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The Housing and Heating of Low-income Households

Social Policy Research Unit
University of York
Date: 1997


The term ‘low-income households’ is commonly used in studies of domestic energy use. Invariably, the assumption is made that all households that fall within this classification face similar risks. However, this category covers a multitude of property formats of different ages and builds, as well as a variety of household types and a considerable spectrum of incomes. Understanding which households are most vulnerable is important to be able to effectively target interventions.

Key research Question

The primary objective was to identify the characteristics of low-income households experiencing satisfactory or unsatisfactory housing, heating and insulation and the relative sizes of the populations affected by these issues.

Summary of activity

The findings were obtained by an analysis of data from the English Housing Condition Surveys for 1986 and 1991 and the General Household Survey for 1992/3.



The analysis of the dataset for 1991 concluded that approximately a third of households on means-tested benefits lived in properties where the housing and heating were ranked as ‘satisfactory’, central heating was installed and the physical condition of the home was in a reasonable state of repair. This was a notable improvement on 1986, which was attributed to the continuing rise in central heating use. Although the proportion of households living in ‘unsatisfactory’ conditions had dropped over the same period, it still represented around a third of homes. The authors identified that single adults (including single pensioners), lone parents and families with dependent children were at an increased risk of falling into this category.


Households living in properties where the heating is provided by electric (or other) fires without central heating should be the priority for remedial insulation. Large families with dependent children on means-tested benefits should be targeted with hot water tank lagging as a cost-effective measure for reducing their expenditure.

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