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The Energy Penalty: Disabled People and Fuel Poverty

Centre for Consumers and Essential Services
University of Leicester
Date: 2013


Householders with disabilities or long-term limiting illnesses are known to be disproportionately at risk of being out of work, reliant on benefits and on low incomes. In addition, many disabled people use greater than average amounts of domestic energy, which is due to factors such as lower levels of activity and spending more time at home. An environment of rising energy prices and restrictions on benefits is likely to affect such consumers much harder and make domestic energy less affordable. As a result, it is imperative that policy plans for such a scenario and responds with adequate measures. 

Key research Question

The study aimed to assemble an evidence base on the needs of disabled individuals and families in relation to energy use in order to inform policy and practice among government and the energy market. The study explored the key factors that mean that many disabled people face significant difficulties in affording essential energy use and are at particular risk of fuel poverty. These include the well-evidenced links between disability and poverty and low incomes and the additional costs arising from disability, including essential extra energy needs. 

Summary of activity

The research involved a literature review that focused on the relationships between poverty and disability, including the additional energy requirements and fuel poverty experienced by consumers with particular disabilities. The researchers then carried out interviews with stakeholders from organisations supporting disabled individuals and families and related workers. On the basis of the findings from the interviews and the literature review, a series of illustrative case studies were devised. 


The main report comprises findings across a number of related thematic areas, including disabled children and young people, carers’ energy costs, staying active and connected, fluctuating conditions, poverty and disability, the extra costs of disability, energy efficiency and housing, and benefits, fuel poverty and disability. The full report also contains a number of illustrative case studies to exemplify why additional energy can be required for disabled people’s health and wellbeing. 


A set of recommendations for policy were developed using the findings from the literature review and the interviews with key stakeholders: 

  • Government and regulatory agencies (the Departments of Energy and Health, the DWP and Ofgem) and organisations representing people with disabilities should review existing and prospective policies to calculate the likely impact on the ability to afford essential energy and produce plans to address any disadvantages. As part of this, Ofgem should oversee the creation of guidance for energy suppliers on the needs of people with disabilities. 

  • The Department of Energy should amend its policy of treating disability benefits as disposable income and should exclude such income from fuel poverty calculations. In addition, the DWP must examine whether current levels of support for disabled people through the benefits systems are adequate. 

  • Energy suppliers have a responsibility to make sure that the ‘Broader Group’ of customers entitled to receive the Warm Home Discount includes households in receipt of the disability-related components of the predefined list of benefits listed in the Warm Home Discount regulations. They should also examine their organisational systems to identify where barriers  to take up tmay exist.  

Other themes



Find out more about our Fuel Poverty themes. Discover our projects and related reports.