An overwhelming majority (72%) of the British public also said energy suppliers should stop charging prepayment meter customers for the installation and maintenance of meters, which can cost hard up families £108 a year in additional charges.
However, it is the figures on fuel poverty which will cause greatest concern and serves to highlight the energy regulator Ofgem’s failure to protect vulnerable customers from high energy prices.
According to official Government figures, around 3.5 million households currently spend more than 10% of their income on heat and fuel – the official yardstick for fuel poverty. In 2003, only 1.5 million were living in fuel poverty but huge price hikes in electricity and gas bills in recent years have seen numbers rocket.
Nearly one in three people (29%) of those surveyed said they spend more than 10% of their income on fuel, which equates to 7.25 million British households.
But the figure rose dramatically among people on low to moderate incomes to 39%.
The Federation, which represents England’s housing associations, said the poll results highlighted how vulnerable groups had been the hardest hit by the rising cost of electricity and gas and needed greater protection.
It said it was a scandal that around 1m customers who pay for their energy through prepayment meters were still charged the very highest tariffs in the market, despite having an average household income of just £13,500.
The Big Six companies – British Gas, SSE, npower, E.ON, Scottish Power and EDF – also charge their prepay customers an extra fee of up to £108 per year to cover the installation and maintenance of the meters, but 72% of Britons believe the companies should absorb these costs and not pass them on to their poorest customers.
Meanwhile, just 5% thought the energy regulator was doing a good job of protecting vulnerable customers, with 46% saying it had done a poor one.
Federation chief executive David Orr said: "The findings of our poll are truly shocking. It indicates that, as the recession continues to bite, up to seven million households are in fuel poverty and that huge numbers of vulnerable people will go cold this winter because they can’t afford to heat their homes.
"The spiralling cost of energy and the impact of the downturn mean heating our homes has become a luxury rather than a basic human necessity – particularly for the elderly, low paid and unemployed.
"The survey also shows that the overwhelming majority of people think that prepayment meter customers pay too much for their energy and that Ofgem has simply failed in its duty to protect vulnerable customers."
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