'I am very worried': Fears disabled people could slip into fuel poverty due to rising energy bills

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As part of our series of reports marking UK Disability History Month, Katharine Walker's been exploring the link between disability and energy poverty.

There are warnings that disabled people in our region are at risk of fuel poverty and need more support with the rising cost of energy bills and home heating.

Often, disabled people have a greater need for energy in the home; for life-supporting machinery or to keep warmer.

This means their energy consumption, and therefore their energy bills, are higher.

An exclusive survey commissioned by ITV and Scope shows that 41% of disabled people in Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire are worried about affording their bills in the next few months due to a rise in energy costs.

35% say they've already had to make sacrifices in order to pay for energy bills and 14 % have had to go without gas, electricity or other energy sources to make sure they can afford food and household essentials.

''I am feeling very worried about the rising costs'', says Sarah Roberts.

Keeping up with her energy bills is a big concern for Sara Roberts in Sheffield.

Her daughter Sienna has a tracheostomy and suffers from collapsed airways. This means she relies on medical equipment, which is on charge 24/7. 

She told ITV: "I am feeling very worried about the rising costs. I think every parent with a child with a disability is the same.''

"The hoist we use to lift her when she's not mobile is constantly on charge. We have two suction machines, two saturation monitors to monitor her oxygen levels and her electric wheelchair [all on charge]."

So far, Sara's energy bills have already doubled since this time last year. With energy costs still expected to rise, she's feeling anxious. 

She said: "We cannot cut back, these are essential items that we need. So where does that leave us, if we can't cut back on gas and electricity? What other sacrifices need to be made?

"I don't think the government have the foggiest what people like myself go through. We get the £140 a year help with the Warm Home Discount Scheme but that doesn't even cover half of my monthly bill."

"Many disabled people are choosing between heating and eating'', according to Fazilet Hadi, Head of Policy at Disability Rights UK

Research from the University of Leeds shows that disabled households in the European Union are 5% more likely to experience energy poverty.

Fazilet Hadi, Head of Policy at Disability Rights UK, is concerned that disabled people are at risk of being left in the cold.

She said: "We know that half of the 14 million people in the UK who live in poverty are disabled people or households with a disabled person in it. Many of them say they're choosing between heating and eating, which is appalling in 2021."

James Taylor, Director of Strategy at disability equality charity Scope, added: "Many disabled people are facing the full force of price rises, supplier collapse and an energy market in turmoil. As energy bills are rising, it’s those who struggle to afford energy in the first place who are hit hardest.

"Government must urgently get financial support to those who need it most. As VAT receipts will no doubt increase as bills go up, this money could be used to provide assistance to disabled households who are making difficult financial choices this winter."

A Government spokesperson said: "Personal Independence Payments are available to help with extra living costs if you have a long-term physical or mental health condition, or a disability, and our £500m Household Support Fund was also introduced this year to help people with essential costs through the winter."Supporting energy consumers is a key priority, which is why our Energy Price Cap will remain in place, while we continue to help vulnerable and low-income households through initiatives such as the Warm Home Discount Scheme, Winter Fuel Payments and Cold Weather Payments."

Where can I get help with my energy bills?

  • Your energy supplier can also support you if you’re in debt. This can include advice or a financial payment. Check with your supplier as schemes vary.