Concerns have been raised over the health and wellbeing of fuel poor households with high expenditure on heating over the recent winter months pushing many into further financial hardship.
Government statistics reveal 2.55m* households are living in fuel poverty which means they cannot afford to adequately heat their home given their income.
Rural areas are particularly affected, with the average fuel poor household facing a £600 shortfall between the cost of their fuel bills and what they can afford to pay – double that for urban areas. This is partly due to rural properties being older, less well insulated and more expensive to keep warm.
The warning comes at a time when many households already face multiple pressures on their finances from the higher cost of living, rising rent and mortgage payments and increases in council tax.
In response to the growing concern, OFTEC, which represents the oil heating industry, is calling on local MPs to provide more support to those most in need.
Malcolm Farrow from OFTEC commented: "The cold months are a real struggle for many people and last winter was no exception. Fortunately, the worst of the weather is over as we move into spring, but the additional money already spent on heating has left many households financially short.
"The levels of fuel poverty are truly shocking, and many people will be struggling in silence without the support they urgently need. Whilst some progress has been made to address these issues, it is still not enough, which is why we are calling for more immediate action to be taken to ensure we protect the most vulnerable in society."
One of the biggest challenges facing rural fuel poor households is low energy efficiency and poor insulation which means properties take longer to heat up and require more fuel to maintain a comfortable temperature.
Malcolm added: "There are several ways the government could help households reduce their fuel bills such as providing financial support for improving property insulation or investing in a modern condensing boiler which is more energy efficient. From next year, all landlords will also be required to ensure their properties meet a minimum standard of energy efficiency which will provide some relief to those in rented accommodation.
"Households can also take action themselves to reduce their fuel bills in other ways such as adjusting heating timers as the weather changes, bleeding radiators and ensuring their heating system is regularly serviced and inspected by a qualified GasSafe (for mains gas) or OFTEC (for oil or solid fuel) registered technician."
*Annual Fuel Poverty Statistics Report, BEIS 2018