SOARING energy bills and falling wages have left an increasing number of people in Redditch living in fuel poverty.
There are now 3,537 borough residents struggling to pay for gas and electricity, according to figures recently released by the Department for Climate Change and Energy.
Despite a major drive to improve the energy efficiency of households another 207 slipped into fuel poverty between 2011 and 2012.
Redditch was the only place in Worcestershire where fuel poverty increased and there are now more than ten per cent of homes in Redditch facing difficulties paying their energy bills.
Officials say there are a number of reasons for the increase including the fact the average gas and electric bills rose by £140 during the period and energy efficiency has not increased at the same rate. Wages are also either stagnant or falling in some cases.
The Government introduced a new definition of fuel poverty last year to better understand the extent of the problem. It measures those households paying energy costs above the national average and which doing so leaves them with an income below the poverty line.
The Central Ward area of Redditch, particularly around Smallwood, has the highest number of homes in fuel poverty in Worcestershire with more than 30 per cent of households facing difficulties paying energy bills. More than a fifth of homes in the St George’s and Astwood Bank and Feckenham area are also struggling.
Redditch Borough Council, through the Warmer Worcestershire Network, is attempting to provide support to those in fuel poverty including working with Age UK to carry out benefit checks bringing Worcestershire residents over £2.7million in benefits to help pay fuel bills.
Plans for this winter include promoting the Green Deal Home Improvement Fund which offers £6,000 cashback for solid wall insulation on properties and another £1,600 for other home efficiency improvements. Those claiming certain benefits can also get help repairing or replacing a broken, inefficient gas boiler.
But Coun Debbie Taylor, responsible for environment on the borough council, said the quickest way to help people would be for the Government to freeze energy prices.
“When we are seeing increasing numbers of people using food banks it is no surprise people are struggling to pay for fuel as well as food too.” she said.
“As wages are generally not increasing in line with the cost of bills and benefits have been cut then I would expect this trend to continue.”
Advice and support is available by visiting www.warmerworcestershire.com or Act on Energy on 0800 988 2881.