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Last Updated: Saturday, 10 February 2007, 05:36 GMT
Pensioner fuel bills 'a disgrace'
By Paul Lewis
BBC Radio 4's Money Box

A female pensioner sitting in front of an electric heater at home
One in five elderly respondents said there were in fuel poverty
Half of Britain's pensioners are said to be cutting back on other things to pay annual fuel bills averaging 1,100.

A survey by energy comparison website uSwitch indicated that two million over-60s spent more than a tenth of their income on fuel.

One in five were concerned their health would suffer as electricity and gas price rises outstripped pensions.

Experts warn the government may not meet its pledge that every pensioner could afford a warm home by 2010.

We need action now to put an end to this national disgrace
Ann Robinson, uSwitch

uSwitch's consumer policy director Ann Robinson told BBC Radio 4's Money Box programme: "The government will not meet its target for taking vulnerable people out of fuel poverty by 2010.

"Even with the price cuts we are seeing there are still going to be well over a million who can't afford a warm home.

"That is why we need action now to put an end to this national disgrace."

Money Box listener Paulene explained how she coped.

"I have it on the lowest, lowest temperature I possibly can for a little bit in the evening," she said.

"My children tell me how cold my house is. I don't even like cooking and using all that gas. I'd rather quickly warm food up in the microwave.

"It's a worry at the back of your mind all the time."

Superhuman effort

The chairman of the government's own Fuel Poverty Advisory Group, Peter Lehmann, agrees that the government will find it tough to meet its target.

"2010 is only three years away," he told the programme.

"You can't put in enough energy efficiency measures in time. Therefore as well as stepping up these measures, prices must be reduced for vulnerable groups and a superhuman effort made to improve the take-up of existing benefits such as Pension Credit."

In the uSwitch survey, carried out by pollsters ICM, one in five elderly respondents were in fuel poverty, defined by the government as spending at least 10% of their income on fuel bills.

HAVE YOUR SAY
The winter fuel allowance should be means-tested
Peter, Leeds

Nearly one in three (30%) were cutting back on essentials to pay their bills, and nearly one in four (23%) were turning down the temperature to keep their bills down.

In 2001 the government published a legally binding "Fuel Poverty Strategy" which committed it to eradicating fuel poverty for vulnerable groups including pensioners by 2010.

In a statement the Department for Food and Rural Affairs admitted that more than three million people were still in fuel poverty and that "the attainment of our fuel poverty targets by the dates set out... remains very challenging".

BBC Radio 4's Money Box will be broadcast on Saturday, 10 February at 1204 GMT.

The programme will be repeated on Sunday 11 February 2006 at 2102 GMT.



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SEE ALSO
Fuel poverty plea from watchdog
06 Dec 06 |  Scotland
More homes suffering fuel poverty
31 Mar 06 |  Scotland
Fuel poverty to increase in 2006
30 Jan 06 |  Business
Fuel poverty is 'new social evil'
09 Aug 05 |  Business
Call for action over fuel poverty
05 Jul 05 |  Northern Ireland

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