ALMOST a third of households in South Holland are in “fuel poverty” – and experts fear that rising petrol prices and increasing energy tariffs are set to pile on even more misery.
The figure – 32.4 per cent – is more than double the national average and it is said that the startling statistic is a result of the rural nature of the district, the fact that some villages have no gas and rely on expensive heating oil, the ageing population and because many houses are difficult to fit with insulation.
Experts say some people in South Holland were frightened to turn the heating on during the big freeze in the winter and that rising bills and the price of petrol means the situation will only get worse.
South Holland Citizens Advice Bureau manager Diane Clay said: “The prices have been increasing rapidly over the last year or so and that has been causing problems for a lot of people, especially elderly people.
“Those of us who have computers can go on the internet and shop around but a lot of older people don’t have that advantage.
“I think a lot of people do switch off their heating because they are frightened to use it.”
She added that many people do suffer in silence – and do not know they are entitled to help through things such as pension credit and council tax relief.
The county manager for The Royal British Legion in Lincolnshire, Richard Foster, said: “There are various ways people can economise but, particularly with the elderly, one of the ways they often economise is by heating just one room in the house – with the rest of it getting very cold.”
Spalding Age Concern day centre manager Liz Walmsley said the Winter Fuel Allowance and cold weather payments have helped to shelter some elderly people from the worst of the problem – but staff and volunteers are feeling the pinch of the increased cost of filling up their minibus.
Liz, who lives in Sutterton, says fuel prices have been a particular problem in villages like hers where there is no gas supply and homes are reliant on heating oil – which has seen the cost rise rapidly in recent years.
She said: “Ten years ago the price of oil was 15p a litre and now it has been up nearer 70p and wages haven’t gone up to cover that.
“Fuel prices affect everybody but when you live in an area like this you cannot go anywhere without your own transport.
“People who don’t live in this area don’t realise the impact it has had. It is quite expensive to live around here at the moment.
“It’s a big topic of conversation, some people really are struggling.”
The figures come following a study from charity National Energy Action – which is campaigning for the Government to protect the vulnerable from suffering in cold, damp conditions because of financial hardship.
The latest figures for Lincolnshire show South Holland as having the second highest level of fuel poverty in the county – well above the 18.3 per cent for neighbouring Boston and the 17.4 per cent for South Kesteven but below East Lindsey’s worrying figure of 40.5 per cent.
A household is defined as being in fuel poverty if it has to spend more than ten per cent of its income on heating its property to an adequate warmth.
Yesterday Chancellor George Osborne postponed a planned four pence increase in fuel duty and sliced once pence off the price at the pumps but prices have continued to rise in recent weeks to new record highs of over £1.30 a litre.
l To contact the Citizens Advice Bureau for help call 01775 717444.