Heating bills concern 38% of UK population, survey suggests

Person adjusting a thermostatic radiator valve More than half of those polled have cut their energy use in the face of rising bills

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More than a third of people in the UK say they are concerned about paying for their heating bills this winter, a BBC Radio 5 live survey has suggested.

It found 25% of people had put up with "unacceptably cold" homes in the past year as they struggle to pay bills.

And 63% of the 1,035 adults surveyed said they had cut their energy use because of rising costs.

Ministers said they were taking action to help consumers but Labour said fuel poverty had risen under the coalition.

ComRes conducted the interviews by telephone between 30 August and 1 September 2013.

Almost three-quarters believe the UK's energy costs are unreasonable, and 69% said the firms should be nationalised.

While there was support for renewable energy resources in principle - 84% would welcome more solar panels in their area - the prospect of reducing energy prices was also important.

Start Quote

The aims of energy policy are easy to state: energy supplies should be reliable, affordable and clean - achieving them... has never been harder”

End Quote Prof Steve Thomas Energy policy expert, University of Greenwich

Some 67% of people said they would support more coal, oil and gas stations being built in the UK if it brought energy prices down.

Overall, 38% of those surveyed said they were concerned about how they will pay for their heating bills.

An even higher percentage of people in the North West, West Midlands, East Midlands, Yorkshire and Humberside, and Northern Ireland said it was a concern.

People in social grade DE were the most likely to say that they have cut their energy usage, are concerned about how they will pay their bills and have put up with cold temperatures.

'Scary bill'

Jean Clements, from Denton, Greater Manchester, said she has struggled to pay the "spiralling" energy bills since her mechanic husband took a pay cut.

The 39-year-old, who gave up work to look after their five-year-old son, said they got into debt with British Gas at Christmas and they have since installed payment meters.

"It took three months to install them, so we ended up about £700 in debt. At the moment, we are having to pay about £40 a week, £20 in each meter, and it's difficult to maintain.

Cheaper bills

Advice from the Energy Saving Trust:

  • Insulate your hot water cylinder. Could save up to £60 a year
  • Get an eco-shower head. Some water companies are giving them away free; could save you up to £75 a year
  • Swap halogen spot lights with new LED bulbs. Replacing all traditional bulbs with energy saving versions can save £60 a year

Make more energy savings

"Pre-paid meters are about 7% dearer but the benefit is you are not going to get any scary quarterly bill or a bounced direct debit."

She is worried about the onset of winter, especially if it is a harsh one.

"The government needs to be able to work a bit more with Ofgem to regulate the prices and the profits the energy suppliers are making," she said.

"I don't expect handouts. We are a hard-working family but it would be nice if we could get the energy bills reduced."

Vulnerable households

Shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint told BBC Radio 5 live the government's energy strategy was a "disgrace".

She says the government's own figures on the fuel poverty gap - the difference between what households with high energy bills pay out for gas and electricity and the official poverty line - show it has increased by more than 12% in the last two years.

Chart showing BBC survey results on energy use

"This is yet more evidence that David Cameron's failure to get tough with the energy giants has pushed millions of vulnerable households even deeper into fuel poverty," she said.

"It is a disgrace that this government has cut help for people in fuel poverty at the same time as giving millionaires a tax cut."

Energy Secretary Ed Davey said Labour's failure to invest in energy had led to a "massive cost pressure" on bills.

"With our emphasis on competition, on helping vulnerable consumers directly and with our energy efficiency policies, the coalition is delivering in difficult times for people, when Labour failed to deliver in easy times," he said.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change added it was determined to tackle what it called the "scourge" of fuel poverty.

"Two million households received cuts to their bills last winter under the Warm Home Discount and the budget will continue to increase each year, up to £320m for 2015-16," a spokesman said.

The government was also pressing the energy firms to make sure low-income households were not stuck on high tariffs, he said.

The survey was commissioned to mark BBC Radio 5 live's Energy Day. Programmes will be transmitted from a temporary studio powered by renewables, including solar panels, wind turbines and exercise bikes connected to the electricity grid, and feature discussions about all aspects of the energy industry.

Listen to special reports on the UK's energy future as part of 5 live's Energy Day and follow the live blog


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  • rate this

    Comment number 353.

    Re-Nationalise the energy industries to provide a fair and controlled tariff for everyone (This doesn't immediately mean cheap but with the present set up any control appears to be outside of any meaningful control and the tail is wagging the dog). This will also prevent the industry giants currently controlling the energy sources from making excessive profits at the expense of UK consumers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 352.

    My last bill was £1,200. My little 2 bed house is freezing, all electric, night storage 'heating'."

    I have a large 4 bed detached house. My total gas and electricity is less than that (about £1000/yr). You need to install energy efficiency measures then you'll neither be freezing nor paying as much.

  • rate this

    Comment number 351.

    You should have included the option "Re-nationalise the utilities and reduce fuel bills" in your poll.

  • rate this

    Comment number 350.

    Shame on all politicians for getting us to this state, when working folk are struggling to have the basics.
    But you just keep feathering your nest, importing more people & propping up big companies via the working tax credit system. That'll help!! NOT

    And the economy is on the up - pull the other one!

  • rate this

    Comment number 349.

    I turned off the water heater, and use a kettle. I can't move supplier because I am on the 'warmwise' tarif-there is nothing cheaper, but it's not cheap! My last bill was £1,200. My little 2 bed house is freezing, all electric, night storage 'heating'...The Tories sold off all the utilities, now we are all paying the price, having to pay dividends to the rich.I dread winter, the cold kills hope.

  • rate this

    Comment number 348.

    As citizens of the UK we're just lemmings really.

    We are charged the earth for just about everything that is necessary and all we do is moan to each other.

    We must have influence as the majority consumer and be able to thwart these fat cat companies.

    If that majority decided to go to say, one energy company, then the volume of custom would drive down prices there and elsewhere to compete .

  • rate this

    Comment number 347.

    Re-nationalise utilities! Simples. And very long over due.

    It's a pity that all political parties are in the pocket of just the sort of big business that runs the utilities..

    It is obscene that they were allowed to increase prices to off-set the huge reduction in average consumption due to low energy light bulbs!!!! Our bills should have gone down by about a third and so should their profits!

  • rate this

    Comment number 346.

    AVALON your right on all counts, people thinking of doing this should check those points you made, it wont work for all people and getting the chimney swept and checked is essential, but we really did save over 400 quid and more the second year, make or break for us, meant we could eat well instead of starve fella.and most cities are littered with fly tipped and discarded wood.

  • rate this

    Comment number 345.

    Energy is cheap in the UK compared to most other countries. Anyone who cannot afford to heat their home must be a deadbeat. It costs very little in real terms plus it costs next to nothing to put on some warm clothes anyway. That's what our parents and grandparents did.
    Too many namby pambies around.
    Central heating is not a requirement. It is a luxury.

  • rate this

    Comment number 344.

    Energy companies are making plenty of money for their shareholders. Dave and Co like that arrangement so it's no concern of theirs if you find the product pricey. Enough electricity and gas is sold to make it an earner so the strugglers can shut up. The benefits of living in a wealthy country are not there for poor people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 343.

    Why aren't all these people complaining about energy prices out campaigning for fracking?

  • rate this

    Comment number 342.

    Truth logic sustainability the final frontiers @331

    There speaks a true Conservative.

    Cheat on whatever you can get away with. Oh and of course you would have to buy the mobile LPG heater and the LPG to go in it but you can charge that to your expenses too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 341.

    Further, you dont have to pay tax if you dont make any profit, do like Amazon & starbucks etc, gobble up any profit in legitimate expenses & legally pay no tax & you do NOT need or pay for an accountant.
    If retired at home, it can add to your day, provide an interest, anything extra one makes accidently, above need, can simply be donated to a charity of your choice & add to feel good

  • rate this

    Comment number 340.

    The reason energy bills keep rising is mostly due the huge proportion of the price being made up of taxes and VAT.

    The Government should fix the price of oil and gas at about two thirds of the current level and obtain the balance (all of which would be taxes and VAT) from the energy companies and their obscene profits instead of the consumers.

    And inflation would be cut at a stroke.

  • rate this

    Comment number 339.

    With the combination of the RHPP payments of £1300 upfront and the RHI coming next year at 7.3p per kWh then you could effectively get to a point of no heating bill next year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 338.

    The obscene cost of electric/gas in this country is disgusting, I have friends who are still paying off their winter bills from TWO YEARS AGO. autumn and winter have become a nightmare when the cold weather comes. 21st century Britain STINKS

  • rate this

    Comment number 337.

    Why not use the millions we would have spent bombing Syria on reducing heating bills?

  • rate this

    Comment number 336.

    Brentford Activist

    Dennis hates the EU so the "grey suits" will see to it he never gets there. (Same ones who monitor who comes through Eton for future PMs etc...)

  • rate this

    Comment number 335.

    Just now
    Nice one, you will be warm just doing that lot.!. Guess you had a heads up on where to find them, if your screen name is your job as well! Also coal, price round our way not gone up in 3 years.. cant say same for utility energy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 334.

    Mindless nonsense you say! Well I think we found one tory activist on here. Bet your not on a zero hour contract but support it anyway. The biggest con this tory led government has introduced. It may of been a rant but an honest one.D.c is cameron ur mate.


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