Nearly 15,000 families in Plymouth are struggling to pay their energy bills, latest figures show – and the number is set to grow in the wake of price hikes.
Official data reveals that there were 14,990 city households (14 per cent) which spend more than 10 per cent of their income on heating their homes – the benchmark of fuel poverty.
In the South Hams it is 6,603 (18 per cent) and in Cornwall 44,706 (19 per cent).
Due to the time lag in publishing the statistics from 2010, it has been warned that the figures underestimate the current problem following subsequent price increases.
Recent rising costs mean the numbers now are likely to be much higher, but this data will not be available until 2013 and 2014. The number of households in fuel poverty dropped in Plymouth by 4,493 in 2010 compared to the previous year, in the South Hams and Cornwall by 1,702 and 14,796 respectively.
This fall reflected the national trend, and was attributed to relatively stable energy prices at the time and reduced energy consumption.
Energy and climate change minister Greg Barker said: “I am encouraged by the fall in fuel poverty in the period to April 2011, but there is no room for complacency.
“Fuel poverty remains a serious national problem and the Coalition is absolutely committed to tackling it.
“People can still get help with heating and insulation through Warm Front.
“Around two million households will get money off their energy bills this year through the Warm Home Discount scheme.
“However, our ambitious new policies including the Green Deal will go much further. The Green Deal will help people pay for home improvements through savings on their energy bills with extra financial help for the most vulnerable.”
Consumer groups warned the dip in fuel poverty levels in 2010 reflected lower energy prices at the time.
Consumer Focus director of energy Audrey Gallacher said: “But as the average annual bill has risen by over £150 since then, many more people are now affected.
“Part of the reason why consumer bills are rising is to fund measures to make our energy supply cleaner and more secure.
“But our bills also include ‘green taxes’ which just go straight to the exchequer, not to improve the energy market or to make Britain more energy efficient.
“Some of this extra revenue could go a long way to plug the funding gap in providing help to those who need it most.”
Labour’s Shadow Energy Secretary, Caroline Flint, said: “Soaring energy bills are hurting families and pensioners, already hit by the recession made in Downing Street.
“With rising energy bills and cuts to help for families and pensioners, the Government’s own advisers are warning that fuel poverty could rise again.”