Fuel or food: tough choice for St Albans residents this winter

The latest DWP figures for SADC (2019) show there are 9.3 per cent of households in fuel poverty.

The latest DWP figures for SADC (2019) show there are 9.3 per cent of households in fuel poverty. - Credit: PA

Thousands of families living in fuel poverty across the St Albans district will be forced to make tough decisions on whether to heat their home or eat this winter.

Energy bills are due to increase by at least £139 to a record high under Ofgem’s latest price cap, making this winter particularly tough.

The Herts Advertiser is launching a #therewithyouthiswinter campaign focusing on the financial hardship of the most vulnerable in the borough.

A household is considered to be fuel poor if they live in a property with low energy efficiency and would be pushed below the poverty line by housing costs and the energy bills needed to have a warm, well-lit home.

The latest DWP figures for SADC (2019) show there are 9.3 per cent of households in fuel poverty (5,623 out of a total 60,507). 

Winter Fuel Payments were introduced in 1997 to tackle fuel poverty among pensioners. Households with someone receiving a state pension are automatically entitled to a tax-free sum of between £100 and £300 each year towards the heating bill.

Latest Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures for 2019/2020 revealed the number of people receiving payments in St Albans district has fallen by 13 per cent in a decade from 14,720 in the winter of 2009/10 to 12,740 in 2019/20.

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The DWP has put the fall over the last decade down to controversial changes to the state pension age.

Last winter 24,340 pensioners in the SADC area accessed payments. A total of 9,630 people received £100, 2,600 residents received £150. A further 8,070 people received £200 and 4,030 received £300.

Successive governments have raised the state pension age for women in line with men. Hiking up the age of entitlement for women meant fewer of them could claim winter fuel payments.

The DWP says this drop more than offset the increase in the overall number of pensioners in recent years.

A DWP spokesman said: “The Government makes more than 11.5 million winter fuel payments totalling £2billion a year to help people pay their heating bills. Nearly all are automatic without the need to claim.

“As the state pension age for women has increased since April 2010 it follows that the annual numbers eligible for payments will fall slightly.”

Key factors that can contribute to fuel poverty are the energy efficiency of the property, the cost of that energy to heat a home and the household income.

People can contact Citizens Advice St Albans in the Civic Centre, off St Peter's Street. Those with no one to talk to can call the Samaritans on 116 123.