Call for Emergency Energy Tariff as vulnerable households fear the winter

Over half of people from vulnerable households (56%) are worried about being cold this winter, according to new data from Opinium, commissioned by the Warm This Winter campaign. [1]

The figure rises to 63% among people living in a household where someone is suffering from a pre-existing health condition or is disabled.

Meanwhile, 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. 

Three quarters (76%) of people living in households with young children will be putting in place measures to keep warm this winter, with almost a quarter (23%) saying the family will be going to bed early to keep warm. 

For people from households where there is an expectant mother, almost nine in ten (88%) are taking cost saving measures, with over a third (35%) of pregnant mothers or their partners saying that they will spend more time in public heated places (for example a library, community centre or warm space).

The energy bills crisis is now predicted to be so severe that a wide range of health, poverty, housing and environmental organisations and academics have written to Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt MP, to request the introduction of an Emergency Energy Tariff.

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 from current levels – a saving of around 46%. [2]


CLICK HERE TO Sign the petition

The coordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, which is part of the campaign to introduce the Tariff, commented:

“The reality of this winter is that, without support, we will be a nation sheltering in warm spaces, cowering in one room of our homes or wrapped up inside like the michelin man. This should not be acceptable in a modern society. 

“Failure by the Government 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.

“The proposed Emergency Energy Tariff is a specific, targeted, time limited and practically possible intervention which the Chancellor can make to send direct help to households who are most at risk of living in cold damp homes. 

“The Government should meet with charities and industry to finalise the details of the proposal. It can then use the opportunity of the Autumn Statement to send a clear message to the public that Ministers understand their suffering and are prepared to help them stay warm this winter.”

Polling suggests that 83% of the public who have an opinion would support such a measure – with support consistently high among all demographic groups and all parts of the UK [3].

The research also suggests that, among those who will have to cut back on essentials to afford their energy bills or can’t afford them, the plans for an Emergency Energy Tariff would provide them with enough financial support to enable them to avoid the worst of the winter crisis. [4] 

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

“As millions of households batten down the hatches and prepare for a miserable winter in cold damp homes, only the Government can now prevent a winter crisis.

“As well as this emergency tariff for those now priced out of the market, people want to see bills come down permanently, which is going to require 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.”

Jan Shortt, General Secretary of the National Pensioners Convention:

“Government financial support for this winter is absolutely crucial to older and vulnerable people. A longer term effective policy of addressing fuel poverty must contain genuine and active moves to sustainable, renewable and affordable energy.”

The Chancellor has also recently been urged to use the Autumn Statement to tackle record levels of existing energy debt through a Help To Repay scheme, which would be in addition to support for tariffs to prevent debt levels escalating further.

Researchers examined the make-up of groups who think they will or could be  unable to afford to turn the heating on this winter and found little difference between groups who work or do not work and found that 27% of people who are not on benefits can’t or may not be able to afford to heat their home. However, with 50% of benefit recipients saying they will not or may not be able to afford to turn their heating on, campaigners have also called for the Government to upweight pensions and benefits in line with inflation and remove punitive measures such as the two-child benefits cap.

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.

Dr Jason Palmer, Cambridge Architectural Research:

“Financial support for households struggling with fuel poverty is critical this winter, and only with government help will the most vulnerable people stay out of hospital and avoid anxiety from going into debt. This support should run in parallel with much greater investment in energy efficiency to address fuel poverty and bring down carbon emissions from homes.”

Dr Tina Fawcett, Associate Professor, University of Oxford:

“Our research has helped identify how to effectively target vital support to households most at risk this winter. To avoid future energy bill crises, locally we need more investment in energy efficiency and energy advice, and nationally we must rapidly reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.”

Rachael Williamson, Head of Policy and External Affairs, Chartered Institute of Housing:

“Our members see first hand the impact that high energy prices are having on some of the most vulnerable. Even before the recent rapid increase in gas and electricity prices, approximately 4.5 million UK households were living in fuel poverty. An emergency energy tariff would help provide targeted support for those most at risk this winter. This should be coupled with a longer-term strategy to develop a social tariff, boost energy efficiency and tackle energy debt so we can reduce fuel poverty and carbon emissions.”

Alex Massey, Head of Policy, Public Affairs and Campaigns, MND Association

“People living with MND have been hardest hit by the energy crisis. Many rely on a wide range of personal powered equipment at home to maintain life, health and wellbeing. Consequently, soaring energy costs have placed many households in an impossible financial position. Targeted government investment is now essential to prevent people living with MND being forced to choose between which vital piece of medical equipment to switch off this winter.”


Notes to Editors

[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).

[2] Read the pdf of the letter online:

[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. 

[4] On average, researchers found that these groups felt they needed £73 off their monthly bill this winter to make it affordable to heat their homes to a comfortable level. The proposed Emergency Energy Tariff would provide approximately £87 off the bills.

Government isolated as organisations line up to back energy tariff reform

Over 140 charities, organisations and MPs have taken joint action to call on the government to support vulnerable households with their energy bills.

In an open letter sent to the Prime Minister [pdf], the groups highlight how the government is yet to announce any winter financial support, despite households facing even higher costs of living and with energy bills still at relative highs.

According to new polling carried out for National Energy Action by YouGov, a third of British adults are expecting to struggle to afford their heating bills this winter if the government doesn’t offer financial help with energy bills.

The government has previously committed to consult on future approaches to consumer protections including a social tariff. This was promised on repeated occasions, as the End Fuel Poverty Coalition has highlighted to the Speaker of the House of Commons.

But with the next winter looming and no consultation launched, the signatories to the letter are urging the government to make good on its commitment to consult on a social tariff.

Adam Scorer, CEO at National Energy Action, said:

“With a third of households expecting to struggle to heat their homes this winter, the cost of energy will remain simply unaffordable for millions.

“We have to face reality. Even without a price rise, which now looks likely in January, the crisis is deepening, and it demands a proper response from government now.

“That means urgent targeted financial support this winter and for government to get moving on its commitments to consult on and deliver a longer-term social tariff for energy.”

Caroline Abrahams CBE, Charity Director of Age UK, said:

“We believe the introduction of a comprehensive, targeted energy social tariff is the best way to deliver support to those who need it. That’s why we are calling on the government to keep their promise and launch a consultation. Older people struggling to heat their homes have waited patiently only to learn that in fact there would be no social tariff consultation before the autumn.

“With estimates showing that high energy prices are here to stay, at least for the next two winters, this targeted support package cannot come soon enough for our older population.”

Louise Rubin, Head of Policy at disability equality charity Scope, said:

“Life costs a lot more for disabled people. When you rely on energy for equipment to help you breathe or get out of bed, cutting back on energy is not an option.

“Last winter pushed disabled people and their families to the brink. Now disabled people who’ve cut back everything they can are facing the terrifying prospect of even higher energy bills.

“We’re hearing from people who have been forced to go without food for days. One person told us they’d been surviving on food donations from a neighbour.

“We need emergency support now, and a social energy tariff to end sky-high bills for disabled people. The government must keep its promise.”

Frazer Scott, CEO of Energy Action Scotland, said that a social tariff is essential for health and wellbeing:

“That we are still having to argue a case for a social tariff as we approach autumn is a disgrace. People need to know that essential and basic levels of heat and power are within reach.

“The UK government must work with regulators and energy suppliers to create a long-term, fair and affordable social tariff. Millions of households are approaching this winter with significant amounts of debt. This means that while gas and electricity prices remain at historically high levels, energy bills are simply unaffordable for those on the lowest incomes, those with essential medical needs, the disabled and older people. It is exacerbated by poor-quality housing, that is cold and damp. This is fast becoming a humanitarian crisis unfolding in plain sight of our politicians and policymakers.”

A Department for Energy Security and Net Zero spokesperson told Press Association that the Government “continues to keep all options under review for those most in need.”

But a spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition responded:

“MPs on the Energy Select Committee back reform to energy tariffs, MPs on All Party Parliamentary Groups back reform, charities and campaigners back reform, the public backs reform. Even energy firms support reform.

“The only people left who do not support making our energy system fairer are Rishi Sunak and his Cabinet. They need to wake up to the strength of feeling on this issue and take action now to keep people warm this winter – and every winter.”

Call for social tariff as a quarter of old people live in cold homes

New research by Age UK shows that a quarter (24 per cent) of over-60s are living in homes which are colder than they would like them to be, rising to 27 per cent for older people with a disability.

The polling comes as 100 charities and non-profit organisations across the UK have joined together to call for more targeted support in the form of a social tariff for the energy market to help older and disabled households heat their homes.

A social energy tariff is a discounted, targeted tariff aimed at those in greatest need to ensure they are able to live in their homes comfortably.

The plans have been set out in a letter to the Chancellor and would support low-income households who face a double burden from the rising cost of bills and paying more for their energy due to the poverty premium.

The letter calls for targeted support to be made available to those who need it most – including those on means-tested benefits, disability benefits and Carer’s Allowance as well as those missing out on welfare support but still struggling with their bills.

In addition, National Energy Action and Energy Action Scotland have today released their latest Fuel Poverty Monitor which provides an annual analysis of how the energy crisis has impacted fuel-poor households.

The Monitor confirms that households living on the lowest incomes, in the least efficient homes and on pre-payment meters, are being hardest hit by energy price increases.

It recommends the Government urgently consults on a mandatory social tariff to begin in April 2024, or sooner if practicable, to provide affordable energy for low-income and vulnerable households; and that the focus of this should be to ensure that the targeting of such a scheme goes beyond just those households that receive means-tested benefits.

From April 2023, the Government’s Energy Bills Support Scheme comes to an end and the support provided by the Energy Price Guarantee will be reduced.

Demand for the charities’ services are high and they are being inundated with calls from people in dire need, for example those relying on medical equipment like dialysis machines, who are facing a daily struggle to keep their equipment turned on and stay warm and well.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said:

Imagine having to choose between staying warm, feeding your family, or powering essential medical equipment. This is the reality for increasing numbers of older and disabled households across the country.

Older people are struggling to get by now, and that’s before another energy price increase comes their way in a few months’ time. Many will simply not be able to cope with further price rises and we’re extremely concerned their health and wellbeing will pay the price.

There needs to be much more protection for those who have no other means of paying such extortionate energy costs. The Government must introduce a social tariff for the energy market whilst prices are so high, and ensure we never face a crisis like this again.

Fuel Poverty Monitor author Matt Copeland, head of policy and public affairs at National Energy Action, says:

We spoke to over a hundred organisations across the UK, directly with our clients and polled the general public. From this it’s clear that the energy crisis is having a profound impact on the poorest and most vulnerable households in society.

Whether households are heating just one room for just a few hours a week, or rationing the use of their medical equipment, the results are completely unacceptable in modern day society. So far, the UK Government has offered sticking plaster solutions to the crisis.

What is really needed is structural change to the energy market. We were told time and again that a social tariff is what is needed. Today we come together with hundreds of other organisations to say just that. The UK Government must urgently prioritise work to implement a social tariff as soon as possible.

James Taylor, Director of Strategy at disability equality charity Scope, said:

Astronomical energy bills are pushing disabled people to the brink.

Our helpline has been inundated with calls from disabled people whose bills have doubled or even quadrupled in a year.

Prices will rise again this April but disabled families have nothing left to cut back on. They can’t turn off vital, life-saving equipment and budgets can’t stretch any further.

Other plans for an “Energy For All” allowance for all households to have access to a free band of energy are also being developed by End Fuel Poverty Coalition members.