Research highlights millions plunged into fuel poverty

An estimated 4.5 million people have been plunged into fuel poverty by energy price rises, but less than one in 10 of these benefit from social tariffs, research has claimed.

Comparison website uSwitch said recent 15 per cent hikes in energy bills had pushed a further 500,000 people into fuel poverty. But despite this it said the UK's six biggest energy suppliers had less than 400,000 people signed up to their social tariffs.

It added that even once suppliers had carried out plans to boost the number of people who received these rates, they would still be helping less than one million customers.

The group claimed that being on a social tariff also did not guarantee people the lowest rate, with some suppliers recently offering lower rates to people on mainstream plans, while one provider expected people on its social tariff to pay by direct debit, effectively excluding those who did not have a bank account.

Research carried out by the group found that more than a third of households paid between £61 and £100 a month for energy, while 10 per cent paid out more than £100.

It warned that rising bills were impacting on people's quality of life, with 10 per cent saying they could not afford to keep warm this winter, while 29 per cent had been forced to cut back on heating or make savings elsewhere.

Retired people had been particularly hard hit by the price rises, with average energy bills taking up 10 per cent of their income after housing costs, rising to nearly 17 per cent among the poorest pensioners.

Image: Energy price rises are hitting the people least able to afford them hard

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