Third of residents suffer fuel poverty

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UNCLAIMED benefits, hard to heat housing, and increased energy costs have pushed nearly a third of East Lindsey residents into fuel poverty, a report has revealed.

Lincolnshire County Council’s environmental scrutiny committee has investigated the causes and potential solutions to the problem, amid fears it could worsen without decisive action.

Committee chairman Coun Colin Davie said: “When it was decided to set up this group, fuel poverty was already a huge challenge for Lincolnshire’s residents - on the latest data available over a quarter of our households are already living in fuel poverty.

“Professor Hill’s recently published national report into the subject forecasts a doubling of the number of households suffering fuel poverty within four years.

“Nationally we are in this mess because of a total failure by government over the last two decades to provide a fit for purpose energy policy.

“A deregulated market has led to our residents suffering confusion created by energy companies, with the seemingly endless number of tariffs available.

“The very nature of our county, being largely rural, sparse and relatively low wage, means that we suffer more acutely than most.

“However, we discovered over £100 million of benefits to which our residents in this county are entitled, go unclaimed - it is an imperative, not just socially, but economically that this matter is addressed.”

In East Lindsey, 33 per cent of residents suffer fuel poverty which is significantly higher than the national average of 18 per cent and the highest figure for the whole of Lincolnshire.

An elderly population, low wages and unemployment are contributing factors to the district’s fuel poverty problem but the committee’s investigation has identified a number of other issues which it feels can be addressed to reduce its effects.

Although there is a lot of advice and financial support available to tackle fuel poverty, the report claims that the large number of different schemes and initiatives makes it hard to navigate’ resulting in an estimated £100 million of benefits going unclaimed.

The committee recommends that the council provides support to organisations to undertake a targeted campaign to ensure that residents claim the benefits they are entitled to.

East Lindsey’s high level of residents living in park homes and with much of the other housing also deemed ‘hard to heat’ is also thought to exacerbate the fuel poverty problem.

To combat this, the report recommends investing money from its New Homes Bonus - a government grant to support the creation of new homes, to bring poor existing private housing up to standard.

It also suggests the creation of a landlord accreditation scheme to encourage property owners to make their properties energy efficient and for tenants to be aware of this when considering where to rent.

Although Coun Davie concedes that the challenges ahead in combating fuel poverty are substantial, he feels that with local effort and partnership working, Lincolnshire can meet those requirements. He has also praised existing initiatives such as the HELP scheme that have successfully fitted more than 14,000 properties with insulation to help reduce their energy bills.