Fuel poverty is defined as the need to spend more than 10% of 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 large, 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 defined as 'fuel poor' fell by 3.5 million between 1996 and 2004, thanks in part to these measures and reduced energy prices and improved energy efficiency. However, National Energy Action estimates that there were still some three million UK households in fuel poverty even before the 2006 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 advice on energy efficiency and offering customers' flexible payment methods. We provide extra support for customers facing fuel poverty and for those who are particularly vulnerable, including free and discounted cavity wall and loft 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 they're entitled to. We have also increased the rebate for the special Age Concern tariff, which helps more than 185,000 of our older customers.
In 2006, we launched 'CaringEnergy', a comprehensive programme specifically designed to support vulnerable customers by reducing their energy bills through improved energy efficiency advice and advice on grants and benefits. More information on 'CaringEnergy' is available here.