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Number of households in fuel poverty to 'treble this spring'

THE number of households suffering from fuel poverty in England could treble this spring, with middle-income earners expected to be affected for the first time, a think tank predicts. 

The Resolution Foundation says the number of families spending 10 per cent of their income on energy bills — now redefined as “fuel stress” in England — could leap to 27 per cent, up from a current 9 per cent. 

This would bring the number of households living in fuel stress up to 6.3 million, the think tank warns in a report published today, amid warnings that the energy price cap could rise by half in April.  

North-east and north-west England and Yorkshire & Humber are among the regions expected to be worst hit. The foundation predicts about a third of all households in these areas could be forced into fuel stress following the spring price hike. In London, a fifth of all households could be affected, the research shows. 

The report also warns that the scale of the crisis means fuel stress will no longer be confined to the poorest households, with low and middle-income families also finding it hard to cover the costs of soaring energy bills. 

Resolution Foundation senior economist Jonny Marshall said: “Fuel stress levels are particularly high among pensioner households and those in poorly insulated homes — a stark reminder of the need to modernise Britain’s leaky housing stock and curb national dependency on gas for power and heating.”

The report comes as Good Energy boss Nigel Pocklington warned ministers they have until February, when Ofgem announces the new level of the price cap, to decide how to offset the looming hike in energy bills. 

Describing the date as a “burning deadline,” Mr Pocklington said: “You absolutely need to be concerned for vulnerable households and homes and families that will be put into fuel poverty.”

The Resolution Foundation said the government should offer extra payments to struggling households that should be funded through general taxation rather than increasing energy bills. 

Further action could also be taken, for example by spreading the costs of energy firm failure over a number of years, it said.

A government spokesman said: “We recognise people are facing pressures with the cost of living, which is why we are taking action worth more than £4.2 billion, including the warm home discount and winter fuel payments.”

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