Understanding the impact of unaffordable energy bills on low income consumers in Wales


Why the client needed the research

The Welsh Government estimates that around a quarter of households in Wales are living in fuel poverty and has set an agenda to eradicate fuel poverty by 2018. To help meet this target, they have devised a number of schemes (including Nest and Arbed) that focus on energy inefficiency in homes, one of the three main causes of fuel poverty alongside high energy bills and low incomes.

Fuel poverty is a clear priority for Citizens Advice Cymru, given the importance of a manageable energy bill to its clients, who are often struggling with a number of other financial problems. Beaufort was therefore commissioned to carry out independent research across Wales among a sample of people belonging to the C2DE socio economic groups, that is, those most likely to be affected by fuel poverty. Citizens Advice Cymru wanted to use the research to understand the impact of unaffordable energy bills on people in Wales – not just those currently in fuel poverty, but also those who might be at risk of it - and also to gather insight into the real-life experiences behind the fuel poverty statistics.

Our approach

A range of research methods was required to satisfy the broad objectives of the study, with a particular challenge being the need to identify and gather evidence from low income consumers who had received help from an energy efficiency scheme.


The project therefore consisted of five separate research elements combining quantitative and qualitative methods:

1. Quantitative telephone survey: 1,000 CATI (Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing) interviews with a statistically representative sample of low income adults aged 16+ living in Wales
2. Quantitative face-to-face survey: 57 comparable personal interviews conducted in specific geographic locations in North Wales, among residents in areas that had benefited from the Arbed scheme
3. Beaufort Wales Omnibus survey: 1,003 CAPI (Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing) interviews with a representative sample of adults aged 16+ living in Wales, to provide benchmark comparisons for key questions against the Welsh population
4. Qualitative depth interviews with consumers: ten follow-on telephone interviews conducted with people on low incomes identified through the main telephone survey, to explore their experiences in more depth
5. Qualitative depth interviews with stakeholders: ten in-depth telephone interviews carried out with representatives of a range of organisations delivering services to, or advocating for, groups of clients likely to be on low incomes or to have specific needs, to obtain their perspective on fuel poverty.

This combination of methods ensured that the sample of people on low incomes interviewed was sufficiently large to generate a robust base size that allowed for reliable analysis among various sub-groups, most importantly those individuals who had received help from an energy efficiency scheme. 

The outcome

The study demonstrated that the experience of being ‘fuel poor’ (that is reporting to spend more than 10 per cent of disposable household income on energy bills) is a major issue in Wales, affecting a high proportion of the low income population. Moreover, the affordability of energy bills is an issue for around half of people on low incomes in Wales, and particularly for younger people, families and those not in work. 

The results of the research will be used by Citizens Advice Cymru to:
• Formulate customer-focused policy recommendations about the future design of energy efficiency schemes in Wales
• Make recommendations for other interventions which can mitigate the impact of fuel poverty, and/or reduce the number of households suffering its effects
• Inform Citizens Advice Cymru’s future work on fuel poverty
• Provide stories of typical consumers which illustrate in an effective way the impacts of fuel poverty or their struggles with energy bills
• Contribute to identifying and targeting priority groups for support in future.

Socio-economic classification is determined by establishing an individual’s job title and position:
C2: Skilled manual workers, manual workers with responsibility for other people
DE: Semi-skilled and unskilled manual workers, apprentices and trainees to skilled workers, those dependent on state benefits, casual workers and those without regular income.