THOUSANDS of people across Hastings face difficult choices as sunny days begin to give way to chilly nights.
Recent statistics show 5,288 homes in Hastings and Rye are considered to be in fuel poverty – a figure which represents about 11 per cent of the areas houses.
Numbers are broken down into parliamentary constituencies such as Hastings and Rye, and this area is the second worst in the south east – with only Brighton Pavilion coming out worse, with 13 per cent.
Fuel poverty is the term given to households who cannot be reasonably expected to be able to afford fuel payments when the wages of the occupants are taken into consideration. It, understandably, is strongly linked to deprivation, and Hastings has long been lagging behind more affluent towns elsewhere in Sussex.
The Government does offer financial support to help vulnerable people combat fuel poverty, including grants to improve the energy efficiency of homes, winter fuel payments to pensioners and cold weather payments to help meet bills when the average temperature has dropped below zero degrees for seven consecutive days.
However, with energy prices increasing – in some cases as much as £300 a year since the last general election – there are genuine concerns some people will have to go without elsewhere in order to heat their homes.
And that is certainly the feedback received by local Labour candidate Sarah Owen, who has been speaking to residents about their heating concerns.
She said: “Too many people will have to choose between heating and eating. From my town hall meetings on fuel bills with residents in Rye, to knocking on doors around Hastings it is clear that people cannot afford to keep their households running.
“Energy companies should not be allowed to continue ripping off their customers, so I am fighting to see a tougher regulator which would have the power to force firms to cut their prices and ensure that all people over 75 are put on the cheapest tariffs.”
More immediate help is available in the form of Hastings Borough Council’s recently launched Switched on Hastings service.
The authority is encouraging people to register their interest in the scheme now and once enough people have signed up, energy companies will be asked to bid their lowest tariff in an auction on October 16 for new customers.
The lowest tariff will then be offered to the residents, who will be under no obligation to accept it. For more information, call the council on 01424 451055 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, register online at www.hastings.gov.uk/switchedonhastings.