expectancy in the city.

“We have seen cases where the mould problem is so bad that the health of occupants had totally deteriorated, with people developing severe breathing problems and – in one case – a resident even had to have teeth removed because the toxins from the mould had affected his health so badly.

“It’s wrong that housing associations and landlords can get away with their tenants living in conditions that are so bad, but this is also connected to the wider issues within our energy system that mean people can’t afford the energy to prevent damp accumulating. 

“Our energy system and housing system needs urgent reform so that people are not made ill by their homes.”

Fiona Waters, spokesperson for the Warm This Winter, commented:

“Families are feeling the squeeze from every direction with the lowest living standards since records began and the poorest and most vulnerable in society bearing the brunt of sky high energy bills which will be increasing again in January.”

John McGowan, General Secretary of the Social Workers Union, added:

“Across the country social workers report seeing families struggling in living conditions that are more like Victorian novels than modern day Britain. It’s clear that households – especially those most at risk from the health complications of living in cold damp homes – need more support.”

ENDS

Methodology note: Opinium conducted a nationally representative survey among 2,000 UK Adults from the 24th – 28th November 2023. Results were weighted to be nationally representative. Population estimates based on ONS projections of adults aged 18+ for mid-2021 (the latest figures available), i.e. UK 18+ population 53,188,204.

Millions spending winter in cold damp homes

New figures reveal that 16% of UK adults (8.3m people) live in cold damp homes, exposed to the health complications that come from living in fuel poverty. [1]

This includes over 1.7 million of the UK’s most vulnerable, according to the latest data from the Warm This Winter campaign.

As well as the most vulnerable being more affected – such as those aged over 75, living with an under 6 year old, or having a preexisting health condition or disability – there are stark differences based on the type of energy bill households have and where they live.

A third of smart meter customers who have a prepayment meter setting (32%) say they live in a cold damp home with 27% of those on traditional PPMs saying the same. Almost a quarter (22%) of standard credit customers are in cold damp homes, yet just 11% of direct debit customers live in such conditions. [2]

Households in London are most likely to be living in cold damp homes, with a quarter (23%) of the capital exposed to such conditions. Londoners are closely followed by people in Yorkshire & Humber (22%), the West Midlands (18%) and the North West (17%) as having the most exposure to dangerous living conditions. 

The NHS warns that people with damp and mould in their homes are more likely to have respiratory problems, respiratory infections, allergies or asthma. 

Damp and mould can also affect the immune system while living in such conditions can also increase the risk of heart disease, heart attacks or strokes.

Cold homes can cause and worsen respiratory conditions, cardiovascular diseases, poor mental health, dementia and hypothermia as well as cause and slow recovery from injury.

Petitions with over 800,000 signatures have been handed into the Prime Minister calling for more action to bring down bills now, end energy debt and to help end the cold damp homes crisis now facing the country. [3]

Fiona Waters, spokesperson for the Warm This Winter campaign, commented:

“It is no wonder that the public are now signing petitions in droves and pointing the finger of blame for the crisis on Ministers who have failed to act to protect the public from this crisis.

Instead of help in the form of an Emergency Energy Tariff for vulnerable households and a Help To Repay scheme for those in energy debt, the public will instead be faced with increasing energy bills on 1 January 2024.” 

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, commented:

“The Government needs to get a grip on the cold damp homes crisis now facing the country, with people spending the festive period in Dickensian conditions and unable to stay warm this winter. 

“Without immediate action, the cost of this crisis will be felt by increased demand on the already overstretched NHS. 

“Ultimately, a failure to protect people from living in cold damp homes will cost lives.”

Dr Isobel Braithwaite, a health and housing researcher at UCL, said: 

“This data shows a shockingly high prevalence of cold and damp homes in the UK, which poses a grave risk to the public’s health. These conditions are severely harming the health of the most vulnerable in society: from young children; people with heart and lung conditions; to older people, and this situation is unconscionable in 2023.

“These impacts are being driven by political choices, and action is urgently needed to address the causes of this health crisis, both to protect vulnerable households with the campaign’s proposed emergency measures, as well as longer-term action with home retrofit schemes.”

Kay Ballard from Debt Justice who was part of the petition hand in said: 

“Lack of government support and energy company profiteering means that this Christmas I have a choice between going into debt or living in a cold damp home. It is an impossible choice and only government action can solve the crisis.”

Raymond Bradley a 38 Degrees Supporter who was part of the petition hand in said:

“I feel let down by this Government. Each year I am colder, struggling more and with less support. I am blind and the devices I use to help me get through life daily take a lot of electricity to charge. My partner has health issues that means we HAVE to be warm and we’re choosing between heating, charging the devices that help me live my life and eating. It’s no way to live. All I ask from Rishi Sunak and his Government is to fix this broken energy system.”

Stuart Bretherton from Fuel Poverty Action said: 

“Over 660,000 people have endorsed our demand to ensure everyone’s essential energy needs are met, it’s not radical. There’s more than enough money in energy firm profits and subsidies to guarantee an adequate level of Energy For All to keep everyone warm and safe.”

ENDS

Image of petitioners outside 10 Downing Street © Jess Hurd

[1] Methodology note: Opinium conducted a nationally representative survey among 2,000 UK Adults from the 24th – 28th November 2023. Results were weighted to be nationally representative. Population estimates based on ONS projections of adults aged 18+ for mid-2021 (the latest figures available), i.e. UK 18+ population 53,188,204.

[2]  Small sample sizes were available for district heating (34% in cold damp homes) and off grid (23%) customers.

[3] Petition information

38 degrees  – Over 88,000 signatures asking for support on energy bills this Winter. 

Debt Justice – Over 17,000 signatures demanding the government urgently act by bringing down bills and help families get out of debt.  

Fuel Poverty Action – over 660,000 signatures demanding #EnergyForAll – Everyone has a right to the energy needed for heating, cooking and light

Warm This Winter – Over 41,000 signatures demanding the Treasury introduce an Emergency Energy Tariff to keep people warm this winter. Also hosted on 350.org 

Chilling figures show children at risk from mould

One in ten new or soon to be parents frequently experience mould in their homes as Britain’s energy crisis bites hard.

The new data was revealed by the Independent and is based on research for the Warm This Winter campaign and suggests that around 850,000 (9.6%) of people who have a child under 6 or who are pregnant (or their partner is pregnant) are exposed to mould frequently. [1]

The numbers increase further to 3.4m (38%) people who have frequent or occasional exposure to mould and who have a child under 6 or who are pregnant.

The tragic case of Awaab Ishak highlighted the need to take the issue of mould in UK homes seriously and the NHS advises all young children to be kept away from damp and mould.

Not only does damp and mould produce mould spores and other toxins that are harmful to health, but even excessive moisture can lead to the growth of mould and other fungi, certain species of house dust mites, bacteria or viruses. 

Rachel Kirby-Rider, Chief Executive at Young Lives vs Cancer, explains: 

“No child should be living in damp or mouldy housing, but for some of the children and young people with cancer we support, this is the reality. For them, the risk of infection is high, and living in a house that is damp or has mould increases this infection risk and other health impacts, leading to hospital admissions or worse. 

“It is vital that the government takes action to make sure that children and young people with cancer have warm homes, free of mould, that are a safe haven for them during their treatment.” [2]

The Government warns that the “more serious the damp and mould problem and the longer it is left untreated, the worse the health impacts and risks are likely to be.” The solutions to mouldy damp homes are insulation and better energy efficiency of buildings as well as access to cheaper renewable energy.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, commented:

“These chilling findings underline why we need further urgent action from the Government to step in and help households stay warm this winter. 

“Vulnerable households, including young families and expectant mothers, are struggling because of Ministers’ failure to provide emergency financial assistance this winter and longer term failures to invest in the permanent solutions to fuel poverty, such as insulation and reform of energy pricing.

“Instead of help from the Government, in the form of an Emergency Energy Tariff for vulnerable households and a Help To Repay scheme for those in energy debt, all parents got from the Chancellor in the Autumn Statement was the cold shoulder.

“The real life impact of decisions made in Westminster are now clear to see.”

Fiona Waters, spokesperson for the Warm This Winter campaign which commissioned the research, commented:

“Families are feeling the squeeze from every direction with the lowest living standards since records began and the poorest and most vulnerable in society bearing the brunt of sky high energy bills which will be increasing again in January.

John McGowan, General Secretary of the Social Workers Union, commented:

“Across the country social workers report seeing families struggling in living conditions that are more like Victorian novels than modern day Britain. It’s clear that households – especially those most at risk from the health complications of living in cold damp homes – need more support.”

Jonathan Bean from Fuel Poverty Action added: 

“We’ve long argued that young children must be protected and kept warm in the winter. This is why the energy industry’s rush to start forcing households with children over the age of two onto prepayment meters, which can click off and leave people without energy, doesn’t make any sense.”

ENDS

[1] Methodology note: Opinium conducted a nationally representative survey among 2,000 UK Adults from the 24th – 28th November 2023. Results were weighted to be nationally representative. Population estimates based on ONS projections of adults aged 18+ for mid-2021 (the latest figures available), i.e. UK 18+ population 53,188,204.

[2] Young Lives vs Cancer Social Worker Rebecca recently blogged about the poor quality housing issues faced by some children and young people with cancer.

Energy bills up in January as public blame Government for crisis

The public has placed the blame for people living in cold damp homes this winter at the door of the Government.  

In the Chancellor’s autumn statement on Wednesday, the Government refused to accept proposals from charities to provide an Emergency Energy Tariff for the most in need households and also ruled out a ‘help to repay’ scheme for the millions of people in energy debt. 

Polling conducted prior to the Autumn Statement for the Warm This Winter campaign found that well over a third of the public (37%) already attributed significant responsibility for the energy bills crisis to Government policy. 

Hardly any respondents (3%) said that Government policy bore no responsibility for people living in cold damp homes. [1]

Meanwhile, the Office of Budget Responsibility has concluded that the impact of the cost of living crisis and high energy bills means that living standards are forecast to be 3½ per cent lower in 2024-25 than pre-pandemic. Economists claim that this is the largest reduction in living standards since records began in the 1950s.

Fi Waters, spokesperson for the Warm This Winter campaign, commented:

“We’re devastated that the emergency energy tariff that would give hard-pressed families money off their monthly bills has not been adopted by the Chancellor in the Autumn Statement, but we’ve not given up. 

“The Government should be putting the vulnerable, disabled people, the elderly, those with medical conditions and the pregnant first rather than condemning them to living in cold damp homes.”

From 1 January 2024, Ofgem have confirmed that the average household’s energy bill will increase by 5% (or £94 a year) from current prices.

Compared to last year, the unit cost changes show decreases, but these are offset by daily standing charges that have increased by 5% for gas and 14% for electricity. Standing charges are now subject to a review by Ofgem.

When compared to pre-crisis levels, gas unit costs are more than double what they were and electricity costs are up 129%. Standing charges are up 8% for gas and 119% for electricity. [3]

A spokesperson from the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, commented:

“These price hikes come at the worst possible time for households. Bills will go up just as winter bites hard and household finances are hit further by Christmas credit cards, the long January pay period and the ongoing wider cost of living crisis.

“We warned* Ofgem that a January price cap rise was a bad idea when the regulator consulted on this in 2022. Now the chilling effect of the change is being realised, the inhumanity of this policy is clear to see.

“It will be anything but a happy new year for people trapped in Britain’s broken energy system.” 

Fi Waters from Warm This Winter continued:

“The price cap rising again in January is yet another kick in the teeth to ordinary people, particularly as in the last few weeks we’ve seen energy companies lining up to announce hundreds of millions of pounds worth of profits. They are raking it in and laughing all the way to the bank while ordinary people can’t afford to turn their heating on.

“It’s clear our energy system is broken. The relentless roll call of obscene profits and now a hike in energy bills in the new year, is not only hugely unfair, it’s costing lives, damaging health and wasting money as our reliance on fossil fuels is keeping bills sky high.”

Jonathan Bean from Fuel Poverty Action added:

“These inflated prices mean more cold damp homes and more deaths. Ofgem is protecting profits not people.”

ENDS

[1] Methodology note: Opinium conducted a nationally representative survey among 2,000 UK Adults from the 20th – 24th October 2023. Results were weighted to be nationally representative.

The public believe that energy firms have similar levels of responsibility as the Government –  showing similar levels of polling (38% felt firms had significant responsibility / 4% thought they had no responsibility). Just 15% said that external factors such as the war in Ukraine had a significant responsibility for the crisis (13% said these had no impact).

Q:UK24852_Q8. Summary – On a scale of 1 to 5 to what extent do you think the following groups are responsible  for the high numbers of people living in cold damp homes each winter? 1 indicates no responsibility at all and 5 indicates significant responsibility.  
  UK government policy Energy companies House builders Landlords External factors, such as the war in Ukraine
Base: All respondents (Unweighted) 2000 2000 2000 2000 2000
Base: All respondents (Weighted) 2000 2000 2000 2000 2000
1 – No responsibility 3% 4% 5% 4% 13%
70 72 108 76 262
2- 8% 7% 12% 8% 13%
150 135 231 163 270
3- 21% 21% 29% 22% 27%
427 421 582 445 535
4- 23% 22% 22% 23% 19%
452 447 443 469 388
5 – Significant responsibility 37% 38% 20% 33% 15%
732 760 404 661 305
Don’t know 8% 8% 12% 9% 12%
170 165 232 186 241


[*] Letter to Ofgem from End Fuel Poverty Coalition on January price rise proposal https://www.endfuelpoverty.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/220614-Ofgem-FINAL.pdf 

[3] Price Cap changes in unit costs and standing charges available at https://www.endfuelpoverty.org.uk/about-fuel-poverty/ofgem-price-cap/ 

 

Struggling households need £73 a month off energy bills to keep warm this winter

Data commissioned by the Warm This Winter campaign has revealed how much it would take to enable struggling households to be able to afford their energy bills. [1]

A fifth (21%) said that they need over £100 a month off their energy bills. On average, people struggling to pay energy costs said they need £73 a month off their bills to keep themselves warm this winter.

A fifth (21%) said that they need over £100 a month. On average, people struggling to pay energy costs said they need £73 a month off their bills to keep themselves warm this winter.

For those in work, the figure is £71 and for those who are not working, it rises to £77 a month.

Furthermore, Ofgem is expected to increase energy bills by 5% from 1 January and predictions from experts show that prices will remain high until March 2025.

Over a third (38%) of people from households where someone is under 5, pregnant, over 65 or with preexisting health conditions think they won’t or may not be able to afford to put the heating on at all this winter. Almost two thirds (62%) already want to put the heating on, but are worried about the cost. 

A wide range of health, poverty, housing and environmental organisations and academics have called on the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt MP, to help families most in need of support through the introduction of an Emergency Energy Tariff and a help to repay scheme for those in energy debt.

The Emergency Energy Tariff would use the existing Energy Price Guarantee mechanism to fix the unit costs and standing charges for vulnerable groups at a lower level. Campaigners have suggested that this is fixed at the levels of energy bills in winter 2020/21, which would see eligible households’ monthly energy bills reduced by approximately £87 a month from current levels – a saving of around 46%. [2]

Polling suggests 83% of the general public – who have an opinion would support such a measure [3].

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, commented:

“If the UK Government thinks that people will be able to get through this winter without more support for their energy bills, then they are living in cloud cuckoo land. 

“We need to see the Chancellor introduce an Emergency Energy Tariff for vulnerable households and a Help To Repay scheme for those in energy debt.

“Even in winter 2024/25, energy bills will be 79% higher than winter 2020/21. Record prices are here to stay and the UK Government needs to take action to help people stay warm this winter and every winter through increased support for insulation and renewables.

“Failure to avert this cold homes crisis will lead to pressure on the NHS, a mental health catastrophe and additional winter deaths caused by living in cold damp homes.”

Fi Waters, spokesperson for the Warm This Winter campaign, said:

“The Government is now running dangerously out of time to help people who are most at risk of the health complications of living in cold damp homes.

“People want to see bills come down permanently, which is going to require further government action.

“We need to see beefed up programmes to insulate homes, more heat pumps fitted, which are cheaper to run, and more homegrown renewable energy built so we can get off expensive gas.”

The initial research to inform the development of the proposal and targeting of support was undertaken by the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute and Cambridge Architectural Research.

ENDS

[1] Methodology note: Opinium conducted a nationally representative survey among 2,000 UK Adults from the 20th – 24th October 2023. Results were weighted to be nationally representative.

Previous research found that 18% of the population spent last winter in cold damp homes, with a quarter of people with health conditions unable to heat their homes to a safe standard (26%, 4.75m).

UK population NET: Working NET: Not working
Base: All answering who would need to cut down essential spending, or couldn’t afford their bill even with essential cuts, or said they were unsure if their bill would be affordable (Weighted) 1339 845 493
[113] £101 or more 21% 17% 28%
281 141 140
[88] £76-£100 17% 18% 13%
222 156 66
[63] £51-£75 20% 24% 14%
269 199 70
[38] £26-£50 14% 15% 13%
191 127 64
[13] £1-£25 2% 3% 2%
32 23 9
[0] I do not need bills to come down in order to stay warm this winter 3% 3% 4%
45 23 22
Don’t know 22% 21% 25%
300 176 124
Average 73.0 70.7 77.2

[2] The full copy of the letter is available online: https://www.endfuelpoverty.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/231101-Chancellor-AS-Letter.pdf 

[3] Polling figures on support for the Emergency Tariff exclude those who responded “don’t know”. Including Don’t Knows still sees consistent support in the high 60s, low 70s percentage.