With so many bills to pay, Anne MacDonald struggles to make her money stretch until payday at the end of the month. But one of the biggest problems for the single mum of four young children is being able to afford to heat her home.
She’s not alone. Millions find their heating costs are barely affordable, and fuel poverty is a real issue. There were 26,000 “excess winter deaths” (above what is normal for the season) last year due to poorly insulated homes and high bills – and a new Facebook community project called Fuelling Connections hopes to change that.
Behind it is the charity Hubbub, which has launched Facebook groups for three fuel-poverty hotspots: Tower Hamlets, Doncaster, and Truro and Falmouth.
The group aims to help households struggling with fuel poverty and to encourage members to share tips and experiences. Trewin Restorick, who founded the charity, said the campaign is a pilot project to address the issue of fuel poverty.
“Our research showed that the people we want to reach are regular users of Facebook,” he said. “It’s a communications channel that they are totally familiar and comfortable with, and so we are providing an interactive environment where they feel most comfortable to access support.”
“I’m a mum of four and one of my children has cerebral palsy, so I have to make sure I plan carefully and paying high energy bills can be a struggle,” Anne said. “The Tower Hamlets Fuelling Connections page on Facebook has made me realise there are services out there that can help me.
“It’s a great way to talk to and share ideas with other mums, and get tips on saving money around the house and reducing energy bills. I’ve started making sure I turn everything off in the house at night, and using tea bags to clean my windows and mirrors instead of buying expensive cleaning products.”
Anne’s local MP, Jim Fitzpatrick, has urged “those who can’t afford to pay extortionate fuel bills” to go on Facebook and join the group. That certainly sounds like good advice.
The charity plans more groups, and its help couldn’t be more timely – given that some of the poorest regions in the UK are paying the most for their gas and electricity. New research shows that households in North Wales, Merseyside and north-east England have the least affordable bills.
The comparison site Energyhelpline.com reports that people in Merseyside and North Wales have the highest average bills – at £1,227 – and are forced to spend 8.3 per cent of their average income on heating and lighting their homes. This postcode lottery, in effect, is penalising those in the country who live in the most hard-up areas.
I have long campaigned for more action to fight fuel poverty and get help to those who need it. The big energy companies have always told me that they share the same aim and offer special tariffs and home-improvement help to those in need – but have trouble tracking them down.Maybe visiting these new Facebook pages could be a good start.