Fuel poverty is defined as the need to spend more than 10% of your income on heating, cooking and electricity just to maintain a basic level of warmth and sustenance. Elderly and disabled people and low income families are at obvious risk, but bad insulation can make a difficult situation much worse, especially in larger older homes. The Government has ultimate responsibility for dealing with fuel poverty, primarily through provisions like pension credits and the winter fuel payment. The number of households affected fell by over 4.5 million between 1998 and 2001 thanks to these measures but National Energy Action estimates that there were still some three million UK households in fuel poverty before the latest price rises, with around half of them including people over the age of 60.
The industry has its own role to play in tackling fuel poverty, including giving people advice on energy efficiency and offering them a range of flexible payment methods. At E.ON UK we provide extra support for customers facing fuel poverty and for those who are particularly vulnerable. This help includes offering discounted cavity wall insulation and free energy-saving light bulbs for all residential customers, as well as free benefit entitlement checks, so that customers can be sure they are claiming all the state benefits available to them. We have also increased the rebate for the special Age Concern tariff, which helps over 185,000 of our older customers.
Vulnerable customers can also sign up for our priority service register, which allows a range of assistance and support to be offered, including services such as free safety checks, help with reading meters, and temporary heating and cooking facilities if there is an interruption in the gas supply.
If customers have problems paying their bills we will sometimes refer them to their benefits agency, social services department or other agencies, such as the local Citizen's Advice Bureau, money advice centre or Age Concern. In serious cases, where disconnection becomes a possibility, we have a team of specially trained employees who will manage the situation.