The latest fuel poverty statistics published by DECC show a reduction in the number of families in the UK in fuel poverty - now standing at 4.75 million.
According to the report, the number of fuel poor households in the UK fell from 5.5 million households in 2009 to 4.75 million in 2010. In England, the number of fuel poor households fell to 3.5 million in 2010, from 4.0 million in 2009.
In 2010, around 4 million vulnerable households in the UK were fuel poor, a decrease from around 4.5 million the previous year.
Of the four UK nations, Northern Ireland has the greatest proportion of fuel poor households, followed by Scotland, then Wales and finally England.
The fall is attributed to the rise in incomes and energy efficiency in 2010, which outweighed the effects of price rises in 2009, producing the first fall in fuel poverty since 2003.
However this still left 19% of UK households suffering fuel poverty, and in the 18 months since these results were gathered, the UK has entered into a double dip recession and prices have continued to rise.
Energy & Climate Change Minister Greg Barker said: “I am encouraged by the fall in fuel poverty, but there is no room for complacency. Fuel poverty remains a serious national problem and the Coalition is absolutely committed to tackling it.”
The Heating & Hotwater Industry Council (HHIC) believe that the fall reveals the major impact that energy efficiency and in particular the installation of a condensing boiler has on financially hard-pressed consumers.
According to DECC, 32% of households had condensing boilers in 2010 compared to 24% in 2009, revealing that households are actually benefiting from efficient boilers.
While there may be other factors that have contributed to the fall in numbers, such as the successful boiler scrappage scheme which installed 60,000 boilers at a £400 pound discount, the HHIC said it clearly presents the message that energy efficiency is the most important means to combat fuel poverty.
According to the Energy Saving Trust, replacing an old gas boiler with an A-rated high-efficiency condensing boiler, and improving a consumer’s heating controls, will significantly cut their home's carbon dioxide emissions and could save them as much as £300 a year.
Roger Webb, HHIC director said: “The new statistics reveal an important message to those in the industry and for bodies working to help eradicate fuel poverty, that energy efficiency is the only successful way to cut household bills.”
Projections for England indicate around 3.5 million fuel poor households in 2011 and 3.9 million in 2012. Price rises in the second half of 2011 will not fully impact on fuel poverty data until later this year.
“My challenge to DECC is this,” said Webb. “With energy prices set to rise, given the evidence quoted, stagnation in household income levels experienced recently and concerns over future fuel prices why not do more now, as a priority, to encourage old boilers to be replaced by new.”
Barker added that people can still get help with heating and insulation through Warm Front and around 2 million households will get money off their energy bills this year through the Warm Home Discount scheme.
“However, our ambitious new policies including the Green Deal will go much further,” he said. “The Green Deal will help people pay for home improvements through savings on their energy bills with extra financial help for the most vulnerable.”
But Friends of the Earth said that while the government’s proposed energy-efficiency plans may be attractive to better-off families, they will do little to tackle fuel poverty. They argued that the Green Deal is only relevant to families who can afford repayments.
Executive director Andy Atkins said: “Energy efficiency measures played a significant role in cutting the number of households in fuel poverty in 2010, so it’s a disgrace that the current government has slashed funds for better insulation and heating in low-income households.
“It’s a national scandal that rising gas prices and heat-leaking homes have left millions shivering and thousands dying in the cold.
“The government must do much more to fight fuel poverty. Huge improvements could be made by using the cash raised by new taxes on carbon pollution,” he added.
“Making the homes of those on low incomes more energy efficient will not only help end fuel poverty, it will create new jobs, slash emissions and reduce the cost to the NHS of treating cold-related illnesses.”