18/12/2009

Rural 'Fuel Poverty' To Be Tackled

A major pilot project has been launched this week by the Commission for Rural Communities, in partnership with the Rural Services Network.

Three areas of the country - County Durham, East Riding and Shropshire - have been chosen for the project, based on statistical data that shows high levels of fuel poverty - where a household needs to spend more than 10% of its income on fuel to maintain satisfactory levels of heating - properties off the gas network and 'hard to heat' houses, such as solid wall properties, which are more difficult and expensive to insulate, all of which can result in people living in cold, damp homes.

The project, known as 'Hands Up', aims to ensure a better understanding of the effect high fuel costs is having on the health, financial and overall wellbeing of people living in rural areas.

It will also seek to understand what impact this is having on service providers such as the NHS, and the local economy.

Graham Russell, Executive Director, Commission for Rural Communities, said: "More than just 21% of households in villages, isolated dwellings and hamlets are living in fuel poverty, compared to just 12% of households in urban areas. For the first time, rural communities are being consulted on the practicalities of heating and insulating their homes, including the particular effects of being 'off-gas'.

"We want people to make their views known, so we can work with government to ensure programmes are effectively targeted at meeting the needs of rural communities and make the best possible impact in alleviating these issues."

Graham Biggs, Chief Executive, Rural Services Network, said: "This project is about getting the right services and support into rural communities to address fuel costs, improve energy efficiency and helping reduce those health issues that are exacerbated by living in cold damp homes.

"We know for example that households who are not connected to the gas network and older solid wall properties are paying on average £700 more per year than those households using gas to heat their home.

"Many people just cannot afford these costs and, subsequently, this can have a very serious effect on people's health and wellbeing and in some instances forcing people to choose between 'eating or heating'. We are also trying to gain evidence to influence national policy to address these issues in rural areas across England."

'Hands Up' will involve around 7,500 households being asked to provide information about their health and financial wellbeing, what type of fuel they use to heat their home and what concerns they have in relation to affordability or health issues.

Based on responses and working with local partners, the project will look at what solutions on a 'house-by-house' basis can be put in place to reduce fuel bills, save people money and make homes warmer and healthier to live in.

Everyone who takes part in the project will receive a carbon monoxider detector and/or energy light bulbs and will be included in a draw for £100 of food vouchers.

(KMcA/BMcC)

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