Fuel Poverty: Choosing between heating and eating this winter

Video report by ITV Reporter Sarah Rogers

Thousands more families in the region are facing fuel poverty this winter due to a rise in energy bills.

It's estimated around 460,000 households are fuel poor in the region with one recent study putting Manchester as one of the hardest hit areas.

I met Vicky Harker and Annie Joyce in Blackley in Manchester, both women are in their 80's and have heart conditions. Vicky, who had a heart attack in March admits she's already swapping the heating for an extra layer.

"God knows what I'll do when it get's really, really cold," she said. The pensioner lives with her daughter and grandson and says she would probably not put the heating on at all but she wants to look out for her family.

Her bills are already above the average for gas and electricity and she's worried about much they'll go up in the future. "I really don't know what I'd cut back on," Vicky added, "I don't have any luxuries."

Vicky Harker and Annie Joyce

Annie, looks after her disabled daughter who is in her 60's, she needs the heating on to keep her comfortable, she'd "be in pain" and "wouldn't cope" with the cold but, Annie is worried too about her own health.

"I'm 83, sitting in the cold all the time, if I end up in hospital and what will happen to my daughter?"

The price cap went up at the start of October but analysts are warning bills could rise even more next year.

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They statement also said: “We are supporting vulnerable households, including older people, further through initiatives such as the Warm Home Discount, which is being increased to £150 and extended to cover an extra 750,000 households, Winter Fuel Payments, and Cold Weather Payments."

Why has there been a rise in gas prices?

A global shortage of gas has increased prices around the world, with demand rising as economies emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The last winter was a long and cold one across Europe and Asia, increasing demand for heating and leaving gas stocks depleted.

It was followed by a calm summer with less wind than normal, meaning countries have been less able to rely on renewable energy. The rise in costs has also been attributed to refineries in the US being shut down as a result of Category 4 Hurricane Ida.

What effect does the gas price surge have on energy companies?

In recent weeks, nine energy suppliers have gone under, meaning more than 1.7 million customers are dependent on the safety net provided by the market regulator, Ofgem.

Enstroga, Symbio and Igloo were the latest energy suppliers to go under.

These companies have been mostly smaller firms, which have been unable to deliver price promises to consumers due to the surge in gas prices meaning they cannot afford to keep operating with the energy price cap in place.

Affected customers have been told they will be moved to a new tariff by Ofgem and be contacted by their new supplier.

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How do energy suppliers work in the UK?

Supplying energy to homes involves three steps: generating the electricity, transporting the gas and electricity and selling it to customers. Energy companies can work in any of these stages.

In the UK, private companies ensure we have the electricity and gas markets that we need.

Electricity is generated in power stations, which are run by private companies.

After this, it is transported through the electricity network run by National Grid.

Suppliers buy energy in the wholesale market and sell it on to customers.

What will the rise mean for your energy bill?

Jonathan Brearley, the boss of Ofgem, has warned that the cost of protecting customers from failing energy providers could push up energy bills.

Research agency Cornwall Insight has predicted further volatile gas prices and the potential collapse of even more suppliers could push the energy price cap to about £1,660 in summer, almost £400 higher than the £1,277 price cap set for winter 2021-22.This would be an increase of 30%.Regulator Ofgem reviews the price cap once every six months, and changes it based on the cost suppliers have to pay for their energy, cost of policies and operating costs, among other things.

Many energy customers are locked into year-long deals which will fix their price for the 12 months of the contract.

If your contract is coming to an end shortly you will probably have to change to a more expensive deal.

If you are struggling to pay your bills, call them in the first instance or visit the Energy UK website for information.

What protection does the energy price cap give consumers?

A higher energy price cap came into effect from October 1.

It means that people on standard tariffs - with typical household levels of energy use - will see bills rise by £139 to £1,277 a year.

The energy price cap is meant to protect consumers through sudden spikes in gas prices by setting maximum prices for people on a standard or default tariff.

The increase has been driven by a rise of more than 50% in energy costs over the last six months.

The latest cap, announced in August, was determined before further unprecedented increases in global prices.

But, the next revision of the cap, which will affect bills from the start of April, is predicted to significantly increase to mirror the rising costs faced by suppliers.