The latest statistics for 2019* reveal 13.4% of homes in England are 'fuel poor' which means their disposable income after energy costs puts them below the poverty line and their home has an energy efficiency (EPC) rating of band D or below.
The figures show a decrease of just 1.6% since the previous report for 2018, suggesting little progress has been made to support the most vulnerable in society.
With more families experiencing financial difficulty during Covid-19, there are fears the true number of fuel poor households is already much higher and will increase in the coming months as the effects of the pandemic feed through. The issue could also be further exacerbated if the government's current plans to transition households to expensive green heating systems goes ahead.
According to the report, the average fuel poverty gap - the reduction in energy costs that the average fuel poor household needs to come out of fuel poverty - now sits at £216. However, rural areas are disproportionately affected with the figure rising to £585, three times that of urban areas.
This is largely due to rural homes typically being older and poorly insulated, making them more expensive to keep warm.
In response to the findings, OFTEC, a registration body for off-gas grid heating, is urging the government to provide more support for rural households.
Malcom Farrow from OFTEC, comments: "Though some progress has been made, it's shocking to see so many households still struggling to pay their heating bills. This is sadly only likely to worsen with continued economic uncertainty around Covid-19.
"It is also very concerning that rural households, many of which rely on oil heating, continue to be disproportionately affected by fuel poverty due to the poor energy efficiency of these homes. What's more, the Government's current focus on encouraging off-grid homes to move to renewable heating systems such as heat pumps, will do little to improve the fuel poverty gap due to the unrealistically high installation costs involved.
"That's why, for oil heated households across the country, we believe moving them onto a greener, near drop-in replacement liquid fuel is the most realistic path forward. This easy, simple to implement solution will minimise the upfront costs involved for homeowners, which is essential for all but especially those already struggling in fuel poverty.
"It's crucial that measures to lower carbon emissions are fair and affordable for everybody, regardless of where their home is."
** Government Annual fuel poverty statistics report: 2021 (2019 data) - read here.