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Soaring energy bills push Westcountry household costs to new high

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: April 04, 2013

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Housing budgets are being put under more strain as the cost of owning and running a home reached its highest level in five years.

Soaring energy bills have wiped out the benefits of lower mortgage rates and pushed yearly household bills in Devon and Cornwall up to £9,341 in January of this year – a 2.7% hike since 2008.

"The cost of heating is astronomical," said Trudy Mason, a pensioner from Camelford in North Cornwall. "Because I live on a very small, fixed income, I have been forced to turn down the heating from 21 degrees to 18 degrees and reduce the length of time it's on. The price of oil especially is prohibitive."

The figures from the Halifax showed the region was the fourth most expensive in the country behind Greater London, the South East and the East of England. They do not include additional financial costs of living in rural areas such as the escalating cost of motoring, with petrol prices still in excess of £1.30 per litre.

The figures come as an insolvency trade body revealed more than a third (36%) of people in the South West struggle financially to reach payday. Some 81% of those struggling blamed rising living costs, while 57% claimed the increased costs of living alongside falling wages had pushed them into debt.

Joanne Rumley, chair of the R3 South West and Wales region and partner at law firm Bond Pearce, said: "Nowadays, the combination of rising living costs and wages falling is a reason in itself, and the prolonged effects of this squeeze are taking their toll on the nation's finances, with some people having to turn to payday loans."

The survey also indicated other reasons for mounting debt included loss of employment and the cost of childcare.

Ms Rumley added: "I remain concerned for those on the extremities of the debt landscape, those with no savings or saddled with high-cost loans, and would urge this group to consider all their options, including speaking to a professional sooner rather than later."

The report by the Halifax, based on a range of official statistics and surveys, showed the price of electricity, gas and other fuels had surged by 57% over the past five years – deepening the problem of fuel poverty, which is already acute in many areas of the region.

Mortgage payments remain the largest single component of housing expenses (37%), followed by fuel charges (18%) and council tax payments (14%).

Martin Ellis, housing economist at Halifax, said: "The typical costs of owning and running a home have again increased slightly over the past year, although this rise was below the general increase in the cost of living.

"Overall, the cost of owning a home has increased by 2% over the past five years, representing a significant decline in real terms. Lower mortgage payments have largely offset increases in other items of housing-related expenditure, such as the substantial rises in electricity and gas bills."

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