Three-quarters of low income families struggled with their energy bills last year, jeopardising the health of their children, according to charity Turn2us.
The organisation has today launched the 'Cut out the Cold' campaign, which will offer free tools and information until February 14 to help low income families increase their household income and manage energy costs – something MoneySavingExpert.com has been helping households do for years (see our Cheap Energy Club to save on your gas and electricity).
The campaign comes in response to Turn2us's research, which found that 78% of low income families (those whose annual household income is less than £25,000 before tax) faced problems paying their energy bills and were unable to heat their homes enough so that no one felt cold.
Over half of those polled (2,060) said their children's school work has suffered due to their cold home, while 61% of families said they have had to cut back on food, which is causing their diets to suffer.
Worryingly, over half of those surveyed do not think there is enough support for those struggling and almost 50% of people hadn't checked their eligibility for benefits.
In addition, seven out of 10 families have never heard of the Warm Home Discount (it requires the big suppliers, by law, to help eligible vulnerable pensioners pay for energy) and a staggering 86% had also not checked what free charitable grants exist.
Top tips to help you cut your energy costs
- See what charitable grants are available: An estimated £100 million in grants and other services are given out to people in difficulty. It depends on where you live, your background and circumstances, but you could be eligible for a free grant. Visit the Turn2us website to search for grants.
- Do a benefits check: Over three-quarters of low income earners may be missing out on financial help such as the Cold Weather Payment. Do a free, 10 minute benefits check via Turn2us or see MSE's Benefits check-up tool.
- Get debt advice: One in six families would consider taking out a payday loan to cover their energy costs, but this can lead to even more debt. To find out more about debt and what you're actually spending, see the free tool My Money Steps.
- Check your energy tariff: Join our Cheap Energy Club to compare the tariff you are on to make sure you're getting the best deal and then easily switch if you find a cheaper deal (you'll also get up to £30 cashback if you switch).
- Become more energy efficient: There are a number of schemes from the Government, energy suppliers and local councils that may be able to help make your home more energy efficient, which should lower your bills. See the Turn2us website or MSE's Housing and energy grants guide.
'It's alarming that over one million families are struggling in fuel poverty'
Alison Taylor, director of Turn2us, says: "More people than ever before are worried about finding the money to pay for their energy bills. People have no option but to cut back on essentials and borrow money.
"It's alarming that for the first time in a decade, over one million families are struggling in fuel poverty, and at the same time, the poorest fifth of households have seen the amount they spend on energy leap up. With cold homes affecting children's health and even their attainment at school, they risk being caught in a cycle of poverty as they grow up.
"We need to see more done to help raise awareness of the financial support and help available to manage energy bills. That is why we have launched our Cut out the Cold campaign, to ensure that struggling families get the help they need this winter. With household costs continuing to rise, the effects on family finances could be felt for some time. It is vital that people on low incomes are not left behind."