Page last updated at 05:47 GMT, Tuesday, 20 October 2009 06:47 UK

'Time for action' on fuel poverty

Maria Battle
Too many people in Wales are having to choose this winter between heating and eating
Maria Battle, Consumer Focus Wales

A charter aimed at ridding Wales of fuel poverty by 2018 is being launched by charities and consumer groups.

Campaigners say one in four Welsh households - 320,000 - experience fuel proverty, meaning they have to spend 10% or more of their income on heating.

The chair of the Wales Fuel Poverty Coalition said they have united to say "now is the time for action".

Environment Minister Jane Davidson, who will receive the charter later, said she wants to work with the coalition.

Nuria Zolle, director of the charity National Energy Action Cymru, said that without a co-ordinated action plan, Wales would still be living with fuel poverty in a decade.

She said: "The coalition has gathered in the belief that it is essential and achievable for fuel poverty to be eradicated in Wales by 2018".

Robert and Vicky Harris

Robert Harris, 25, a van driver from Llansamlet, Swansea, has to call on family, friends and colleagues to help him pay the fuel bills and mortgage when he was diagnosed with cancer for the third time last year.

He had first been diagnosed with a rare form of head and neck cancer in 2005, a week before wife Vicki had their daughter, Ffion. He had to go for chemotherapy and radiotherapy and his weight dropped five stones in two months because he had trouble eating.

"As a result I constantly felt cold. I had to have the heating on in the house all the time," he said. During his illness, he said, the family's finances were drastically hit, but he was luckily able to get a Macmillan grant which helped pay the large fuel and electricity bills.

The cancer reappeared a second time, and then a year ago Mr Harris was referred to the Royal Marsden Hospital in London for chemotherapy after suffering double vision caused by a third tumour.

He had to travel to London for seven weeks for the treatment, and the family had to rely on the generosity of family to help pay the bills.

"Honestly, it was the last thing I wanted to think about when I was just trying to concentrate on getting over the illness," said Mr Harris, who is now back at work, but still trying to deal with financial legacy of being ill.

The coalition's charter also demands support for households in fuel poverty and a co-ordinated approach linking government with private, voluntary and community sectors.

Ms Zolle added: "No-one is in favour of fuel poverty - but without a concerted and co-ordinated action plan, and support for those suffering, we will still be living with it in a decade's time. The coalition has come together to say now is the time for action".

The coalition of about 12 charities is led by Consumer Focus Wales and NEA Cymru.

According to the campaigners, the average price of gas has increased 67% since January 2006, while the cost of electricity has risen 37%.

In Wales, they claim, high energy prices are compounded by poor housing stock, a high incidence of poverty and low income, and a high proportion of homes not being connected to the gas network.

Maria Battle, senior director of Consumer Focus Wales, said: "Too many people in Wales are having to choose this winter between heating and eating.

"Too many people, including children are suffering the direct and indirect effects of fuel poverty. We believe no-one in Wales should have to live in a cold home."

Carbon emissions

She said there were ways and means of combating fuel poverty including energy efficiency measures and helping people claim the benefits they are currently not.

Ms Davidson said tackling fuel poverty in Wales was high on her list of objectives and an updated fuel poverty strategy would be published for consultation in the next couple of weeks.

"Making homes more energy efficient will also play a significant part in hitting our target of cutting carbon emissions by 3% a year from 2011, enabling an 80% reduction before 2050," she said.

"Our National Energy Efficiency and Savings Plan aims to reduce Wales' greenhouse gas emissions by making all parts of Welsh society more energy efficient.

"The plan contains changes to the Home Energy Efficiency Scheme (HEES) so that it helps the people who need it most.

"This scheme has a good record - since 2000 we have spent £100m to help 100,000 Welsh households save money on their heating."

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