Benevolence charities warn of rising fuel debt bill

UK benevolence charities give more than £16m worth of grants to beneficiaries each year to cover their domestic heating debts, according to a survey by the Association of Charity Officers and the Cass Business School.

The poll of ACO's member charities, which is due to be released at the organisation's conference on Thursday, shows that spending on heating and fuel will represent almost 20 per cent of benevolence charities' yearly expenditure.

When the same survey was undertaken in 2004, heating was not even in the top-ten list of one-off grant provision to needy individuals. Fuel costs are now third in the list, overtaken only by spending on beds and clothing.

Mike Carter, chairman of the ACO, said that rising fuel prices were probably to blame. "Charities tend to pay fuel bills for beneficiaries for whom heating is just one element of a larger debt issue. Unfortunately, charities increasingly have to make up for the shortfall of what should be provided by government," he said.

Carter said this was becoming a "very real problem" for charities and that more research was needed to find out how best to help those who were in danger of having their heating supplies disconnected.

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