116,000 households keep their energy bills affordable by spending money

“Let’s take a semi-detached house with four children,” says researcher Anika Batenburg from the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO). “We know what the average energy consumption there should be.” And if in practice the consumption of natural gas and electricity turns out to be much lower, alarm bells will start ringing at TNO. If the residents have low incomes and their house is poorly insulated, the research institute is almost certain that they live in hidden poverty.

According to TNO, this label applies to 116,000 households in the Netherlands; because of a lack of money, the thermostat is set low. The institute carried out research into energy poverty in the Netherlands in collaboration with Statistics Netherlands. TNO has never before been able to visualise this group of Dutch people. “Due to financial problems, these households consume less energy than is necessary to meet their actual energy needs, for example by turning off the heating or regularly refraining from cooking because they consider gas to be too expensive.”

It is possible that the researchers overlooked the fact that the residents spent the winter in, for example, Spain, but given the economic problems of the households in question, known to TNO, that possibility is small.

Almost halved

The number of households using heating at a much lower level than expected increased dramatically between 2021 and 2022: from 80,000 to 116,000 households. In previous years, this affected 104,000 (2020) and 119,000 (2019) households. The group mainly consists of tenants in cooperative housing (69 percent), single-person households (53 percent) and single-parent families (16 percent).

The 116,000 households are part of a much larger group of “energy poor” residents in the Netherlands – a total of around 400,000 in 2023. That’s 4.8 percent of all Dutch households. In most cases, people have little income and spend a large part of it on energy because they live in a poorly insulated house. Those who do not reduce or barely reduce their gas and electricity consumption spend an average of 8.5 percent of their income on energy.

According to TNO and CBS, these 400,000 energy-poor households relatively often receive income from pensions (30 percent), social assistance (28 percent) or other benefits (13 percent).

Although fuel poverty increased by 70,000 households last year, the percentage has been reduced by almost half since 2019 due to the fact that houses were insulated. In addition, the government helped half a million households with financial support.

Women more than men

In a 2020 report, in which the group was not yet included, TNO already described how serious it is: people turn off the stove, when they should and want to burn more.

Joy Sheila Clancy from the University of Twente concluded: “As a result, they may live in houses that are too cold or only in rooms with limited heating, such as the kitchen.” In a previous study, TNO had already pointed out a possible link between health problems and rooms that are too cold, where children have blue eyes.

Clancy notes that women are more likely to suffer from unaffordable energy bills. “In particular, single mothers with children and retired women living alone live in fuel poverty. This is a result of the income gap between men and women, and the socio-cultural division of care tasks.”

Read also:

Stop putting band-aids on energy poverty and propose a coherent policy

Social security requires a national energy plan, social entrepreneur Roebyem Anders van KnopOm and Olof van der Gaag of the Dutch Sustainable Energy Association wrote previously on the Opinion page.

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