Page last updated at 15:35 GMT, Monday, 4 February 2008

Fuel poverty aim 'will be missed'

Woman sitting in front of fire
Customers using prepayment meters face higher bills

A target to end fuel poverty in England by 2010 will be missed, according to the Government's advisers on the topic.

The Fuel Poverty Advisory Group says more than a million vulnerable households will spend more than a tenth of their income on fuel by 2010.

The group has criticised the government for failing to take the "difficult decisions" needed.

But a minister has hit back, saying that "cherry-picking figures" has not struck at the complexity of the issue.

"Unfortunately, the Government, in spite of its record on fuel poverty for some years and its continuing interest in the issue, has not been willing to take the difficult decisions needed to make further progress in eradicating fuel poverty," Peter Lehmann, chairman of the advisory group, told the BBC News website.

The Government had failed to take some of the group's suggestion on board over the last year or two, he added.

Expensive poverty

The key areas that needed Government action were led by funding on Warm Front grants and the growing gap between those paying by direct debit and those on prepayment meters or paying by cash or cheques, the group said.

It said Warm Front spending would be 25% lower in 2008-11 that it was in 2007-8.

The Government's policies and lack of action have now made it impossible to meet the target
Fuel Poverty Advisory Group

It also said that customers using prepayment meters for gas and electricity paid 140 a year more than those paying by direct debit or online.

Those paying by cash or cheque faced bills of about 70 more than those on direct debit, said the group.

'Significant spending'

But Phil Woolas, Defra minister, said: "Fuel poverty is an incredibly serious issue.

"Cherry- picking figures does not do it justice or reflect the complexity of the problem," he added.

"Energy suppliers are part of the solution. The Government's Carbon Emissions Reduction Target will see energy suppliers double their obligation to making homes warmer and more energy efficient over the next three years."

"A considerable 20bn investment and a raft of cross-government measures [are] in place to eradicate it."

Price rises

Energy provider Scottish Power increased gas bills by an average of 15% and electricity prices by 14% on Saturday.

It was the fourth of the big energy providers to announce double-digit rises, after similar moves in recent weeks by British Gas, Npower and EDF.

But Mr Lehmann said that the Government's target to eradicate fuel poverty in vulnerable households in England by 2010 was set to be missed, even without the latest price rises.

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