What is fuel poverty and who does it affect?

What is fuel poverty?

You’d think the definition of fuel poverty was simply struggling to afford energy bills or insulation to keep your house warm. But in England, the government defines fuel poverty as:

  • households having less than £1,495 disposable income left each month after paying gas and electricity bills* and
  • living in a home with a low energy efficiency rating (and therefore being more expensive to heat).

This current definition, introduced this year, has limitations. The government accept their new definition will not capture all of those who can't afford to heat their homes. For example, those living in poverty but in well-insulated homes.

*this is 60% of median disposable income, which will change over time.

Fuel poverty is linked with poor health and wellbeing

If you’re living in fuel poverty, you’re much more likely to live in a cold home and/or live somewhere with poor energy efficiency, which is linked to inadequate insulation and damp living conditions.

Cold homes are bad for your health. They can make pre-existing conditions worse, lead to new health conditions and even cause premature death. Some health problems associated with living in a cold home include:

  • a higher chance of getting a respiratory infection and bronchitis
  • stress on the cardiovascular system
  • making asthma symptoms worse, or causing asthma to develop
  • an increased risk of mental health problems.
A woman with a cup of tea and blanket looking outside the window. It's raining, and we can't see her face.

Fuel poverty in England

While the government data on fuel poverty is only available for England, there is a clear regional differences. For example, 41% of neighbourhoods in the West Midlands are rated worst for fuel poverty in comparison to 1% in the South East.

Take a look deeper into our fuel poverty map and find out the level of fuel poverty in your local area.

Who does fuel poverty affect?

No matter who you are, if you live in a cold home, your health and wellbeing are at risk.

But people on a low income, people of colour, young people and disabled people are more affected by fuel poverty.

Case study: cancer patient living in fuel poverty

Colin, who lives with cancer, had his energy bill doubled overnight. His oncologist asked him to keep his flat at a certain temperature, however, he couldn't afford to. This heartbreaking story is a reality faced by many ill people all over the UK. Listen to Colin's story, in his own words.

Case study: disabled person living in fuel poverty

Low income is one of the key reasons people struggle with fuel poverty. For disabled people, the cost of living is higher than someone who isn't disabled. Disabled people are almost twice as likely to be unemployed compared to non-disabled people. And many who can work, can't work full-time, affecting their finances.

Jess, 28, from Derby tells us what it’s like living in fuel poverty as a disabled person.

My income is very much affected by my disability. I can't work full-time due to fatigue and the sheer number of medical appointments I have. I'd love to be in a position where I can physically work full-time, but I have to accept it's never going to be the case for me.

Energy prices keep rising and its put a lot of extra pressure on me. We're entering winter and it's a worry how I'll afford to keep my home warm - something a 28-year-old really shouldn't have at the top of their agenda. I always put extra layers on and blankets prior to putting the heating on, but now I've started questioning what meals I can make which use less electricity.

I've been unwell in the past due to limiting my heating and the impact this has had on my already struggling immune system. I like to think that I try not to worry about things I can't control, but in reality these things do worry me and are an additional stress which my mind and body don't need.

Is there fuel poverty in your local area?

Remember, your council has the power to allocate funds to tackle fuel poverty in your area.

If you're concerned about the levels of fuel poverty in your local area, find out who your MP is and ask them to take action on fuel poverty.

If you're experiencing fuel poverty, Fuel Poverty Action has information and advice on dealing with energy companies, as well as knowing your rights.

Learn more about fuel poverty