end fuel poverty news
Ofgem’s warning of future energy bill rises
19 February 2013
Responding to Ofgem’s warning of future energy bill rises, Mike O’Connor, Chief Executive, Consumer Focus, said:
‘Keeping the lights on is a real challenge which the nation has to meet. We need to invest but we also need to think about how we protect the most vulnerable consumers who can least afford higher prices. In the long term the best hope is more energy efficient homes. We need to do more to ensure our homes do not leak energy and we are calling on Government to use the funds they raise in carbon taxes to insulate our houses to modern standards, saving the poorest in society money on their bills, as well cutting carbon emissions and creating jobs.
‘With 6 million households in fuel poverty, rising to over 9 million by 2016, and an increasing proportion of our incomes being spent on essential items like energy, this latest news, while not surprising, is chilling.
‘Three things are vital:
- We must focus not just on bringing new plant to market but on how we pay for the new investment. The trend is for bill payers, rather than tax payers or shareholders, to take the burden and risk. We must question whether that is right, and urge that the government to commit to the least regressive way to fund energy investment.
- Policy makers must put energy efficiency at the top of the list. Reducing demand by making homes and businesses more energy efficient is such an obvious first step that the lack of a really ambitious programme is bewildering. Reducing demand is quicker, cheaper, more sustainable and solves the problem at source. A major energy efficiency programme should be financed by the billions we will pay on our bills in carbon taxation and would drive economic growth.
- As always, those who can least afford to pay will suffer the most. Millions of homes face their own security of supply crisis every day and many have to respond by staying cold. Facing the security of supply crisis means tackling fuel poverty as well.’
New research reveals a massive shortfall in funding for insulation programmes for low-income households as charities urge Government to invest in keeping homes warm
Research undertaken by fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA) shows that the Government’s key energy efficiency programmes will leave hundreds of thousands of households in poorly insulated properties by 2016 – the date by which the Government undertook to eradicate fuel poverty in England. On the most optimistic estimates, 45% of fuel-poor households who could benefit from cavity wall insulation – the single most cost-effective energy-saving measure – will be excluded from support as a result of inadequate funding.
The warning comes as charities National Energy Action (NEA) and Energy Action Scotland (EAS) launch the Warm Homes Campaign today. The UK wide campaign aims to raise awareness of the increasing number of cold homes and highlight the benefits of helping those struggling to heat their homes. Anyone concerned about their bills this winter is being urged to call the Home Heat Helpline on 0800 33 66 99 to find out what help they may be eligible for.
Chief Executive of National Energy Action (NEA), Jenny Saunders OBE, comments:
“The UK Government is fully aware that millions of households are currently unable to heat their homes to a standard that will protect their health and well-being. Warmth is a top political issue and we are fully committed to supporting the heating and insulation programmes that already exist; however we are increasingly concerned about the consequences of the decision to reduce resources in this area.
“Without investing public money in warmth, we believe the UK will see increased health costs at a local and national level, increased levels of fuel debt, reduced numbers of contactors employed within the energy efficiency industry and, inevitably, increased levels of fuel poverty. We hope this campaign will show that by investing in warmth and upgrading Britain’s coldest homes it is possible to improve millions of people’s lives while boosting the economy and creating local jobs”.
Director of Energy Action Scotland (EAS), Norman Kerr, comments:
“We all recognise that there are many competing priorities for public expenditure through this period, however cold homes cost money. Ill health caused by cold, damp housing is estimated to cost health and social services more than £1 billion every year across the UK. Health services face high demand during periods of prolonged cold weather and much of this demand stems from ill health resulting from cold homes.
“From this year onwards HM Treasury will accrue huge revenues from hard-pressed domestic energy consumers. We know that without radical change the most severe impacts of the cold will continue to be felt by many of the poorest and most vulnerable households and communities. We hope to demonstrate the major positive outcomes that would result from ambitious and adequately resourced action on cold homes”.
Christine McGourty of the Home Heat Helpline comments:
“We are urging anyone worried about keeping warm to call the Home Heat Helpline on 0800 33 66 99 to claim the free help or advice they’re entitled to in reducing their bills. It’s free to call and you can also ring on behalf of friends, family and neighbours. We are especially keen to reach people who are elderly or on low incomes who are struggling to pay their energy bills, so please call to find out about assistance available through grants, rebates and special payment options. You can also visit the website on www.homeheathelpline.org.uk”.
Throughout the campaign, a number of events will be organised to demonstrate the work that is being done at a local level to tackle fuel poverty. NEA and EAS members, stakeholders, MPs and other politicians, and members of the public will also be asked to help highlight the issues by tweeting and emailing images that capture some of the key themes.
Warm Front scheme now closed
The Warm Front scheme has now closed to new applications. According to DECC, it was necessary to close to new applications at this point to allow time for qualifying applications to be completed, as far as reasonably practicable, before the end of the financial year.
Going forward, support for boiler repairs/replacements and insulation measures will be provided for vulnerable households through the new Energy Company Obligation (ECO). The ECO came into force on 1 January. It works alongside the Green Deal with the aims of saving carbon and getting efficient boilers and insulation into the homes of vulnerable people across Great Britain to help them keep warm and save money on energy bills. Part of the ECO (known as the Affordable Warmth Obligation) is specifically targeted at low income households to enable such households to heat their homes more affordably.
Any householder who thinks they may be eligible for help under ECO Affordable Warmth or would like to know more about the scheme and other offers available to help them keep warm and save money on energy bills should contact the Energy Saving Advice Service (ESAS) on 0300 123 1234. ESAS provides a verified referral mechanism for suppliers in return for a minimum package of assistance for referred customers, which includes offering boiler replacement/repairs and basic insulation measures to eligible households within an agreed timeframe.
'Thousands of families left in the cold because of Government incompetence' - Caroline Flint
Over 50,000 low-income households are set to be left in the cold this winter, after shocking figures uncovered by Labour.
Caroline Flint MP, Labour’s Shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary, revealed that because of Government budget mismanagement, over half the money set aside for this year’s Warm Front Scheme is predicted to remain unspent when the scheme closes on 19 January 2013.
The revelation comes at a time when the average energy bill has hit a new record high of £1400, and the Government’s own fuel poverty advisers are warning that an extra 300,000 people could be pushed into fuel poverty this winter. Labour has called an Opposition Day Debate in the House of Commons on Wednesday 16 January, and will call on the Government to extend the scheme until the full budget has been spent.
Caroline Flint MP, Labour’s Shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary, said:
"Millions of families are turning down their heating this winter because of soaring energy bills. The most sustainable way people can cut their bills and keep their homes warm is by making their homes more energy efficient. In this cold weather it just does not make sense for Ministers to close down Warm Front when nearly half the budget has not been spent and people are crying out for help with their fuel bills.
"Unless Ministers act now and ensure Warm Front is extended until the full budget for this year has been spent, tens of thousands of families will be needlessly left in the cold."
The End Fuel Poverty Coalition would like to see political support for a new publicly funded programme that replaces Warm Front in 2013 which is of sufficient scale to improve the homes of the millions of households in fuel poverty and is capable of eventually ending fuel poverty altogether.
Closure of Warm Front to new applications from 19 January
The Warm Front scheme is to be closed to new applications from January 19 2013, leaving England as the only UK nation providing no Exchequer-funded support to enable vulnerable and financially disadvantaged households to improve heating and insulation standards in their homes. After 19 January, help and support will instead be available in the form of the newly introduced Energy Company Obligation (ECO).
Any Warm Front applications received by Carillion, the scheme administrator, by 19 January will be processed under the Warm Front scheme. Anyone who thinks they may be eligible for the Warm Front scheme should call ESAS on 0300 123 1234. Applications on January 19 2013 must be made by 5pm that day.
Anyone calling the old Warm Front number for a new application once the scheme has closed will be automatically routed through to The Energy Saving Advice Service (ESAS) for ECO Affordable Warmth. The ESAS is already taking calls and making ECO Affordable Warmth referrals.
1 in 4 families forced to choose between heating and eating
January 6th, 2013
A quarter of mums have had to choose food over heating thanks to spiralling energy bills, a survey conducted by the Energy Bill Revolution campaign and Netmums reveals today. An alarming 23 per cent say they faced the desperate choice this winter.
The poll also reveals that eight out of ten families are rationing warmth in their homes – in the first signs that sky high heating bills are causing a national heating crisis. Of those, nine out of ten are wearing extra clothes instead of turning on the heating, 56% turn it off altogether when the kids are out and 45% are wrapping up in a duvet or blankets during the day. One third are going to bed early to cut energy costs or wearing two layers of clothes in bed just to keep warm.
Today campaigners call on ministers to solve Britain’s fuel poverty crisis once and for all by super-insulating millions of homes nationwide.
The Energy Bill Revolution campaign wants the government to use money raised in Carbon Tax to super-insulate homes across the country, cutting over £300 from the average family’s fuel bill. Supporters are urged to sign a petition at www.energybillrevolution.org calling on the Chancellor to act. This would end fuel poverty once and for all, help tackle the climate change crisis and provide a major boost for the economy.
A study by Cambridge Econometrics conducted for the campaign reveals 100,000 new construction jobs would be created if the Chancellor earmarked the Carbon Tax funds for super-insulation.
Today’s poll of 1,000 members of parenting website Netmums found that 88% of families are more worried about their winter bills this year than last year. One in three say they are “very stressed” as a result. Many are also worried about the impacts on their children’s health, with 1 in 5 saying they believe their children are ill more often as a result of living in colder homes.
Ed Matthew, Director of the Energy Bill Revolution, said:
“This survey shows that we are facing a national energy bill crisis. We call ourselves a developed country but no one should have to make the choice between feeding their family and heating their home. But there is a solution. By recycling carbon revenue to make homes super-energy efficient we can end the fuel poverty scandal once and for all. It is time for the Government to get a grip on this crisis and recognise that fully insulating UK homes is the best way to drive down energy bills.”
Netmums founder Sally Russell said:
“The figures contained in this study are simply shocking. The news that almost a quarter of families are being forced to choose between heating and eating should send shockwaves through UK society. These are impossible choices for families to make as both are essential to good health and children’s safety and security. And with almost nine in ten families now rationing their energy use due to spiralling prices, this signals a new winter of discontent for British families.”
Official DECC predictions on rising energy costs suggest the number of households suffering fuel poverty could rise to nine million by 2016, affecting one in three households. It is currently experienced by one in four households. Fuel poverty exists where someone spends more than 10% of their income on paying their energy bills. On average, at least 7,800 people die every year from living in cold homes.
Domestic fuel bills have risen by an average of eight per cent this winter. This means families are bracing themselves for annual bills of over £1,300, with gas prices predicted to continue rising.
The UK’s homes are amongst the worst insulated in Europe, outperformed by countries with similar climates such as France and Germany. The Energy Bill Revolution campaign proposes a comprehensive programme of modifications, insulating walls, floors, roofs, doors, and windows, which could save families over £300 every year on their fuel bills. The investment will benefit the economy as well as cutting household bills – a recent study by Cambridge Econometrics found that the plans could create up to 100,000 jobs – more than any comparable Government spending programme or tax break.
No new taxes or additional charges on energy bills would be required to pay for super-insulation. The project would be entirely financed through the Carbon Tax which is levied on energy companies for their carbon emissions and ends up on consumer energy bills. It is expected to raise for the Exchequer £2.7billion in 2013, rising to £6.8billion in 2027. The super-insulation plans proposed by the Energy Bill Revolution are far more ambitious in scale than Government schemes such as the Green Deal or the Energy Companies Obligation, which on their own will not halt the rise of fuel poverty in the UK.
Super-insulation could help over half a million homes each year, end fuel poverty, and in time benefit every home in the country. Super-insulation involves wholesale conversion of homes including loft, walls, windows, doors and floors.
End Fuel Poverty Coalition response to DECC consultation on fuel poverty measurement
Government slashes support for fuel poor
November 27th, 2012
The Government has significantly reduced the financial support it gives the fuel poor, according to a new report just released.
The report by the Association for the Conservation of Energy (ACE) is the first time the Government’s fuel poverty budget has been analysed in depth by experts outside Government. It finds that the money received by the fuel poor in England has been cut by 26% between 2009 and 2013, taking into account all the Government’s new policies.
It also finds that the budget for energy efficiency measures for the fuel poor in England has been cut by 44%. This has raised particular concern because energy efficiency improvements are considered the best long term solution to end fuel poverty. ACE estimates that the number of fuel poor households receiving energy efficiency measures in England will fall from 150,000 in 2009 to 100,000 in 2013.
The report was commissioned by the Energy Bill Revolution campaign, the biggest fuel poverty alliance ever formed in the UK. It is made up of over 100 leading charities, consumer groups, businesses and unions calling for carbon tax revenue to be used to make the homes of the fuel poor super energy efficient.
The campaign calculates that there is enough carbon revenue to end fuel poverty and in time help make every UK home highly energy efficient. The Government will raise over £2 billion in carbon tax revenue in 2013 with consumers each paying an average of £25 on their electricity bill. By 2020 the Government will raise £4 billion in carbon tax with consumers paying an average of £54.
Ed Matthew, Director of the Energy Bill Revolution alliance campaign said:
“The fuel poor face a triple whammy. The fuel poverty budget has been slashed, gas prices are going up whilst Chancellor Osborne has pocketed every penny of carbon tax. This is despite the fact there is enough carbon tax revenue to end fuel poverty forever. That is a toxic combination which will bring untold misery to millions of households across the UK.”
Jenny Holland, Head of Parliamentary Team at ACE said:
“Instead of tackling the blight of fuel poverty, the Government has spent far too long twiddling its thumbs: two and a half years reviewing how fuel poverty is defined while at the same time drastically eroding budgets to tackle the problem. The Government must now urgently recycle carbon tax to make the homes of the fuel poor highly energy efficient. No household should have to choose between heating and eating. It’s time to end this national scandal.”
To read the report, go to http://www.energybillrevolution.org/resources/
Energy efficiency investment is one of best ways to boost the economy – new research reveals
9 November 2012
A new report from Consumer Focus - ‘Jobs, growth and warmer homes’ - shows that investing money raised through carbon taxes in a major energy efficiency programme is one of the best ways to create jobs and boost the economy, while also tackling fuel poverty.
The research shows that significant Government energy efficiency infrastructure investment could:
- Generate up to 71,000 jobs and boost GDP by 0.2 per cent by 2015 and create up to 130,000 jobs by 2027.
- Lift up to nine out of ten households out of fuel poverty, reducing energy bills in all treated homes by at least £200 per year
- Cut household energy consumption by 5.4 per cent by 2027 and quadruple the impact of the government’s energy savings schemes – Green Deal and Energy Company Obligation
- Cut overall carbon emissions by 1.1 per cent, including household emissions reduced by around 5.6% by 2027
Today’s report shows that more jobs and greater economic growth could be generated through energy efficiency programmes than by an equivalent investment in other Government spending programmes, or by cuts in VAT or fuel duty.
Investing in energy efficiency has other advantages over alternative options. It is fast to mobilise, and would stimulate economic activity and jobs in all regions of the UK. It employs workers in construction and related sectors, which have been hit hard by the recession. Consequently this sort of investment is less likely than other forms of investment to ‘crowd out’ alternate economic activity. It would also reduce NHS expenditure on treating cold-related illnesses such as respiratory and coronary diseases and reduce dependency on imported gas.
Fuel poverty currently affects over six million UK households, and levels are set to rise as energy prices go up. This is predicted to grow to 9.1 million households – more than one in three homes. Increased investment is needed to make our energy supply cleaner and more secure. Energy consumers will pay an additional £4 billion each year in carbon taxes through their energy bills by 2020.
From next year the main scheme to help fuel poor consumers will be the heating and insulation improvements provided by energy firms through the Energy Company Obligation (ECO). But Government estimates show this will lift only 250,000 households out of fuel poverty, at most.
Consumer Focus, and a coalition of organisations (The Energy Bill Revolution), argue that a proportion of funds generated by carbon taxes, should be used for targeted energy efficiency schemes. The new report details a range of funding options from using 35 per cent of carbon tax revenue to 95 per cent and how this could cut fuel poverty by 75 per cent to 87 per cent depending on the level of investment.
Mike O’Connor, Chief Executive at Consumer Focus, said:
‘We need to make heating our homes more affordable, cut carbon emissions and achieve economic growth. Using carbon taxes to ensure our homes leak less energy represents a triple-whammy. This would simultaneously improve the quality of life of millions of people, slash carbon emissions and generate greater economic growth than other measures. Consumers will be paying these taxes through their bills. They can and should feel the benefit.
‘Fuel poverty leaves millions of households having to cut back on essentials like food and heating to make ends meet. The Government’s current energy efficiency and fuel poverty plans will only touch the tip of this iceberg. However, Government has the opportunity to use the large and stable revenues from carbon taxes to deliver the most breathtaking and transformative energy efficiency scheme that we have ever seen.’
Ed Matthew, Director of the Energy Bill Revolution campaign, said:
‘The Energy Bill Revolution is the biggest fuel poverty alliance that has ever been formed in the UK. We are united by our conviction that there is a financial solution which can end the suffering and generate more jobs than any equivalent investment. This is the Marshall Plan the UK needs to slash the energy bills of the most vulnerable and re-build the economy.’
Consumer Focus is urging the Government to carefully review this new research and the existing evidence from the Energy Bill Revolution, and consider this policy approach on energy efficiency. It would both help our economic recovery and give vulnerable households ongoing benefits from warmer homes, lower energy bills and better health.
Local Action for Warm Homes Conference
17 October 2012
Over 100 people from all over England came together in Islington's Assembly Hall for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition's Local Action for Warm Homes event. Participants represented a variety of sectors, including voluntary, public and private.
The aim of the conference was to show how councils, working with the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, can play a central role in helping the Government meet its statutory target to eliminate fuel poverty.
Those attending heard from a range of speakers from a variety of backgrounds, including the Energy Minister, Greg Barker, and Abigail Burridge from the Local Government Association. Participants also heard from people directly experiencing fuel poverty, such as Dot Gibson, the chair of the National Pensioners Convention. Two young ambassadors from the National Children's Bureau, Kiran and Maryiam Iqbal from Rochdale, talked about the project they are involved in, which has been looking at the detrimental impact that living in fuel poverty can have on children and young people's lives.
The event also saw Joanne Wade launch a new report commissioned by Consumer Focus, Local authorities and fuel poverty, which examines the action local authorities in England are taking to tackle fuel poverty.
The day finished with some excellent and insightful presentations from Worcestershire and Islington Councils and Stockton NHS, all of whom are actively involved in delivering innovative schemes to eradicate fuel poverty in their local areas.
Local Action for Warm Homes – ask your council to take action today
The End Fuel Poverty Coalition has launched its 'Local Action for Warm Homes' campaign, asking local authorities to sign up to a local authority fuel poverty commitment. The commitment asks councils to recognise that they can play an important role in tackling fuel poverty and the impact it has on some of their most vulnerable residents. To see the full text of the commitment, click on the 'Commitment' button at the side of this page.
To make sure that as many councils as possible sign up to the commitment, EFPC is asking all of its supporters to contact their local council leader to urge them to sign up. You can do this by clicking on the ‘Take Action’ button on the side of this page. We would also ask that you publicise this campaign to all of your friends and supporters.
Six million households will cut back on heating this winter - while free help goes unclaimed
Consumer Focus, Citizens Advice, Age UK and National Children’s Bureau, are urging people in England worried about their energy bills to find out if they are eligible for free heating and insulation improvements from Warm Front.
The call comes as new research from Consumer Focus shows that four out of ten households (39 per cent) are worried about affording their energy bills this winter. Of these people 70 per cent (around six million households across England) plan to cut back on heating their home this winter due to these worries. Yet at the same time millions of pounds worth of help is being left unclaimed under Warm Front, the Government’s scheme to help the poorest households in England to make their homes warmer and cut their energy bills.
The Government is introducing changes today (12 September) that will make more people and families with children, who are living on low incomes, eligible for the scheme. As the eligibility criteria for help under the Warm Front scheme is widening, even if someone has been turned down before they may be able to get help this year.
As this is the last year of Warm Front, the organisations are joining together to promote the scheme to make sure that as many vulnerable people and families as possible get this help. The heating and insulation improvements Warm Front offers could help thousands of households to stay warm and well and save up to £600 off their energy bills each year.
Jonathan Stearn, Programme Director at Consumer Focus, said: ‘A cold home can damage your health. So it’s very worrying that high energy prices are leading so many people to cut back on their heating. We want to make sure that as many people as possible are helped to cut their bills and stay warm and well through the Warm Front scheme this year. We would urge anyone struggling with their bills to find out if they can claim free help.’
Gillian Guy, Chief Executive at Citizens Advice said: ‘We’re really worried people are struggling with their fuel bills because they live in homes that haemorrhage heat. Yet there is lots of help out there to make your home warmer – especially if you are on a low income. Your local CAB can help you apply for a Warm Front grant and Citizens Advice will be helping people save money on their energy bills during Big Energy Saving Week.’
Mervyn Kohler, Special Adviser for Age UK, said: ‘Warm Front is being phased out. When this year’s budget is exhausted, that’s it. But so far, applications are really low, and the scheme may gift an under-spend back to the Treasury. A cold home is a serious health hazard, and older households (who are particularly at risk) can act now, knowing that by Christmas they will be warmer and better prepared for the dangers and worries of a cold winter’.
Rachel Monaghan, Senior Development Officer, Health and Well-being at the National Children’s Bureau, said: ‘Some families with children in the UK will have to make the choice whether to heat or eat this winter. We know many families are struggling to cope with rising fuel bills and are having to cut back on other essentials like food. We also know that growing up in a cold and damp home can have a real effect on children’s health, learning and enjoyment of life. The Warm Front scheme can help cut bills and keep families warm and healthy, so we urge anyone worried about their fuel bills to find out as soon as they can if they are eligible to receive support.’
Warm Front offers measures worth up to £3,500 (£6,000 if you need oil central heating). These measures are free to most people who receive help from the scheme and can make a big difference to their health and financial well-being, in particular in affording other bills and saving for emergencies. When asked what they would spend up to an extra £600 a year on if they had it, those on the lowest incomes said they would spend it on: paying the bills (59 per cent); saving for emergencies (54 per cent); home repairs / improvements (46 per cent); a holiday (34 per cent); presents for family / friends (25 per cent) or new clothes (22 per cent).5
People can find out if they can get free help from Warm Front by calling 0800 316 2805 or by visiting their local Citizens Advice Bureau or Age UK. Further information and an online application form are also available on www.direct.gov.uk It currently takes on average just eight weeks to install heating or insulation from the day you apply. So if people apply now their home could be warmer at a lower cost, by Christmas.
Healthy futures for children and young people through an Energy Bill Revolution
New publication from the National Children’s Bureau (NCB)
NCB is concerned that the government's current plans to help people make their homes more energy efficient - the Green Deal and the Energy Company Obligation schemes - will not succeed in tackling fuel poverty among all the families affected. The Energy Bill Revolution will make all homes warmer, reduce energy bills, cut carbon emissions and help bring people out of fuel poverty. NCB is calling on everyone, to work together towards the common goal of ending fuel poverty.
Please see our briefing on the impacts of fuel poverty on children and young people:
For more information on the Energy Bill Revolution, please visit http://www.energybillrevolution.org/
Energy Bill Revolution hits Parliament
June 21st, 2012
- The Energy Bill Revolution held a successful reception in Parliament this week to ramp up political support for using carbon revenue to end fuel poverty and bring down energy bills.
It was kindly hosted by two all-party groups who have been very supportive of the campaign – the All Party Parliamentary Fuel Poverty and Energy Efficiency Group and the Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group.
Over 150 participants, including many charities, businesses, MPs and Lords, heard rousing speeches from Alan Whitehead MP, Caroline Lucas MP, Dr Hilary Emery – the CEO of National Children’s Bureau, Adam Scorer from Consumer Focus and our very own Ed Matthew from the Energy Bill Revolution. Hilary also brought with her two young spokespeople, Polly Courtney and Ben Farnes, who eloquently drew attention to the hidden plight of children in fuel poverty. There are at least one million children living in households struggling to pay their fuel bills with a disastrous impact on their health and educational attainment. As Hilary Emery said on the day, “no parents should have to choose between feeding their family and heating their home.”
Ed Matthew hailed the huge support the campaign has received so quickly with over 90 major organisations, unions and companies having joined the campaign already and with the active support of almost 150 MPs. He also pointed to the huge economic benefits that could be achieved if carbon revenue was recycled to make homes super-energy efficient, with the potential to create up to 200,000 direct and indirect jobs. Ed called on the MPs and Lords to galvanise support for the campaign from their parliamentary colleagues and for alliance members to support a big public push for the campaign planned for the Autumn and Winter of 2012.
Campaign Director Ed Matthew said: “How can we call ourselves a civilised society when a quarter of our households cannot afford to keep their homes warm and when one million children are suffering the blight of fuel poverty? Carbon revenue will provide a brand new stream of money for the UK Government. If invested in making homes super-energy efficient, this provides a once in a lifetime opportunity to end the scandal of fuel poverty once and for all and generate the biggest boost possible to the UK economy. The revolution has begun.”
The Energy Bill Revolution alliance is calling on the Government to use the money it gets from carbon taxes to make our homes super-energy efficient. This is the only permanent way to drive down energy bills and end fuel poverty.
From next year the Government will be collecting over £2 billion in carbon tax every year, rising to £4 billion by 2020 and £7 billion by 2027. Recycled back into energy efficiency programmes, this would be enough to super-insulate more than 600,000 homes a year, bringing 9 out of 10 homes out of fuel poverty. It could also quadruple carbon emission savings from households compared to the government’s new energy efficiency policies and create up to 200,000 more jobs – exactly what we need to support the UK’s economic recovery.
Please take two minutes to sign our petition at www.energybillrevolution.org, email your MP, and ask all your supporters and networks to do the same. Thank you for your support.
NEA Host their first European Energy Policy Conference
Wednesday 30th May 2012
On May 30, NEA welcomed around 80 international delegates to its first European Energy Policy Conference, enabled by the generous sponsorship of Saudi Aramco. Participants represented a wide variety of sectors including voluntary, public, private, and academic.
The concept of fuel poverty is increasingly acknowledged in a widening number of EU countries including those who have previously never recognised energy-related hardship. It is estimated that between 50 and 125 million people across Europe are struggling with soaring energy costs and member states are recognising that the situation will culminate in major social problems which require mutual concerted action.
The aim of the Conference was to provide a forum to debate the key issues relating to domestic energy efficiency and fuel poverty in Europe and to inform future policy and practice that can be replicated in other countries. It focussed on how social and environmental objectives can be synchronised, looking at both the European Energy Framework as well as case study examples of new projects and research being undertaken across the EU member states. The conference attracted a high level of speakers and stimulated some interesting discussion.
NEA would like to thank all speakers and delegates for attending the event, and Saudi Aramco for their support.
If you'd like more details of the conference presentations, go to: http://nea.cubik.co.uk/campaigns-events/european-energy-policy
5 Nations Meet At Stormont To Tackle Fuel Poverty
Monday 28th May 2012
The Northern Ireland Fuel Poverty Coalition is bringing their fight against fuel poverty to Stormont today at an event in the Long Gallery in Parliament Buildings Stormont. Experts from across the five Nations; England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will examine the main fuel poverty policies and interventions implemented in each of the Nations and identify what could work for the 44 per cent of households here in fuel poverty.
The Chairperson of Social Development Committee, Alex Maskey MLA will host the event. NI Assembly MLAs, local MPs, local government, public bodies, health sector, young/older persons groups and voluntary/community organisations will also attend and discussions will focus on key successes, challenges and lessons learnt and practical measures and interventions that could make a difference for Northern Ireland.
Antoinette McKeown, joint Chair of the Fuel Poverty Coalition said: “The Fuel Poverty Coalition is relentless in our pursuit of practical ways to remove homes from fuel poverty and we are indebted to our ‘Five Nations Fuel Poverty’ colleagues for coming to share their experience with us. We are grateful for the support of the Social Development Committee. Northern Ireland suffers the highest levels of fuel poverty in the UK and Ireland so there is real value in learning from fuel poverty experts from each of the five Nations. The Fuel Poverty Coalition is focused on working with the Stormont Executive Team on practical and positive solutions and this event will have a very useful impact on that work.”
Concluding Pat Austin, also joint Chair of the Fuel Poverty Coalition said: “The Programme for Government includes a commitment to ‘introduce and support a range of initiatives aimed at reducing fuel poverty across Northern Ireland including preventative interventions’. The Fuel Poverty Coalitions calls on the NI Executive to examine in detail the evidence presented at the ‘Five Nations Fuel Poverty’ event to inform the development of a detailed and costed action plan setting out how and when fuel poverty will be eradicated here.”
If you would like to sign up the Northern Ireland Fuel Poverty Coalition, please visit www.fuelpovertycoalition.org.uk
Thursday 17th May 2012
"Government must turn up the heat on tackling fuel poverty" says Consumer Focus
Commenting on the official fuel poverty figures published by the Government today, Audrey Gallacher, Director of Energy at Consumer Focus, said:
‘Today’s figures show a dip in fuel poverty levels in 2010 reflecting lower energy prices. But as the average annual bill has risen by over £150 since then, many more people are now affected. As Government estimates for 2012 fuel poverty levels do not include price rises in late 2011, these figures are also likely to underestimate the current problem.
‘It is a major concern that so many people are struggling to afford their energy bills. Millions of families, older people and disabled people, living on low incomes, will be facing tough daily decisions on what essentials they cut back on to make ends meet.
‘Current Government plans are not sufficient to tackle the scale of this problem. This is clearly demonstrated by the more than fifty per cent cut in energy efficiency help for the homes of the poorest households in England when fuel poverty levels are on the rise.
‘Part of the reason why consumer bills are rising is to fund measures to make our energy supply cleaner and more secure. But our bills also include ‘green taxes’ which just go straight to the exchequer, not to improve the energy market or to make Britain more energy efficient. Some of this extra revenue could go a very long way to plug the funding gap in providing help to those who need it most.’
Research conducted for the Energy Bill Revolution campaign, by energy efficiency experts Camco, estimated the Government will raise £4 billion a year in carbon taxes over the next 15 years. They estimate that if this revenue was spent on energy efficiency measures it would be enough to bring 9 out of 10 households out of fuel poverty, create 200,000 jobs and quadruple carbon emission cuts.
The Energy Bill Revolution Begins
Monday 27th February 2012
A new campaign, the Energy Bill Revolution, was launched today, calling on the Government to use the money it gets from carbon tax revenue to make UK homes super-energy efficient.
Groundbreaking analysis undertaken by energy efficiency experts Camco has calculated that on average the Government will raise £4 billion a year in carbon taxes over the next 15 years. They estimate that if this revenue was recycled to households to spend on energy efficiency measures it is enough to bring 9 out of 10 households out of fuel poverty. It could also be used to create 200,000 jobs and quadruple carbon emission cuts compared to the Government’s new energy efficiency schemes.
The new research also presents the most up-to-date assessment of the number of households in fuel poverty today and the number of households at risk in the future. It finds that 6.4 million households are now suffering from fuel poverty across the UK, meaning they need to spend more than 10% of their income to keep their homes warm.
The research reveals the risk that fuel poverty could affect 9.1 million households by 2016, the year in which the Government has a target to eliminate fuel poverty. This is a potential rise of 40% which would increase the number of UK households in fuel poverty from one in four to one in three.
More fuel poverty means more people living in cold homes, further damaging the health of vulnerable members of society, including children, older people and people with disabilities and illnesses.
The research uses the Government’s estimate for the most likely future gas prices. It also takes into account the future impact of the Government’s new energy efficiency policies. It is the most authoritative, independent assessment of how effective they are likely to be yet published. It includes analysis of their flagship Green Deal programme, as well as the new Energy Company Obligation which will provide subsidies for insulation. It shows these programmes will fall short of meeting both climate change and fuel poverty targets unless significantly more financial support from the Government is provided.
If carbon revenue – from the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and Carbon Floor Price – was recycled back to households to spend on energy efficiency measures, it could be used to help all households or used to support the most vulnerable. It could provide, for example, an average grant of £6,500 to make 600,000 fuel poor homes highly energy efficient every year. This would bring down their energy bills each year by £310 and remove 9 out of 10 homes out of fuel poverty within 15 years. The rest would have their homes brought up to the energy efficiency standard of a home built today.
A petition is being launched today at www.energybillrevolution.org to raise public and parliamentary support for the campaign. The campaign petition is already backed by over 50 leading charities, unions, consumer groups and businesses, including the National Children’s Bureau, Save the Children, The Children’s Society, National Pensioners Convention, Consumer Focus, The Co-operative Group, USwitch, Kingfisher, IKEA, Asda, Kingspan, National Energy Action, Macmillan Cancer Support, TUC, GMB, NUS, Unite, The Centre for Sustainable Healthcare and Friends of the Earth.
Ed Matthew, Director of Transform UK, the not-for-profit organisation co-ordinating the campaign, said: “More people die every year in the UK from living in a cold home than die on our roads. Millions more struggle to make ends meet in the face of high energy bills. That is nothing short of a national scandal. The time for excuses and sticking plaster solutions is over. Recycling carbon tax revenue to make homes super energy efficient is a fair and permanent financial solution to end the suffering”.
Paul Monaghan, Head of Social Goals, The Co-operative Group, which co-funded the research said: “This landmark piece of research shows how the UK can get to grips with fuel poverty and not only keep carbon emissions reducing, but secure increased buy-in from the general public. Right now the elderly and poor suffer the most, but left unchecked this is going to become an issue for everyday families."
Mike O’Connor, Chief Executive of Consumer Focus, which co-funded the research, said: ‘It is a harsh truth that an effective strategy to transform the energy efficiency of our homes and to tackle growing numbers in fuel poverty will need far greater ambition and resources. Billions of pounds will go directly from our energy bills to the Exchequer as part of schemes to cut carbon emissions. That money could reap a double benefit if it was directed to reduce massively our wasteful consumption of energy. We want to transform the cost of energy for households, the economy and the environment. Recycling carbon taxes should be a big part of that transformation.’
Response to the Green Deal and Energy Company Obligation consultation
Summary of EFPC response
- Fuel poverty in Britain at 6.7 million households is at its highest level for 10 years. The EFPC had therefore expected the Government to put forward proposals commensurate with the scale of the problem and its legal obligation to end fuel poverty, as far as reasonably practical, by 2016.
- In 2010/11 over £1bn was spent on improving the energy efficiency standards of low income households’ homes in England (£345m on Warm Front, £600m on the priority group element of CERT and £110m on CESP).
- The consultation proposes approximately £325m is spent on Affordable Warmth energy efficiency measures for low income households (across the whole of Great Britain). It also suggests an unspecified proportion of the Carbon Saving (CS) element will go to low income consumers in social housing. The proposals therefore represent a severe reduction in resources for fuel poverty, despite previous Government assurances that the ECO would represent an increase.
- ECO will not adequately address the policy objectives the Government expects of it, namely to tackle fuel poverty, kick-start the solid wall insulation industry and underpin Green Deal finance. In particular, it is nowhere near sufficient to meet the Government’s moral and legal obligation to eliminate fuel poverty.
- The ECO must exclusively target the vulnerable and those on low incomes. 1.9m fuel poor households live in solid wall housing, thus offering plenty of opportunities to encourage the growth of the solid wall insulation industry and save carbon. However, even with an exclusive focus on low income homes, ECO will still not provide sufficient resources to effectively tackle fuel poverty.
- The Government must make additional resources available to install energy efficiency measures in the homes of vulnerable and low income households. This can be done by recycling the proceeds it will receive after 2013 from Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) auctions and the Carbon Floor Price, thus allowing it to effectively eliminate fuel poverty.
- The proposed design of Affordable Warmth is in many ways inferior to Warm Front. Unlike Warm Front, it is even less likely to provide whole house solutions and is unlikely to help rural and off-gas homes
- The carbon saving element of ECO should focus on low income households and the social housing sector.
The expanded energy efficiency programme we propose would consist of the following elements
- It will build upon ECO and Green Deal finance
- Focus on measures, people and areas ECO and Green Deal Finance are unlikely to reach
- Funded through the recycling of proceeds from ETS auctions and the Carbon Floor Price
- Aim to improve homes to the same standard as homes built today (Energy Performance Certificate Band B), where practical (and EPC Band C at the minimum) to make them effectively fuel poverty proof.
- Should include delivery by local authorities and social housing providers through an area-based approach
EFPC response to specific questions
Our response focuses on the fuel poverty questions in the consultation.
Q10: What innovative ways can the government use to encourage uptake of a package of measures and could our existing proposals support this.
EFPC considers local authorities, working with local partners, should play a leading role in deciding how ECO resources are spent in their area. This would enable resources to be spent in accordance with local needs and is consistent with localism principles.
The consultation suggests that the proposals will encourage energy companies to leverage funds to match ECO. Prior to 2011/12, local authorities could provide joint funding to assist private households and tenants with housing needs from their Private Sector Renewal budgets. This programme was cut in its entirety in 2011/12. However, we consider part of the proceeds from ETS/CFP recycling could be used in a similar way.
Q14: We propose that any measure should be allowed under the Affordable Warmth obligation, provided it allows eligible households to heat homes more affordably. If you disagree, or feel there are risks to this approach, please explain and set out any restrictions you believe should be put in place.
EFPC agrees that any measure which allows households to heat their homes more affordably should be included under the Affordable Warmth obligation. However, we are concerned that the proposal to only require suppliers to install one major measure represents a backward step from Warm Front. Affordable Warmth should aim to install whole house improvements that bring homes up to a target minimum energy efficiency standard of EPC Band C at least. In the case of hard to treat homes, this is likely to require additional funds (to ECO) to pay for the more expensive measures necessary.
Environmental health intervention in housing is driven by the elimination of health hazards. Research conducted by the Building Research Establishment for the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health shows that the percentage of all dwellings with a SAP rating less than 35, or having a Category 1 excess cold hazard is 12.3%, increasing to 16.9% for dwellings in the private rented sector. To eliminate such hazards would require these dwellings to be improved to a SAP rating of at least 50 – the equivalent of an EPC Band D rating.
Q15: Do you have any suggestions for whether and how we should score, boiler repairs under the Affordable Warmth obligation, such that where repairs are more cost-effective than replacement systems, without significant impact on efficiency, these can be promoted?
EFPC considers boiler repairs should only be considered in the case of efficient boilers that have broken down. If the non-functioning boiler does not meet current standards, a replacement boiler should be installed.
Q31: Do you agree that eligibility for Affordable Warmth measures should be restricted to households who are in receipt of the benefits and tax credits similar to the CERT Super Priority Group and who are in private housing tenures?
Within the context of the very limited resources made available through ECO, EFPC accepts that CERT Super Priority Group in private housing represents an appropriate target group.
EFPC also considers the carbon element of ECO should be restricted to low income consumers, including most social housing tenants. We consider social housing providers are best placed to deliver large volumes of solid wall insulation, achieve economies of scale and bring down costs. The use of area-based approaches would allow low income households in private sector housing close to social housing to also benefit, for example those in mixed tenure blocks. Targeting the CS element of ECO in this way would represent a more cost effective method of meeting carbon targets than providing one-off expensive subsidies to better off households through ‘pepper pot’ delivery.
However, EFPC is concerned that there will be many low income households who will not receive help through Affordable Warm or the CS element of ECO. We do not consider Green Deal Finance appropriate for these households. It is therefore essential further funds are identified to help such households. The additional financial resources we propose could be used to improve the homes of a much wider range of low income households, with public funding used to increase eligibility.
Q32: We propose seeking a voluntary agreement with ECO obligated companies as to how they commit to following up referrals. Do you have any suggestions as to what this commitment should consist of?
EFPC considers ECO obligated companies should give an undertaking to install measures in the homes of all eligible clients referred to them, assuming referral agencies have already established eligibility. Companies should agree to install all cost effective measures in the homes of households referred to them, as is already the case in the Scottish Energy Assistance Package and the Welsh NEST scheme. If the companies do not agree to give this commitment, the Government should put in place a system of mandated referrals.
EFPC would like to see a comprehensive referral system, led by local trusted agencies, put in place. These would encourage take-up by low income households through take-up campaigns, area-based systematic contact and links with other advice providers.
Q33: Do you have any evidence or views to put forward on whether the benefits of ECO as a whole, or of the carbon saving obligation within it, are or are not likely to be distributed equitably to all income groups? If so do you think regulatory intervention is necessary to ensure a more equitable pattern of delivery and, in particular, do you have any comments on the likely effectiveness of setting a ‘distributional safeguard’ as a means of achieving this?
EFPC considers the whole of the CS element of ECO should go to low income consumers and social housing tenants. The distributional safeguard should therefore address specific sub-groups within this, for example those in rural areas, off-grid consumers and private sector households.
Q58: The division of the overall ECO between energy companies could be based on share of customer accounts, or sales volume. Do you have a preference as to which metric should be preferred, taking into account possible impacts on distributional equity? Please provide evidence for your views.
EFPC favours the recovery of ECO on the basis of consumption, rather than number of customer accounts. The former approach is more progressive, given that consumption broadly increases with income. We support the proposals put forward by the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group for reforming the method by which suppliers recover ECO charges. However, EFPC considers specific measures must be taken to protect the small proportion of low income, high energy users to ensure that the reform does not adversely affect this minority of vulnerable households.
Q63: In addition to the specific questions asked throughout this consultation document, do you have any other comments on any aspect of our proposals?
EFPC considers the proposals are neither adequate for tackling fuel poverty or meeting carbon targets. We note the considerable reduction in Government estimates of the number of households likely to receive measures, from the 14million homes originally stated to the 3.6m homes referred to in the Impact Assessment. We also note that the Government only expects ECO to reduce fuel poverty by 350,000 to 550,000 by 2022 – less than a tenth of the current level of fuel poverty.
EFPC therefore considers it essential that the Government sets up a complementary funding mechanism that provides additional resources for meeting its statutory fuel poverty and carbon targets. We consider the forthcoming proceeds from the auction of permits under the European Emission Trading Scheme and the Carbon Floor Price provides a potential source of funds for this.
Estimates suggest ETS/CFP will add around £50 pa by 2020 to the average consumer electricity bill, leading to even further fuel poverty. It is therefore essential that compensatory measures are taken to address this. An ambitious national energy efficiency programme would represent a long term, sustainable and cost effective solution to reducing fuel poverty and carbon. It would also help stimulate the economy and provide much needed jobs to many low income households.
It is disappointing that the consultation makes little reference to the specific new legal requirements to be introduced under the Energy Act 2011 regarding energy efficiency in the private rented sector, despite the disproportionate number of vulnerable low income households in energy inefficient homes in this sector.
The Government is introducing the new powers for local authorities to enforce minimum energy efficiency standards in the private rented sector 6 years after the launch of the Green Deal and ECO and 2 years after the statutory date for eliminating fuel poverty. EPFC considers these powers should be introduced in 2016, rather than 2018 as proposed by the Government.
Ending fuel poverty requires more than just the right financial mechanisms – the ECO and our proposed national energy efficiency programme must sit within a broader ‘road map’ for ending fuel poverty.
 For example, in May 2011, DECC Minister Gregory Barker stated “The ECO is being designed specifically to tackle fuel poverty and hard-to-treat homes. Although it is too early to set exact numbers for the scheme ahead of our consultation on the ECO in autumn, I fully expect a far greater level of resource to be brought to bear on the fuel poor than was previously the case under the carbon emissions reduction target or Warm Front.”
Source: House of Commons Hansard, May 19 2011, Col. 478
 Building Research Establishment, research paper for Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, “Health Costs of Cold Dwellings” (March, 2011)
No child should be left in the cold by rising fuel bills
"I worry I can’t put the heating on like everybody else can," says Ness, mum to Joe, five, and Wesley, six. "Some weeks we can’t top up the electric, only the gas. The house gets cold."
This winter, hundreds of thousands of children like Joe and Wesley could be left in the cold because of rising energy costs.
No child should have to wear hats, scarves and gloves in their homes to keep warm.
No child should have their health put at risk because their families simply can’t afford basics like heating.
It’s time for the big energy companies to do their bit.
Help beat fuel poverty. Sign Save the Children’s petition now.
They are calling for:
- energy providers to give the poorest families with children under five in the UK the Warm Home Discount (a payment of £120 a year). Families with young children who are on low incomes should get this as a priority.
- energy providers to make sure the poorest families get the cheaper tariffs. It’s not right that poorer families often pay more for their energy because they can’t get the best deals.
- the government to recognise that boosting the incomes of the poorest families is still crucial to its anti-poverty strategy.
- the government to do more too, helping families insulate their homes and make them more energy efficient, reducing bills so they can afford to keep warm.
Read more about Save the Children’s calls in their fuel poverty briefing
Take part in a photography project
Are you, or someone close to you, struggling with fuel and energy bills this winter? Would you be willing to have a sympathetic photo-journalist come and photograph you in your home, to help campaign for fairer energy prices? Contact Amy Scaife - 07737012908 - email@example.com - http://www.amyscaife.co.uk
Take part in BBC Newsnight programme
Is your electricity and gas bill changing the way you live? Have you or someone you know had to turn the heating off or down this winter to save money? Do you think twice about switching on your lights at home? Are your fuel bills taking up more than 10% of your income? If this is you, then BBC Newsnight would like to speak to you. Please contact Elena Egawhary on 07958 038 032 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Age UK asks MPs to sign winter deaths pledge
Age UK has asked MPs to sign a pledge to reduce the number of winter deaths.
Many people believe that the only risk of the winter weather is getting a cold, but in fact the risk is much greater as low temperatures raise blood pressure putting people at greater risk of heart attacks and strokes as well as increasing the likelihood and severity of flu, chest infections and other respiratory problems.
Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director of Age UK commented: 'The cold can and does kill. Behind the dreadful excess winter deaths figures lie deep-seated social issues with over 5 million households in the UK living in fuel poverty alone and one in three older people living in housing that is poorly insulated.
This is why Age UK has launched a campaign today to ask MPs to pledge to help lower the number of winter deaths and reduce of fuel poverty in their own constituency.
Mitchell continued: 'A well targeted fuel poverty programme would help reduce the impact of cold weather on older people and that’s why we are writing to every MP asking them to sign our pledge to reduce the number of excess winter deaths and help stop the devastating effects of fuel poverty.'
Ask your MP to sign Age UK's Winter Pledge
By signing the Winter Pledge, Age UK are asking MPs to commit to:
- raising awareness of the dangers to health of cold weather and cold homes
- working with their local Age UK to tackle the cold weather priorities for older people in each constituency
- challenging energy providers to produce simple tariffs to make it easier for people to lower their bills
- promoting preventative measures that older people can take before a cold spell
- encouraging all sectors of the local community (such as the NHS or Local Authority) to make tackling excess winter deaths a priority
- ensuring that all their constituents are prepared for winter.
Visit www.ageuk.org.uk/reducingwinterdeaths to ask your MP to sign the winter pledge.
Government goes cold on fuel poverty
This letter was published in The Guardian on Saturday 3rd December 2011.
Your report rightly points out (Quarter of homes now in fuel poverty, 2 December) that the government should be highly embarrassed by new estimates that one in four English households is now in fuel poverty. But its reaction to this escalating problem would sadly suggest the contrary. Warm Front, the government's one remaining grant programme for the fuel-poor, has had its budget slashed by two-thirds over the next two years and will end completely in 2013. Even more worrying was last week's government consultation on the new Energy Company Obligation, which is designed to subsidise energy efficiency measures for low-income and vulnerable households from 2013. With 4.1m English households officially in fuel poverty in 2009 – and with a government duty to eradicate this scourge by 2016 – we hoped that the consultation would include ambitious plans for tackling the problem.
Instead we find that, even on the most ambitious estimates, the ECO will bring relief to only 840,000 fuel-poor households by the end of 2015. This will mean at least 3m households left to choose between heating and eating. In addition to urgently helping them with their energy bills, the answer to fuel poverty is to increase dramatically the energy efficiency of the housing stock, so that homes are effectively "fuel poverty proofed".
More money must be found – and we urge government to use rising Treasury receipts from VAT on energy prices and the revenue from carbon trading and taxes to be directed into schemes to end the misery of fuel poverty.
Mervyn Kohler Special Adviser, Age UK
Jenny Holland Head of parliamentary team, Association for the Conservation of Energy
Martin Chadwick Chief officer, Beat the Cold
Simon Roberts Chief executive, Centre for Sustainable Energy
David Kidney Head of policy, Chartered Institute of Environmental Health
Audrey Gallacher Director of energy, Consumer Focus
Dr Brenda Boardman Emeritus fellow, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford
Andrew Pendleton Head of campaigns, Friends of the Earth
Kelvin Hopkins MP and Caroline Lucas MP Co-chairs, all-party parliamentary fuel poverty & energy efficiency group
Belinda Phipps Chief executive, NCT
Jenny Saunders Chief executive, National Energy Action
Kevin Allen Chairman, National Private Tenants Organisation
Jimmy Devlin Chairman, North West Tenants & Residents Assembly
Brendan Cox Director of policy and advocacy, Save the Children
Ed Matthew Director, Transform UK
Dave Prentis General secretary, Unison
Professor Cosmo Graham Director Centre for consumers and essential services, University of Leicester
NEA’s Warm Homes Campaign calls on MPs to help local groups identify those at risk of fuel poverty, as new report highlights suffering is not restricted to elderly
National Energy Action’s (NEA’s) Warm Homes Campaign, which is supported by energy company E.ON, is a national initiative that aims to highlight the issue of fuel poverty among decision-makers and members of the public that may be struggling to heat their homes affordably.
To mark the launch of the campaign, a new report - ‘The Many Faces of Fuel Poverty’ - has been published which states that approximately 6.6 million UK households are in fuel poverty and more than 50 per cent are under the age of 65. The report focuses on four real people, and shows that the effects of fuel poverty are wide-ranging, impacting on educational attainment, physical and mental health, and emotional well-being.
As well as highlighting the groups impacted by living in cold homes, NEA has also worked with E.ON to produce an easy to use document that will help identify the best solutions for constituents who are worried about keeping warm and paying their home energy bills. MPs will be invited to lend their support by taking part in constituency activities and/or media work, and NEA members and other organizations are encouraged to get involved by arranging related activities in their local area.
The campaign will run from 24th November to the 9th December. For details on the Warm Homes Campaign and MPs’ activities around the country, visit the NEA website using the link above.
EFPC response to the interim report of the Hills Fuel Poverty Review
The End Fuel Poverty Coalition (EFPC) welcomes the recognition in the Hills review that fuel poverty is a distinct problem, rather than a facet of poverty in general. The recent Marmot Review Team reportpresented evidence on how cold homes lead to multiple health problems. Cold homes and fuel poverty contribute to excess winter deaths, respiratory health problems and mental health problems as well as an increased likelihood of poor educational attainment among children.
We welcome the review’s conclusion that the objective within the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000 is still robust. The Act defined a person in fuel poverty as one who is ‘living on a lower income in a home which cannot be kept warm at a reasonable cost’. It is exactly these people who need assistance from fuel poverty schemes.
We consider the existing definition of fuel poverty usefully combines income, energy requirements and energy costs, as well as assessing households’ ‘need to spend’ rather than ‘actual expenditure’. Furthermore, the 10 per cent threshold provides a useful indication of households who struggle to afford their fuel bills. However, we recognise that the definition adopted in the UK Fuel Poverty Strategy leads to a number of difficulties. These include:
- Changes in fuel prices have a disproportionate effect on the apparent number of households in fuel poverty, as highlighted by the interim report
- It does not distinguish households with ‘reasonable incomes’ but living in large inefficient homes from those with much lower incomes living in small inefficient homes. Arguably, the former have a much greater opportunity to improve their circumstances.
- It is difficult to track the impact of energy efficiency schemes on low-income households’ fuel costs.
- The treatment of housing costs and household size in the calculation of income does not adequately reflect the actual resources households have to spend on fuel.
We therefore welcome the proposals to remove housing costs from income and to adjust income measurement to take account of household size. We consider an After Housing Costs measure of income better reflects the money households have available to spend on fuel. In addition we believe the proposed ‘fuel poverty gap’ represents a valuable supplementary indicator of fuel poverty. It assesses the extent to which individual households are affected by fuel poverty and the depth of fuel poverty experienced by all fuel-poor households.
We broadly accept the proposal to set an income threshold based on the DWP definition of poverty (60 per cent of median income after housing costs and adjusted for household size and composition). We accept the rationale for removing fuel costs from income.
We welcome the report’s recognition that certain groups are particularly vulnerable to fuel poverty due to for example old age, a pre-existing health condition or disability. We note that these ‘vulnerabilities’ are not easy to capture within a fuel poverty definition. However, we hope the final report will make clear recommendations for the effective targeting of fuel poverty policies on these groups.
We are concerned about the proposal to define ‘reasonable fuel costs’ as those below the median. The relatively high median fuel costs in England would still be unaffordable to many low-income households. We therefore consider this does not adequately describe the ‘fuel poor population’ and potentially could have some perverse effects on policies to eliminate fuel poverty and reduce carbon emissions. For example:
- It will exclude some low-income households who live in comparatively energy efficient homes but are still struggling to pay their fuel bills, such as people with high energy
needs due to old age or pre-existing health conditions. While the potential for energy efficiency improvements may be limited, these households still require income and fuel price measures, as they would have under the existing definition.
- It will also exclude some low-income households for whom the median fuel bill cost still represents an unaffordable amount. This is because the poor condition of the English housing stock creates a relatively high median. Such households, currently struggling to afford their fuel costs, would benefit from energy efficiency measures.
- It will potentially put the Government’s fuel poverty and carbon targets in conflict with each other. This is because policies to improve the efficiency (and therefore reduce the carbon emissions) of higher income households will have the effect of lowering the national median fuel bill, and therefore increase the probability of low-income households being classed as ‘fuel poor’.
- It will make it much more difficult to eliminate fuel poverty through improving energy efficiency standards. While theoretically possible to focus extensive energy efficiency activity exclusively on certain low-income households, in reality a constantly shifting median fuel expenditure threshold will make eradication almost unachievable.
- In contrast, it will make it possible to eliminate fuel poverty through extensive income measures (while recognising this also represents a major challenge). Since the Government has a statutory duty to eradicate fuel poverty, the proposed indicator appears to favour tackling fuel poverty through income measures rather than energy efficiency measures. While income measures are important, this should not be at the expense of under-valuing the contribution of energy efficiency measures.
We firmly believe that the proposed definition should be consistent with the target to eradicate fuel poverty by 2016 , as set out in the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act. A definition that appears to make fuel poverty elimination extremely difficult is likely to lead to policy inertia.
We also consider the definition should recognise the central role of energy efficiency in providing a sustainable and long-term solution to fuel poverty, while also recognising the importance of income and fuel price measures.
The EFPC considers an alternative approach to setting the energy costs threshold is one based on relating the total fuel requirement of a home to the fuel requirements of the most energy efficient homes. This would root the definition in a meaningful view about the level of energy efficiency that is desirable and reasonable for someone on a low income. This relative measure would have the benefit that as overall standards in the housing stock improve, the threshold for a reasonable standard of energy efficiency would also be raised. In addition, this threshold would create a definition of fuel poverty that makes its eradication feasible, given sufficient political will and resources.
In conclusion, the EFPC would urge the review team to re-visit its definition of ‘reasonable fuel costs’. We consider our alternative approach has considerable merit. We would welcome the opportunity to discuss and develop a more precise methodology for defining our approach.
 The Health Impacts of Cold Homes and Fuel Poverty, written by the Marmot Review Team for Friends of the Earth, published in May 2011
 Whereby a household would need to spend 10% or more of their income to keep warm.
 The Government has a statutory duty to eradicate fuel poverty, as far as reasonably practicable, by 2016.
As fears rise over affording energy bills, new campaign launches to ‘plug the debt’
Consumer Focus and Citizens Advice are launching a new drive to help people understand what to do and what their rights are if they fall behind on their energy bills. The organisations are launching the awareness campaign as they are concerned that the number of people in debt to their energy firm and needing help is likely to rise this winter as people struggle to afford higher energy prices. The ‘Plug the Debt’ campaign is also supported by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, Ofgem, Energy UK, Which? and Age UK.
Following energy price increases of around 7% last winter and other rising costs,the number of people with new energy debts increased by over a quarter for electricity and a fifth for gas, in spring 2011. 1 These figures, which are the most recent available, show that in Britain over 850,000 electricity customers and over 700,000 gas customers are in debt to their energy supplier.
Consumer Focus and Citizens Advice believe that average energy price increases of 14% this autumn could push even more vulnerable households over the edge into debt.2 Last year 100,000 people came to Citizens Advice for help with fuel debt and this year, in October alone, over 12,500 people sought online advice on cutting their fuel bills from the Citizens Advice website.
Concerns are also being raised by the organisations as findings from new Consumer Focus research3 show that:
- Over half of people in Britain are worried about being able to afford their energy bills this winter. The figure is even higher among families and older people living on low incomes, with almost two thirds concerned.
- One in six people plan to only heat half, or fewer, of the rooms in their house this winter.
- One in 20 people will only be heating one or two rooms, rising to one in 10 of those in the poorest social group.
Worryingly only just over half of people (55%) trust their supplier to help them if they get into debt.4 Fewer than half of people (49%) are aware their energy firm has to take their circumstances and ability to pay into consideration when arranging repayments of outstanding bills and almost one in five (19%) believe their supplier could name any amount and they would have to pay it.
The organisations want to reassure consumers that suppliers have to, and will want to, help them if they get into trouble with their bills and urge people to contact their supplier before debts start to grow.
Mike O’Connor, Chief Executive of Consumer Focus, said:
‘A toxic cocktail of higher energy prices, rising bills for other essentials and falling incomes could push more people into debt with their energy company this winter.
‘We want people to know that help is out there. Your supplier has to help you if you have problems affording your bills and there are discounts and grants available to help you lower your costs. We’d urge people to get in touch with their energy firm as soon as they think they might have problems before debts start to spiral. You can also get in touch with Citizens Advice or the Home Heat Helpline to find out how you can cut your bills.’
Consumer Focus and Citizens Advice are making people aware of the following five top tips if they fall behind with their bills:
- Always contact your energy firm as soon as you realise you might have trouble with paying. Debts will build-up and be harder to pay off the longer you leave them. Your supplier has a responsibility to help you if you have problems paying your bill.
- Tell your energy supplier what you can afford to pay – they have to take this into account in agreeing repayments of the money you owe.
- Ask your energy company, your local Citizens Advice Bureau or call the Home Heat Helpline 0800 33 66 99 to find out about other free energy help available. For example you could qualify for a discount off your bill or free insulation to help your home stop leaking heat and cut your bills.
- Even if you are in debt you may still be able to switch to a cheaper deal with your current supplier, especially if you pay by cash, cheque or pre-payment meter. If you pay by pre-payment meter and have less than £200 of debt you can also switch to a cheaper deal with another supplier.
- Financial help is available which could make it easier to afford your bills – check you are receiving all of the benefits and tax credits you are entitled to by getting in touch with your local Citizens Advice Bureau or visiting www.adviceguide.org.uk.
Anyone who wants to find out more about getting help or advice through the ‘Plug the Debt’ campaign should visit www.consumerfocus.org.uk/plugthedebt or contact their local Citizens Advice Bureau.