Almost a year after it was revealed thousands of families across Preston were struggling to pay their energy bills, the situation shows little sign of improving.
Latest figures show 13 per cent of households in the city, 7,500 in total, are still classed as being ‘fuel poor’.
In November last year, it was reported that the same percentage of households, and a total of 7,400, were fuel poor, with that number now even higher.
Leaders say as fast as they are helping some families, others are falling into fuel poverty.
“It’s just getting worse, it’s not getting better,” said Maureen Stevenson, 59.
It’s always on my mind, have I got enough for this or that, and it’s not got any better, it’s got worse.
Maureen, who lives in Tanterton, struggles to make ends meet each week. She has also been supporting her son in her home, until he recently secured an apprenticeship.
Maureen said: “It’s just getting worse and worse. I’m basically watching every penny.
“I’m putting so much in a week and just praying that will last me, maybe £17 a week or £20 a week on electric.
“I think they are telling us things are getting better but it’s not showing up for us.”
Maureen, who has a back injury and relies on disability living allowance and employment support allowance, said she tried her best to keep the electricity on, but sometimes went without gas.
She said: “I can do without the gas but I can’t do without the electricity.
“I’ve got a heater that in an emergency I could use and that’s electric.
“I know there are other people worse off than I am. But it’s just the way it is. I can manage to get through with food, we don’t get a lot of luxuries but we survive.
“I try to be positive. But I’m watching really tightly what I’m doing.
“It’s always on my mind, have I got enough for this or that, and it’s not got any better, it’s got worse.
“I’m more worried about the future for the younger ones. For myself I don’t think it looks that great, but for the younger ones I feel sorry for them.
“It’s a constant worry, because if you are living week-to-week, day-to-day, you’re just hoping everything is okay and works out.”
Coun Martyn Rawlinson, Preston Council’s cabinet member for resources, has accepted a grant offer from Lancashire County Council of £68,977 to help families across the city.
The cash is to be spent in areas including boiler repairs, community outreach projects to help isolated and vulnerable people, and a pilot hospital discharge scheme.
But Coun Rawlinson said the funding was “scratching the surface” and many homes in Preston were not up to modern fuel efficiency standards. He said: “The government has withdrawn virtually every penny of other types of home improvement grants, so it’s scratching the surface really.
“The grants will make a difference to the people who get the grants, but over all it won’t solve the problems, because it’s the condition of the housing stock and the finances of the people living in them which are not improving.”
Last year, a similar grant from Lancashire County Council was given to Town Hall chiefs of £69,000 but, because the cash arrived late in the year, only £9,640 was spent.
It means £59,360 is to be carried forward to be spent on more “affordable warmth” interventions.
Coun Robert Boswell, the council’s cabinet member for community and environment, said: “Fuel poverty is a major problem facing many households. For many, it is a choice between heat or eat.
“The council have a number of initiatives to ease the burden of fuel poverty for people affected in Preston.
“Our interventions largely focus on the energy efficiency of the house, as well as trying to reduce fuel bills.
“But if other household income doesn’t rise, or it falls as many have, or if fuel costs don’t come down significantly, then as fast as we are reducing fuel poverty in some households, others are falling in to that category.
“This is a very important issue, and the figures only prove why we need to continue this work.”
The council can also refer people to other sources of grant funding for energy efficient works, for those including older people, those on low incomes, people with disabilities or long term conditions.
Contact the housing support team on 01772 906764, 906765 or 906355.