Higher energy bills push 300,000 more Britons into fuel poverty
LONDON (Reuters) - An extra 300,000 British households are struggling to keep warm this winter after major energy suppliers squeezed by higher costs raised energy prices, a government advisory group reported on Monday.
The country's major energy suppliers boosted prices citing higher commodity prices, government-imposed social programmes and transmission costs.
"The latest round of energy price rises has increased the average annual energy bill by around 7 percent to 1,247 pounds for direct debit customers.
"This increase is likely to have pushed a further 300,000 households into fuel poverty," said the government's Fuel Poverty Advisory Group in its annual report.
A household slips into fuel poverty when it pays more than 10 percent of its income on resources for adequate heating.
Around a quarter of Britain's households, or over 6.5 million, are now considered fuel poor.
Britain's biggest six energy suppliers, who control 99 percent of the retail market, all raised prices for this winter, with EDF Energy announcing the steepest increases at 10.8 percent for both electricity and gas supply.
The group urged the government to take more action to fight fuel poverty. Inaction could result in more than 9 million households living in fuel poverty in 2016.
Nearly half of Britain's fuel poor households are pensioners and 34 percent contain someone with a disability or long-term illness, leaving them additionally vulnerable without proper heating.
The government said its so-called Warm Home Discount Scheme will give financial help to more than two million households struggling to pay energy bills this year.
"The Coalition Government is absolutely committed to tackling fuel poverty and has a range of initiatives in place to help vulnerable households struggling with rising energy bills," a spokesperson for the energy ministry said.
The advisory group added that the Treasury needed to do its part as well. It said the finance minister's plan to soften environmental costs for industrial energy users was unfair and revenue should be used to help vulnerable consumers.
"The use of carbon tax revenue to fuel poverty proof poor housing for low income households would have multiple benefits in addition to living in a warmer, more energy efficient homes, including carbon reduction, improved health, and economic growth," the group said.
(Reporting by Karolin Schaps; editing by Jason Neely)
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