An “energy rescue package” should be introduced by the Budget to help rural communities hit hargest by rising energy bills, the Liberal Democrats have urged.

Exclusive analysis by the party, revealed to i, shows that there are 325,000 households in rural areas in fuel poverty, an increase of 19 per cent from 2020, when the total was 51,000.

The rural poverty fuel gap has also doubled over the same period, with the amount needed to lift a household out of fuel poverty increasing from £501 in 2020 to £956 this year.

The total is now four times higher than the fuel poverty gap of £265 in urban areas, which is up slightly from £193 in 2020.

The Liberal Democrats are urging Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to provide extra help for rural communities, warning that they are currently being left “out in the cold”.

They are calling for the government to lower the Energy Price Guarantee (EPG), which caps the cost of household energy bills from £2,500 to £2,000, which could be funded through a “proper windfall tax” on energy companies.

Liberal Democrat Rural Affairs Spokesperson Tim Farron said: “Rural communities are being hit hardest by soaring energy bills, leaving far too many families struggling to keep their homes warm.

He highlighted that households in rural areas often have “poorly insulated homes” and are more likely to rely on “expensive forms of heating” such as electric, oil or petrol-powered systems.

Mr Farron added: “This government is just completely taking them for granted. Rishi Sunak’s plans to hike energy bills yet again in April are completely tone-deaf and risk plunging thousands more into fuel poverty.

“The government needs to slash energy bills and bring forward extra support for those in rural communities being hardest hit. That must include a price cap on heating oil and other off-grid fuels, and targeted support for those households struggling to afford their bills.”

The current EPG level of £2,500 was brought in by former Prime Minister Liz Truss last October to protect households from the rising cost of energy bills brought on by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The ceiling on bills was set to rise to £3,000 a year, but i understands that the Chancellor is poised to extend support in the hope that wholesale prices will sufficiently fall by summer so that support will no longer be required.

Without the scheme, a typical household bill would be £4,279 a year under the current price cap set by Ofgem. Due to the global fall in wholesale energy prices in the last few months, that cap is expected to fall to £3,280 a year from April.

Mr Sunak, who was Chancellor at the time, also announced in April last year that all households would get a £400 energy bill.

Further means-tested support was also made available, to be paid throughout 2023, including £900 payment for more than eight million benefits claimants, £150 for more than six million disabled people and £300 for more than eight million pensioners on top of their winter fuel payment.

Many rural homes, however, missed out on these payments as they were either not benefits claimants or did not deal directly with an energy supplier.

A new scheme opened last month to allow almost a million households unable to claim their energy rebate to access the £400 discount. This includes many people living in holiday parks, houseboats, off-grid or in care homes.

The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero has been contacted for comment.

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