Suffolk/Essex: Households plunged into fuel poverty will choose between “heating or eating” this winter

INCREASING numbers of households plunged into fuel poverty by soaring energy bills will have to choose between heating or eating this winter.

That is the claim of a Suffolk rural affairs charity who says people are struggling with the combination of static salaries and hikes in the cost of energy.

Meanwhile, in Essex, Tendring Citizen’s Advice Bureau says the latest round of increases will put another 10% of the district into fuel poverty.

The website - which helps consumers change energy suppliers - says in the UK 314,000 households will become fuel poor because of the latest increases.

Last week EDF Energy became the fifth major energy firm to announce a price rise, putting average prices up 10.8%. Npower said earlier this month it would increase gas prices by 8.8% and electricity 9.1%. British Gas, who reported a �345million profit in the first half of this year, also increased prices by an average of 6%.

Dr Wil Gibson, chief executive of Suffolk ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England), said: “People are going to have to make a really hard choice between food and fuel this winter.

“Everywhere they turn - fuel, food - the cost is going up but their salaries have remained pretty static.

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“Even friends on decent incomes are beginning to question what they do.

“Our general impression is people are feeling tightly-squeezed, especially in rural areas.

“And the consequences we might begin to see more people seeking benefits, even though they are in employment.”

It is estimated around 43,802 (14.7%) households in Suffolk are affected by fuel poverty - defined as when more than 10% of a household’s income is spent on keeping warm.

Lee Fraser, financial information officer at Tendring CAB, said around 17 or 18% were in fuel poverty but that would increase to as much as 28% following recent energy price hikes.

He added: “Some people are choosing to heat rather than eat and instead relying on food handouts.

“We see that more and more often people are not eating or eating very little or using charity handouts.

“There’s also stories of children going into school hungry and teachers are having to feed them. Breakfast clubs are closing though so that option is not there anymore.

“If you think about the age of the population in Tendring they are getting CPI increases on their pensions but bills are going up three times higher.”

Dr Therese Coffey, MP for Suffolk Coastal, said: “Ofgem is the regulator, the message from the Prime Minister in the last week is clear, we need to do what we can - both the energy companies and the Government - to get people on the lowest tariffs.

“I don’t want to guess about the impact of the latest energy bill hikes. I can only assume it will increase fuel poverty.”

For help with your energy bills call the Home Heat Helpline on 0800 336699.

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