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Summary and recommendations

Summary of key points

By energy hardship we mean households that cannot afford to heat their homes adequately, or afford other basic energy services, for example, sufficient hot water. In some cases households may not be able to afford heating at all.

Energy hardship is hard to measure directly but we can use some information from available statistics through consensual (self-reported) and objective measures. Consensual measures include households that have trouble paying energy bills on time, find their house damp, too cold / difficult to heat, or do not use heating. Objective measures use information on the proportion of household income spent on household energy.

  • Households experiencing an energy hardship indicator tend to be poorer, and to have a higher proportion of single-adult households or sole-parent households.
  • Generally children aged under 15 were overrepresented in households experiencing energy hardship.
  • Overlap between subjective and objective measures was relatively low with, for example, just 15.4 percent of households that paid 10 percent or more of their income on domestic energy experiencing a major problem with heating or keeping their home warm in winter.
  • Just under one-third of households experienced one or more energy hardship indicators.
  • Relatively few households (around 1 in 12) experienced two or more indicators of energy hardship.
  • Energy hardship information in the census is currently limited, but the addition of questions about heating appliances and housing quality in the 2018 Census will enable additional indicators to be generated. The additional indicators include: dampness, mould and the use of portable gas heaters.
  • HES provides a good national picture of energy hardship but it has limited regional breakdowns due to its small sample size.


We recommend the use of either a ‘number of energy hardship indicators’ or a ‘composite measure’, as well as individual indicators, to learn how many households and people are experiencing energy hardship and the depth of energy hardship. This could be produced every three years from HES.

Each indicator also provides us with useful information in order to be able to understand the different issues associated with particular energy hardship indicators.

For example, households that had paid their electricity or water bill late more than once tended to have a younger age profile, with one-third of household members aged under 15. These households are likely to be at greater risk of disconnection. In contrast, households with higher fuel expenditure as a proportion of income tended to be older. Research highlights the trade-offs that households, particularly low-income households, can take to pay for fuel, such as cutting down on food expenditure.

Housing quality measures in the 2018 Census will provide useful additional information related to energy hardship. Households will be asked about whether their dwelling has a problem with dampness and about visible mould. The census will also collect information about heating appliances, including portable gas heaters, which will allow the collection of an indicator on ‘Use of unsafe substitute heating methods’. Collecting information about housing quality and heating appliances through the census will mean that energy hardship indicators can be produced for small areas and small populations.

Further information will be available from the 2018 General Social Survey’s ‘housing and the physical environment’ supplement. These indicators could be published as a short report and would provide a useful addition to the information from the Household Economic Survey.

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