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One-third of working families struggle with fuel poverty

Fuel poverty is an on-going problem in this country, and it causes a variety of problems for the people dealing with it. Being unable to heat your home to an adequate level can lead to respiratory illnesses like asthma, heart problems and mental health issues. Research has shown that there are thousands of "excess winter deaths" every year that can be attributed to fuel poverty and the strain that all of this puts on the NHS is costing the health service billions.

The problem in the UK is worse than most other European countries, despite our milder winters. One of the biggest reasons for this is the inefficient existing housing stock, and even though various initiatives have been started to help people pay for efficiency measures like thermal wall insulation and new boilers, little headway has actually been made towards eradicating fuel poverty.

Comparison website uSwitch has carried out a poll, which found that one in three working families struggle to pay their energy bills and 29 per cent do not put the heating on even when the house is cold. Meanwhile, two-thirds say they fear that cutting their energy use to save money could affect their family's health.

The survey highlighted the fact that many households are vulnerable to fuel poverty - including those where family members have regular employment. Claire Osborne, energy expert at uSwitch said that suppliers need to do their part by doing all they can to help their customers get the best deal on energy. "It's appalling that even families in work are struggling to pay their energy bills," she said.

Meanwhile, Ofgem has backed calls for suppliers to alert customers to cost-saving schemes when they're available - such as the Warm Home Discount (WHD).

"We want suppliers to engage more actively with customers, particularly those on standard variable tariffs, to help them get a better deal," a spokesperson for the energy regulator told the Guardian.

Big six energy deals may not offer good value

Recently, the business minister, Greg Clark, criticised energy companies amid claims that their so-called "deals" don't actually offer good value.

"Customers who are loyal to their energy supplier should be treated well, not taken for a ride, and it's high time the big companies recognised this," he said, adding that he has told the big firms that they must treat customers properly.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: "We continue to support the Warm Home Discount scheme [...] and are refocusing the Energy Company Obligation so it effectively tackles the cause of fuel poverty.”

Energy company First Utility has accused the big six suppliers of 'undermining' the WHD, claiming that 70 per cent of people who get the discount are on expensive standard variable tariffs. The firm has estimated that 1.5 million vulnerable customers are overpaying by £440 million a year - around £300 per household - this more than wipes out any savings provided by the WHD.

The importance of insulation

While getting a fair energy tariff is essential for cutting down energy bills, taking steps to improve a home's energy efficiency can help to bring down energy usage, and therefore expenditure. And with measures like thermal wall insulation, once the improvements are made, households shouldn't have to worry about it again.