Energy crisis: One in five Manchester households are struggling with fuel costs - even before gas bills soared

Even before the current energy crisis, a substantial number of people in the city were finding heating their homes a financial challenge.

This winter is set to be a challenging one for millions of families when it comes to making ends meet, as gas prices reach record highs and energy bills are consequently pushed up.

But shocking data shows that Manchester already had a major problem with fuel poverty.

One in five households in the city centre were struggling to pay their energy bills when the most recent Government figures were collected.

Citizens’ Advice Manchester is pleading with anyone facing financial problems to get in touch to seek help and is urging the Government to take measures to lift the strain on people’s wallets.

How many people in Manchester were in fuel poverty before the current energy crisis started?

We’ve taken a look at the local data from Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy figures for England analysed by our sister site NationalWorld.

The statistics show that across Greater Manchester in 2019 some 15% of households (181,588) were in fuel poverty.

The highest figure across the city-region was recorded in Manchester, where 20% of households were struggling to pay bills.

Consumers have been urged to shop around for the cheapest deal since the increase was announced (Photo:Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Even in Greater Manchester’s least-affected areas more than one in 10 households were in fuel poverty, with the lowest percentage being 12% recorded in Stockport.

In each one of the city-region’s 10 town halls more than 10,000 households were in fuel poverty two years ago.

What is fuel poverty?

More than four million families across the UK are classed as living in fuel poverty by their respective devolved governments, analysis by our sister site NationalWorld reveals.

In England, households need to be in a home with an inefficient energy rating, as well as being left below the poverty line after heating costs.

A distressing situation for people affected

Citizens’ Advice Manchester said being in fuel poverty is an extremely difficult situation for people to cope with as some residents are forced into shocking dilemmas of heating or eating.

With wholesale gas prices rising rapidly and energy companies going bust, it looks like it will be an extremely challenging winter for families on low incomes in Manchester and across the country.

The leading advice service said Covid-19 had already had a big effect on bills.

It is now urging those most affected by fuel poverty to get in touch.

Energy champion Jessica Mellor said: “It can be very distressing. A lot of people are having to choose between putting the heating on and feeding their children.

“With the winter months coming up that becomes predominant.

“They might be trying to get fuel vouchers but that is a sticking plaster on a very big wound.

“In the pandemic a lot of energy companies weren’t able to provide meter readings and were sending out estimated energy bills.

“Some people were paying too much, which was hard for them to afford, and some were paying too little and are now in arrears when they weren’t aware of that.

“Our figures show around three quarters of Citizens’ Advice customers coming to us for benefits or debt advice are unable to cover their living costs.

“It is a very scary time for a lot of people, but we are here to help with any advice they need.”

‘Keep the Universal Credit £20 uplift’

Citizens’ Advice Manchester said keeping the £20 uplift to Universal Credit in place would be one way the Government could help improve people’s finances over the winter.

It warned that unless measures are taken some people will be in dire financial straits in the coming months.

Ms Mellor said: “The potential cut to Universal Credit means people are going to be struggling so much.

Citizens Advice has warned that a third of people on Universal Credit will end up in debt when the extra payment is removed in October (Photo: Shutterstock)

“We are trying to push for this lifeline to be kept, especially given what is happening with energy companies ceasing trading.

“This is a perfect storm and we are looking at massive hardship for so many people.”

The call to protect the £20 uplift is one being widely echoed, including by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

What has the Government said?

A Government spokesperson said: “We are making significant progress in tackling fuel poverty, with the Energy Company Obligation installing over 3.3 million measures in 2.3 million homes to date, replacing 750,000 boilers.

“Given its success, we have extended the scheme to 2026 and boosted its funding to £1 billion.

“But we want to go further and faster, ensuring nobody goes cold in their own home.

“That is why we are investing £1.3 billion into making homes more energy efficient, cheaper to heat and helping low-income families significantly reduce their energy bills.

“The uplift to Universal Credit was always temporary, to help claimants through the economic shock of the toughest stages of the pandemic.

“It’s right that the Government should focus on our Plan for Jobs, supporting people back into work and supporting those already employed to progress and earn more.”