Winter energy bill still a concern despite mild weather
Higher energy prices have led to another shock rise in the number of people cutting down or rationing their winter energy usage, according to research from uSwitch.com. Over eight in ten people (83%) have cut down or rationed their energy use this winter - a 7% increase on last year and 14% higher than in 2010. Such has been the impact of the £224 or 21% hike in prices from the end of 2010 that 85% of consumers are still concerned about their winter fuel bill, despite the exceptionally mild winter seen this year.
Three quarters of households (75%) have gone without heating at some point this winter to keep energy costs down - 20% higher than last year. This means that potentially 19.5 million have gone without, 5.3 million more than last winter. As a result, almost three quarters of people (72%) have been cold at home this winter, although 53% agree that this would have been worse without the mild weather.
In fact, the mildness of the winter has been the saving grace for many households who would otherwise have suffered far more from the cutbacks they have been forced to make. Four in ten (41%) say they would not have been able to achieve the right balance between keeping their home warm and managing costs if it hadn't have been for the milder weather. But still 15% of people say that cutting back on energy usage is affecting their quality of life or health.
The milder weather has allowed over a quarter of people (27%) to cut back substantially on their energy compared with last winter, while 27% say that they have cut back just the same, but the milder weather this winter has made the experience less unpleasant. While suppliers will suggest that the warmer winter has reduced consumption, the reality is that cost is still the biggest driver. The main reason people have gone without heating this winter is the high cost of energy (71%) rather than the mild weather (24%).
But even though cost is in the forefront of people's minds, almost a third (31%) say that the mild weather this winter has not been enough to mitigate the £224 or 21% increase in prices seen in little over a year - 64% say it has partly softened, but not mitigated, the blow.
Even more worrying, given the amount of hope that the Government has pinned on energy efficiency measures, 57% of people say they have already made their homes more energy efficient, and yet still Britain goes cold.
Ann Robinson, Director of Consumer Policy at uSwitch.com, says: "This is about people going cold - the fact is that the £224 or 21% increase in energy prices since the end of 2010 has led to a corresponding 14% increase in the number of people rationing their energy use in the winter. With self-rationing now running at 83% of the population, the only saviour has been the exceptionally mild winter we have seen this year. This has allowed many to cut back, turn down or switch off without feeling the full brunt of winter cold. But what happens next year?
"We have been lucky because of the mild weather and next year households will hopefully feel some benefit from the recent £34 or 2.6% cut in energy prices. Consumers can also make their money go further by making their homes energy efficient and making sure that they are paying the lowest price for the energy they do use.
"But if Britain isn't to carry on freezing we need a helping hand and I would now urge the Government to look at making our gas and electricity exempt from VAT so that every household can enjoy some respite and not be forced to go cold next winter. Energy is an essential for life like certain foods and water, which are zero-rated. Without adequate warmth health can be badly affected and quality of life impaired. The Government needs to act now. Reducing bills by 5% through zero-rating the VAT could take 262,500 households out of fuel poverty and give much-needed help to millions more who will struggle to keep warm."