86,000 drop out of fuel poverty in North-East and North Yorkshire - after Government changes definition (From The Northern Echo)
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86,000 drop out of fuel poverty in North-East and North Yorkshire - after Government changes definition
MORE than 86,000 of the region’s families have been lifted out of “fuel poverty” – but only because the Government has changed the rules.
The number of households judged too poor to heat their homes plunged by 36 per cent overnight, because of a controversial new measure.
Ministers insist they acted because the old definition was “seriously flawed” – wrongly including well-off people in big homes, for example.
But the switch was criticised by the Fuel Poverty Action Group, which said: “It’s very handy for the Government that, under the new definition, the problem appears to be seriously reduced.
“What this does is mask a worsening crisis of cold homes, where millions of people are facing an impossible choice between heating or eating in winter.
“At the same time, the Big Six energy companies are raking in sky-high profits and the Government is cutting budgets for energy-efficient measures – making the position worse.”
Coincidentally, Labour will today (Friday) accuse the energy giants of making “rip off” windfall profits of £3.3bn since 2010 – adding £300 to annual bills.
Meanwhile, incomes have grown far slower than prices in recent years, sparking warnings that more families are struggling to pay their bills.
The row blew up after the department for energy and climate change (DECC) unveiled a new “low income high costs” (LIHC) definition of fuel poverty.
For many years, households were considered “fuel poor” if they spent more than ten per cent of disposable income on gas and electricity.
In 2011, the most recent figures, that included 235,148 households in the North-East and North Yorkshire – a figure that falls to 148,834, under the new measure.
Now a household is only included where “the total income is below the poverty line and energy costs are higher than typical”.
As a result, in County Durham, the total falls by one-third. Darlington records the smallest decline anywhere in the region – but that fall is still 23.4 per cent.
However, the biggest falls are in wealthier North Yorkshire, in Ryedale (down 57.3 per cent), Richmondshire (down 55.3 per cent) and Hambleton (down 54.5 per cent).
A DECC spokesman defended the switch, insisting people were wrongly being counted as “fuel poor” despite earning relatively high incomes.
He said: “It is simply not true to say that we are trying to change the definition to make it look like there are less people in fuel poverty.
“The ten per cent definition painted a misleading picture of the scale of the problem, underestimating it when energy prices were low and overestimating it as energy prices increase.”
Across England, following the switch, almost one million fewer households are counted as being in fuel poverty – 2.5m, down from 3.5m.
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