Meters 'increase fuel poverty risk'

People who pay for their electricity and gas in advance using smartcards, keys or token meters are more likely to be in fuel poverty than those who pay their bills by direct debit, new research has found.

People who live in fuel poverty - around five million in the UK - spend a minimum of 10% of their income on heating. Many low-income families pay for their gas and electricity in this way, meaning they pay hundreds of pounds more than those from more affluent backgrounds, according to the survey by Save the Children.

It estimated that families whose incomes are 60% or less than the average UK household pay around £1,135 each year for heating, £255 more than that paid by wealthier families. The results, however, were calculated before recent price hikes for electricity and gas, which could see typical households paying £1,800 a year by 2020.

Sally Copley, a spokeswoman for the charity, said: "If they were able to swap to direct debit they would save on average £250 a year. "There is a clear link between living in cold, damp conditions for long periods and children's health being put at risk."

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