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Almost 400,000 more UK homes heading for fuel poverty, campaigners say | Fuel poverty

Almost 400,000 UK households could be pushed into fuel poverty this winter as energy bills climb by almost 10% as a result of rising gas market prices.

At least 3 million homes in the UK are already thought to be unable to afford their energy bills, and the number in fuel poverty could grow by 392,000 within the coming months.

Fuel poverty campaigners have warned that for every one percentage point rise in annual energy bills, an additional 40,000 homes may fall into the fuel poverty category.

The warning comes as energy experts raised concern that the average dual fuel energy bill could jump by an average of £112 a year from October if the energy regulator’s price cap is reset at its highest ever level after record gas market prices.

Simon Francis, the coordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, said a second energy bill hike this year would “be disastrous for the millions on the brink of fuel poverty”. Francis added that many were “still reeling from the increases in bills caused by stay-at-home lockdown measures for the last 18 months”.

“Any price rise – however small – will mean the choice between heating or eating becomes even starker later this year,” he said. “If that wasn’t bad enough, fuel poverty can make respiratory illnesses worse – meaning conditions such as Covid may be exacerbated by living in cold, damp homes.”

A standard gas and electricity bill is expected to climb to an average of £1,250 a year this winter after a dramatic surge in global energy markets, which has forced gas prices across Europe to record highs.

The energy regulator, Ofgem, is expected to raise the maximum rate at which suppliers can charge homes using standard variable energy tariffs – affecting 15 million homes – based on the costs faced by energy suppliers.

But even households that have shopped around for a cheaper energy deal are likely to pay far more this winter as cheap fixed-rate deals come to an end and disappear from the market.

Matt Copeland, the head of policy at National Energy Action, a fuel poverty campaign group, said although Ofgem’s price cap is important to help protect bill-payers from unfair prices, the regulator should work with the government to help those worst affected by rising utility debt and improve home insulation.

“Without intervention, more people will remain cold at home during the winter, be more susceptible to respiratory illness, and unfortunately many will die. That is a truly unacceptable outcome, especially as the solutions to avoid it are well known,” he said.

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