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What is Fuel Poverty?

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  • Written By: Ken Black
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 06 September 2016
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Fuel poverty occurs when the costs of adequately heating a home exceed 10 percent of the total income of the household. It is a term mainly used in English-speaking countries in Europe, though the term has applicable uses globally. There are many causes and solutions to the problem, though many are not easy. In many cases, those experiencing fuel poverty must decide between heat and other necessities.

One of the biggest factors contributing to fuel poverty is income. The less income a household has, the more likely they are to have their home heating costs exceed 10 percent of that income. Further, those with less income are more likely to have homes with poor energy efficiency. This will lead to more costs in the area of heating.

Another factor that can have an impact on fuel poverty are high fuel costs. The more money it costs, per thermal unit, the more likely it will be that a family falls under the category of fuel poverty. To combat this, some countries have developed programs to help low income households pay energy bills, especially in the winter months. In the United States, this is known as the Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). However, in the U.S., this is usually a one-time payment that does not even cover one month's heating bill during the worst of the winter.

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Those who find themselves in a fuel poverty situation may take actions that are not good for the rest of the family. They may decide to turn their heat down to an uncomfortable temperature, thus sacrificing comfort, and perhaps health, to save money. They may also decide to not buy as much food, clothing or other necessary supplies in the winter in order to adequately provide the amount of heat they need.

Besides the government program mentioned, there are a number of other ways to combat fuel poverty. It may be possible for those living in such conditions to turn their thermostats down slightly without sacrificing much comfort. Further, having a programmable thermostat, one that can turn the temperature down when there are no occupants in the home, can save a significant amount of energy. These thermostats do cost a little more than traditional thermostats but their value is quickly paid for through the savings they provide.

Further, some energy companies may offer an energy audit of a home to tell a homeowner where their homes are losing the most energy. Many of the fixes can cost a significant amount of money. However, many of them can also be done for very little cost. Any relief someone living in fuel poverty can get should be taken.

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