Fuel Poverty

There has been a lot in the media lately about fuel poverty. It seems to be the latest buzzword, something everyone wants to report on from the comfort of their nice, warm studio. It was even mentioned on my local radio station yesterday morning. According to this article in the Guardian, 2.3 million households in England are living in fuel poverty – and a million of those has at least one person in work. But what does the term “fuel poverty” actually mean? What does it look like?

My house does not have central heating; everything runs off electricity. The electricity is on a meter, because I don’t want to get into debt. Being on a meter though, means that when I run out of cash, the lights go out. I watch the numbers on my meter like a hawk, worrying about whether I will have enough cash to top up again before those numbers roll down to zero. This is what “fuel poverty” is to me:

Fuel poverty is being forced to make a choice between eating and heating. I know it sounds cool because it rhymes, but it’s really not. It’s just plain cold. All. The. Time. It’s listening to weather reports with dread, always praying for an unseasonably warm Winter. It’s spending more money on fuel than food.

Fuel poverty is having a panic attack when a house move means you can’t claim the £140 Warm Home Discount from the electricity company. And then, when you finally manage to persuade the company that having moved house in October is not a valid reason to refuse someone eligibility to the scheme, the £140 lasts less than a month any way.

Fuel poverty is timing your washing loads so that you can use the tumble dryer to heat the living room on a cold afternoon when your daughter will be home. It’s visiting a relative on your day off, because you can’t afford to heat the house all day and you don’t want your child to be cold. t’s having your toddler sit down at breakfast, saying “bit cold Mummy,” and suggesting she jump on the trampoline, because you can’t afford to put the heater on until a lot later in the day.

Fuel poverty is three duvets on your bed and your toddler wearing socks over her pyjamas. It’s wearing a hoodie and thick socks to bed and bringing a hot water bottle too.

It’s delaying having your child move into her own bedroom because it would be too cold for her and it’s better for both of you if you share a bed and warmth.

It’s only showering every other day because it’s just too cold in the bathroom and you can’t afford to have the heater on. Plus the pump for the shower is electric. It’s knowing that if you have a shower and use the hot water, you’ll have to switch the immersion heater on in order to do the washing up later – and that costs money.

It’s wearing a scarf indoors, all day. It’s realising it doesn’t matter what you wear on the first three layers you throw on in the mornings, because there will be another two over them for most of the day. It’s always having cold toes, even when you’re wearing socks with a tog rating.

It’s only switching on one of the three lights in an open plan living room and kitchen, squinting to see everything during the Winter afternoons because you can’t afford to have all of them on. It’s waiting until the last possible moment to switch any lights on, and switching them off as early as you possibly can.

It’s keeping the bedroom curtains closed all day in a vain attempt to stop what little heat there is from escaping through the windows. It’s having a second bedroom that’s almost entirely unused because it’s so cold in there and you can’t afford to even consider putting the heater on.

It’s the number of typos I’ve had to correct whilst proof reading this post, because my fingers are too cold to type properly. It’s never feeling warm.

It’s worrying all day, every day about the numbers on the electricity meter. It’s wondering whether you can put off paying this bill or that bill, or whether you can use Boots points to buy nappies this month so that there’s a little extra cash to put on the electricity meter. It’s avoiding checking the meter before you go to bed, because you know the panic it provokes will keep you from sleeping.

Worst of all, it’s feeling like you’re a failure as a parent, because every time your child touches you her hands are ice cold.

This flat is newly refurbished. It has double glazing and the heaters are brand new. The floor is insulated and there are new carpets upstairs. My problems with heating my home are not to do with leaky windows or holes in the roof or anything I’ve had to deal with before. At my old flat, I would deliberately top up the fuel meters more than I needed to throughout the Summer, so that by Winter there was a residual amount to help me through the colder months. We moved house in October though, and you can’t transfer a credit balance from one property to the next – so I had no choice but to start from scratch at the new house, just as the weather started to turn. I’m hoping that if we can scrape our way through this Winter, we can begin to build up a credit balance on our meter so that next Winter is not as tough.

Meanwhile, I’ll be the one wearing seven layers and suggesting my daughter make a blanket den in the living room. Again.

fuel poverty

Fuel Poverty: I’m really cold. All the time.

S and I were featured in a piece on Russia Today about fuel poverty; you can watch it here:

Vicky Charles

Vicky is a single mother, writer and card reader.


Bryn · 23/01/2015 at 11:37

Hi Vicky,

Do you find your new flat with more insulation is cheaper to heat or stays warm longer after you turned the heating off?


    Vicky Charles · 23/01/2015 at 15:03

    Hi Bryn, no it doesn’t! The heaters are the sort that heat up quickly, but then cool down just as quickly. The living room stays reasonably warm, but the upstairs is always freezing without heating.

Louisa · 23/01/2015 at 16:14

I can relate to much of this. We are on a meter and have run out unexpectedly several times lately. Our house has no cavities and is very damp. We have to have the heating on a lot or face mold all over the walls. We are moving soon so dont want to top up too much and lose it. I only pray that they will transfer the fuel allowance when we move! We have recently had a rebate on our gas and electric because the meteres weren’t calibrated correctly. Hopefully you will get one too x

    Vicky Charles · 23/01/2015 at 16:53

    I ran out once, when we first moved here. Now I watch the meter like a hawk and top up any time I have some cash to do so. Good luck with your move, I hope you are going somewhere warmer! I’m terrified of getting damp here; it’s a beautifully decorated flat but I just can’t keep the heating on all the time and the upstairs windows are always covered in condensation.

HonestMum · 23/01/2015 at 18:48

So sorry to read this winter has been so tough for you all. Hugs. Thanks for linking up to #brilliantblogposts

Rebecca · 23/01/2015 at 23:05

Sorry to hear this. We are on a tariff and pay monthly and just got sent our bill for the past few months. We can’t really afford to pay it right now but it is a priority payment for us so I will be working extra hard at work and my partner is going to pick up overtime as much as he can until its paid off. We did try to only put it on when it was bitterly cold but with a three year old who gets cold easily, we gave in – and now have a hefty bill to prove it. We also moved suppliers just before winter so don’t have our summer surplus to tide us through.

Here’s hoping you can build up a decent amount over the summer months and things aren’t quite so difficult for you. xxx

Michelle Reeves (bodfortea) · 24/01/2015 at 06:16

It has been so cold recently, I’m really sorry that you’ve been struggling to keep your flat warm. Watching the meter and listening to the weather report must be so disheartening – but you have written about it so eloquently. Thank you for sharing this and thank you for linking up at #sharethejoy x

    Vicky Charles · 24/01/2015 at 09:50

    Thanks Michelle. I’m hoping it’s just this month that things are this hard. Hopefully I’ll have more cash in February. The cost is ridiculous though. Even if I had enough money, I resent it costing £5 a day to keep warm, when I’ve spent the whole day avoiding using the electricity!

Rachel @ Parenthood Highs and Lows · 24/01/2015 at 10:40

It’s not right is it? We were on an electric meter in our old house and it was horrible. I was so glad when e moved and now have bills. We are behind with paying our bills, but because we are paying something they can’t cut us off (especially with three kids under four). We are one of those families with a working adult but struggle. At the moment I have the heating on most of the day because I refuse to let my kids (aged 3,2 and 8 weeks) be cold, and figure I will deal with the financial consequences another time. We do monitor the lighting, showers etc to keep it down as much as possible, and we don’t have a tumbe drier (although desperately need one!) and use our slow cooker to cook things as it much cheaper. #binkyinky

Samantha Partridge · 24/01/2015 at 11:15

Vicky, you poor thing! I definitely feel for you, especially as it has been extra cold this past couple of weeks. I honestly can’t imagine living like that and having to make a choice between being warm and having a nice meal. My husband and I aren’t particular well off but we never struggle with bills or anything like that and it’s such a shame that there are people in this country that still have to. Hope you can keep warm!xx

    Vicky Charles · 24/01/2015 at 16:00

    Thanks. We’ve been to my mum’s today because it’s warmer there, but I forgot to put the washing on before I left so now I have to wait before putting it in the dryer to heat the living room. It feels completely ridiculous but you sort of get used to living like this.

Kim Carberry · 24/01/2015 at 14:08

I can relate to a lot of this….We have gas central heating but the windows are rubbish and let the heat out. I get my bills quarterly and they are a struggle to pay but we just about manage….I don’t think we would if we were on a Key Meter!
Massive hugs to you x

    Vicky Charles · 24/01/2015 at 15:57

    Thanks. It would be cheaper if we weren’t on a key meter but I think without the constant reminder of what I’m spending, I would have the heating on all the time and run up a massive bill really quickly!

Niki · 25/01/2015 at 10:11

You describe very well what it is like to live with fuel poverty and reminds me of my first years living by myself. (I moved out my parent’s house when 15 and lived in a house (which I had purchased with a tiny heritage from my dad who had passed away 5 years earlier) without electricity installed and with only rain water from the pump for about a year. From that point on to the point I became a mother I worked day and night around school hours and double shifts. I was always so upset about having to pay 2/3rds of my wage to the Belgian government, but in my current situation I am so happy with the social security system here. It is why I decided not to stay in the UK and move back to Belgium asap after the break-up. It much less hard here then in the UK, however our energy bills are also rising constantly since the companies have been privatised. But the government has been helping in so many ways to make houses self-sustaining with solar energy. On top we have minimum wage for everyone who has previously worked and payed taxes in our country and is actively seeking work, or top-ups for those of us managing part-time work with raising children etc … to get us back on our feet. In Belgium this is regardless of whether you have property or savings, because of the high taxes we paid while working… such a different way of thinking.

    Vicky Charles · 25/01/2015 at 10:28

    this sounds really interesting Niki, I’d love to know more about the Belgian system. The UK one is clearly not working!

Emily · 25/01/2015 at 20:18

Sorry to hear this hun. Not the same thing, but our heating hasn’t been working for a while now and our landlord refuses to fix it, so it’s always cold where we are. I hope things improve for you. Thanks for linking up to the #BinkyLinky

    Vicky Charles · 26/01/2015 at 07:27

    oh my gosh that’s awful! My house might be cold, but my landlord fixes things when they break, and even told off the man downstairs (who is not his tenant) for making too much noise!

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