New fuel poverty strategy for England announced

18 months after the consultation on a new fuel poverty strategy for England closed, the Government has launched “Sustainable Warmth” a new strategy designed to protect the most vulnerable households.

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition commented:

There is much to be applauded in the new strategy and we welcome many of the measures that are being introduced and the announcement of additional funding.
The updated strategy will ensure progress is made towards meeting previously missed milestones and we look forward to seeing the progress being made in the Committee on Fuel Poverty’s upcoming annual reports.
The updated fuel poverty strategy for England also takes another step in revealing the true extent of fuel poverty in the country.
More households are now classified as being in fuel poverty. But we know even more people are struggling with energy bills due to the double impact of a very cold winter and lockdown measures.
While this long term strategy is clearly not the place for short-term measures, we do urge the Government to do more to help people through the challenging, immediate, threat of severe fuel poverty this winter.
More reaction from the Coalition will follow. Our original submission to the consultation can be viewed online.
Featured image: Mike McBey / Flickr / Creative Commons

Ofgem announces hike in fuel bills for millions

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition, a broad coalition of anti-poverty, environmental, health and housing campaigners, charities, local authorities, trade unions and consumer organisations, has criticised the decision to increase fuel bills for an estimated 11m people:

At the last count, 3.7 million households were already classified as living in fuel poverty and more than 2.1 million more were behind on their fuel bills.

Any price cap rise will only make matters worse for families struggling to make ends meet at the same time as bills are rocketing due to stay at home lockdown measures and the closure of schools.

While the price cap rises may seem small to officials, for ordinary people any increase will mean the choice between heating or eating becomes even starker.

If that wasn’t bad enough, fuel poverty can make respiratory illnesses worse – meaning conditions such as Covid may be exacerbated by living in cold damp homes.

Short-term energy saving measures and shopping around for cheaper energy can help reduce bills, but the scale of the problem faced by people this year is huge and any increases during the pandemic should be avoided.

We’d urge Ofgem and policy makers to think again about the price cap rise, or the Government to step in and provide emergency financial support to those who suffer due to the decision.

Support for households who are in fuel poverty is available from organisations such as Citizens Advice and can be found in our resources section.

Fuel bills set to soar under latest work from home rules

New research from Nottingham Trent University has revealed the likely impact of the latest work from home restrictions on fuel poverty.

According to the experts, working from home could cost some households an extra £45 per month more this winter in increased heating and electricity bills.

The Fuel Poverty Coalition told the BBC:

Increasing numbers of people right across the country are having to make the stark choice between heating and eating. As temperatures continue to hover around freezing and lockdown restrictions mean people are spending more time at home, so energy bills will soar.

Recently, Citizens Advice estimated an extra 600,000 households fell into fuel poverty due to previous lockdowns.

Separate figures show millions of people are already way behind on their fuel bills meaning the latest findings from Nottingham Trent University make for grim reading.

The additional concern is that, according to experts, fuel poverty can make respiratory illnesses worse – meaning conditions such as Covid may be exacerbated by cold damp homes.

While the long term solution to ending fuel poverty is more energy efficient buildings, and programmes like the Government’s Green Homes Grant will help facilitate this, there is a real need for energy debt relief for millions of families immediately.

Employers could help by paying the energy bills of staff working from home, but it is likely that the government will need to step in to provide much more emergency support to those living in freezing conditions right now.

A study led by Professor Amin Al-Habaibeh, an expert in energy efficiency and intelligent engineering systems, shows that people in England’s 600,000 most inefficient properties could face almost an extra £28 in heating bills per month while the average pandemic home
worker will pay more than £17 extra on electricity.

However, those who previously commuted long distances to work, and who live in energy efficient properties, could make savings by working from home and reduce their carbon footprint at the same time.

Professor Al-Habaibeh, of the School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment, said:

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing many people to work from home and this clearly has a major effect on domestic energy consumption, as well as the nature of our carbon
emissions.

The results show that a family living in a well-insulated home and who normally use a car to travel to work will not be affected significantly in terms of their household budget, as they will save on diesel or petrol.

It also shows that the increase of carbon emissions from heating their homes will on the whole be compensated by the reduction in car use.

But for a family with a poorly insulated house who in normal circumstances do not travel long distances to work, working from home over winter will cause much more of a strain on their budget as they will be consuming more energy.

Researcher Arijit Sen, who worked on the project, said:

There is clearly a risk highlighted here that households which already suffer from energy poverty could experience a worse
financial situation during a winter lockdown if they are working from home.

While many people in employment will be better off financially due to the current situation, there will be a number of people who will find working from home a much more expensive
option for them. This project shows the importance of building insulation and its effect on household budget.

Coalition responds to Warm Homes Discount Consultation

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition has responded to the government’s Warm Home Discount consultation calling for the extension of the programme to 2026 and welcoming the possibility of debt relief being introduced.

The response is summarised below and can be read in full online: http://www.endfuelpoverty.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/End-Fuel-Poverty-Coalition-WHD-Submission-FINAL.pdf

In our responses to government consultations, we have been clear that there must be urgent delivery of government promises on tackling fuel poverty, such as confirming the extension of Warm Home Discount (ideally to 2026), introduction of the promised Home Upgrade Grants and social housing decarbonisation programme.

This also needs to include an extension to the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) from April 2022- March 2026 and maintain its key focus on low income and vulnerable households.

Government should further ensure that the Shared Property Fund (SPF) helps end cold homes across the UK and plans are introduced to extend and, as suggested by National Energy Action, strengthen the increase to Universal Credit for low income households.

Therefore, the End Fuel Poverty Coalition welcomes the publication of this consultation for an extension of the Warm Home Discount.

During this extraordinary time, for many, personal finances are under intense pressure and schemes such as this will prove welcome relief for many households. Overall, the proposals within the consultation move the scheme forward in a positive direction. However, there is a need to accelerate wider reforms of the scheme.

The Coalition broadly supports the principle contained in the consultation of a debt write off. This is suggested to be capped at £2,000 in order to enable energy suppliers and delivery partners to assist customers who have a debt which is likely to be less than 4 years old, even if they have a higher than average level of debt. This will allow for more customers to be supported within the limited budget for industry initiatives, while allowing significant debt clearance for potentially more than 3,000 households.

However, this should be kept under review to ensure it meets the needs of the most vulnerable in light of Covid-19 lockdowns and the likely increase in energy usage as people stay at home.

This consultation contains welcome proposals for reform, especially within the context of Industry Initiatives, but it is clear that these tweaks in rules will only serve to remove support from one group to improve support for others.

A broader set of reforms is needed to increase the financial envelope of the scheme and to ensure that it can support all of the households that need it.

More information from our wider proposals is available in our response to the Comprehensive Spending Review.

MPs demand fuel poverty answers

MPs from across the political spectrum have been demanding answers from the government on fuel poverty in recent weeks.

The answers have shown how the government is committed to taking steps to reduce fuel poverty – but that more needs to be done.

Rebecca Long-Bailey (Lab, Salford & Eccles) asked the Department for Health whether people in cold homes and in fuel poverty will be at higher risk from the worst effects covid-19 in winter 2020-21.

The Minister, Jo Churchill, replied:

As the United Kingdom heads into its first winter with COVID-19, the impacts of the concurrent risks of COVID-19, cold weather and fuel poverty are not yet known. In light of the concurrent risk of COVID-19, Public Health England will be reviewing the Cold Weather Plan for England and related resources ahead of this winter.

Ms Long-Bailey put further pressure on, asking what assessment the Government has made of the effect of fuel poverty on trends in the level of respiratory problems. The government referred to an Atlas of Variation of trends which will require further examination by fuel poverty experts.

Emma Lewell-Buck (Labour, South Shields) asked if the government would look at proposals suggested by the End Fuel Poverty Coalition to ensure debt relief for those in extreme fuel poverty. Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng replied:

The Department is working with Ofgem to assess the level and impact of domestic consumer energy debt this winter and we will continue to review options to support energy customers in debt, including those in or at risk of fuel poverty.

David Linden (SNP, Glasgow East) took the issue further, asking the Prime Minister:

With 2.4 million households in the UK facing fuel poverty this winter, a figure that will only be exacerbated by the pandemic, will the Prime Minister consider introducing a one-off covid-19 winter fuel payment to every household at risk.

The Prime Minster replied that the government “will consider all sorts of measures to alleviate poverty and suffering in the months ahead.”

William Wragg (Conservative, Hazel Grove) asked about support for energy efficiency, which saw Treasury Minister Kemi Badenoch reply:

The Government recognise the importance of energy efficiency in achieving our climate change objectives and tackling fuel poverty. That is why in July my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced over £2 billion of new funding to upgrade homes through the green homes grant scheme. In addition, we have a range of policies in place to support home energy efficiency improvements.

Nadia Whittome (Labour, Nottingham East) raised the subject of fuel poverty among those in rented accommodation. Prompting Minister Kwarteng to respond:

We intend to consult on strengthening the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards in due course, in line with our Clean Growth Strategy aspiration for privately rented properties to reach EPC Band C by 2030 where practical, affordable and cost-effective. Landlords will also be eligible for subsidised energy efficiency measures through the Green Homes Grant scheme this autumn.

Martyn Day (SNP, Linlithgow & Falkirk East) has demanded the government make an annual statement to the House of Commons on fuel poverty. The issue of the Fuel Poverty Strategy for England has also been raised and while it has been over 55 weeks since the consultation on the strategy closed, the Minister is still hopeful it will be published. In response to Sarah Olney (Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park), the Minister said:

We intend to publish an updated Fuel Poverty Strategy for England in due course which will provide further information on the range of schemes available to support low income and vulnerable households in improving the energy efficiency of their homes.

Luke Evans (Conservative, Bosworth), Colleen Fletcher (Labour, Coventry North East) also raised local fuel poverty issues with Ministers stressing they understood the danger of the issue.

Welcome for government energy efficiency measures

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition welcomes the government’s moves today to improve energy efficiency of people’s homes. We hope this is the first in a series of announcements that will help end fuel poverty in line with our submission to the Comprehensive Spending Review.

The increase in Energy Performance Certificates to level C for those in private rented accommodation is especially welcome. The next step will be to ensure local authorities enforce these new regulations.

Homeowners in England, including landlords, can get up to £5,000 to pay part of the cost of energy saving measures like insulation. Low income households can get 100% of the costs of work covered up to £10,000.

The scheme will help fund energy efficiency and low carbon heating measures in 600,000 households who could save up to £600 a year on energy bills. Installing energy efficient home improvements also cuts emissions, which is better for the environment. Tradespeople and businesses should make sure they’re eligible to carry out work under the scheme, which will support thousands of green jobs.

More information is available online: https://greenhomesgrant.campaign.gov.uk/

 

One in three British households are already concerned about the health impacts of living in a cold home this winter. And should a second wave of Covid-19 hit during cold weather, the impact could be catastrophic for individuals and our health services.

As a result, the Coalition has urged the Government to commit to five main spending priorities:

1) Rapid roll-out of large-scale energy efficiency programmes

2) Urgent delivery of government promises on tackling fuel poverty

3) This unprecedented level of investment needs to be coupled with large scale training programmes

4) Immediate steps to improve energy standards in the private rented sector

5) Fuel Poverty Debt Relief to ensure fewer people will have to choose between heating and eating this winter

Coalition reveals five priorities for the Comprehensive Spending Review

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition has called on the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review to solve a problem that has plagued the country for generations.

The submission sets out how fuel poverty could be all but eradicated within the lifetime of this Parliament.

Evidence from Public Health England shows that fuel poverty puts households more at risk from the worst effects of Covid-19.

Therefore, ending fuel poverty is now an urgent public health priority, which can only be solved through economic measures.

The benefits of ending fuel poverty include a faster transition to a just net zero, the levelling up of the economy and a green stimulus to aid the recovery from lockdown.

On the other hand, with energy use rising as people stay at home more and the predicted income squeeze, it is estimated that the numbers in fuel poverty could soar by 200,000. The recent National Energy Action / Energy Action Scotland monitor revealed a significant hardship for fuel poor households in the coming winter, as a potent combination of higher energy use resulting from staying at home for longer is mixed with reductions in income.

One in three British households are already concerned about the health impacts of living in a cold home this winter. And should a second wave of Covid-19 hit during cold weather, the impact could be catastrophic for individuals and our health services.

As a result, the Coalition urges the Government to commit to five main spending priorities:

1) Rapid roll-out of large-scale energy efficiency programmes

2) Urgent delivery of government promises on tackling fuel poverty

3) This unprecedented level of investment needs to be coupled with large scale training programmes

4) Immediate steps to improve energy standards in the private rented sector

5) Fuel Poverty Debt Relief to ensure fewer people will have to choose between heating and eating this winter

The full submission can be read online: http://www.endfuelpoverty.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/End-Fuel-Poverty-Coalition-CSR-Submission-FINAL.pdf

Warning of difficult winter ahead for fuel poor households

A new report warns of significant hardship for fuel poor households in the coming winter, as a potent combination of higher energy use resulting from staying at home for longer is mixed with reductions in income.

The UK Fuel Poverty Monitor, produced by fuel poverty charities National Energy Action and Energy Action Scotland, collected evidence from 73 organisations to understand the impact that Covid-19 has had on energy consumers, and look ahead to the challenges they will face this winter.

The research found that three quarters of frontline organisations are concerned that there is a high risk that fuel debt will increase this winter as a direct result of the pandemic, while 98% believe that there is a moderate or high risk of more households cutting back on their energy use due to being forced to spend more time at home during lockdown periods.

The risks were found to be most acute for prepayment meter households, who found it more difficult to top up when asked not to leave their homes, and many of whom will be in significant debt even before this winter. This creates a particularly stark situation in Northern Ireland, where a far greater proportion of the population uses prepayment energy meters.

This supports broader evidence that this winter will be particularly hard for those that struggle to afford a warm home:

  • Over the last five winters the number of excess winter deaths due to living in a cold home is estimated at approximately 10,000 per year.
  • During the lockdown months, energy efficiency measure installs dropped by almost 90%, the equivalent to 30,000 fewer measures installed.
  • In the event of a winter lockdown, families in cold, leaky homes would face heating bills elevated £49 higher than those in well insulated homes.
  • One in three British households are concerned about the health impacts of living in a cold home this winter.

Adam Scorer, Chief Executive of National Energy Action (NEA) said:

Cold weather always hits fuel poor households hard. This winter, the mixture of reduced incomes, higher energy costs and the heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 will be a lethal cocktail for thousands of vulnerable people.

The experience of frontline organisations, working with some of the most vulnerable households, cries out for increasing the level of support and advice that is available

In the spring we needed to react quickly and adapt to the crisis. That happened pretty well. For the winter we can plan and resource properly. If we don’t, the cost will be high indeed”.

Frazer Scott, Director of Energy Action Scotland (EAS) and co-author of the report concludes:

 Scotland is facing a particularly challenging winter this year. As industry struggles to return to work improving housing for the most vulnerable, and job losses combine with the end of debt repayment holidays, tens of thousands of households are facing a very worrying time.

Estimates see fuel poverty rates in Scotland rising to 29% of households many of whom will be facing the threat of a harsh Scottish winter in a cold, damp home. Many of these people will become ill in an all too familiar pattern and will be forced to rely upon NHS Scotland which is already facing unprecedented pressures on its services this year.

Unlike some of the problems we face as a country, there are many proven solutions to fuel poverty. Let us make this the year we act upon them and prioritise the most vulnerable in society with help.”  

Although there are increased risks this winter, the report finds that action can still be taken to mitigate the impacts of the virus on fuel poor households this winter by:

  • Improving the identification of customers in need, by using all available data.
  • Improving the awareness and communication of available assistance.
  • Providing support for prepayment energy customers.
  • Addressing the increasing amounts of energy debt that have accrued as a result of the crisis.
  • Addressing a hiatus in policy making, and policy programme delivery

Hundreds of thousands set to be forced into fuel poverty

Over 200,000 households are set to fall into fuel poverty as the economy struggles to recover from lockdown, according to new estimates. [1]

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition is warning that as the numbers in fuel poverty soar, a future wave of COVID-19 striking during colder weather could be catastrophic for individuals and health services.

Public Health England have declared that there is “clear evidence on the links between cold temperatures and respiratory problems. Resistance to respiratory infections is lowered by cool temperatures and can increase the risk of respiratory illness.” [2]

The Coalition has launched a petition calling on the government to build on announcements in the Economic Statement and take urgent action to save lives and help address the financial impact of the current crisis.

Fuel poverty is caused by low income, high fuel prices, poor energy efficiency, unaffordable housing and poor quality private rental housing. At least 2.4m households in England are already in fuel poverty, affecting 10% of the population. [3]

William Baker, from Solutions to Tackle Energy Poverty and member of the Coalition, commented:

It has never been more important for the government to fix the roof while the sun is shining.

While it is summer now, colder temperatures are on the way and hundreds of thousands more people will feel the harsh reality of fuel poverty. In just a few months we could see a perfect storm of cold homes, high winter fuel bills and a future wave of COVID-19 hitting the NHS during winter – a period when it always struggles to maintain services.

The Coalition wrote to the Prime Minister on 23 June setting out four steps for the government to take to tackle fuel poverty before the winter.

The Chancellor’s Economic Statement of 8 July introduced partial measures to help improve energy efficiency, but the Coalition argues that the government must go further.

Jacky Peacock, from Advice4Renters, said:

Ending fuel poverty is a public health priority, but it can only be solved through economic measures.

The government must deliver its full manifesto pledge to invest £9.2 billion in building energy efficiency, extend the Warm Home Discount and introduce wider Home Upgrade Grants. It must also take further steps to improve energy standards in the private rented sector, alongside improved security and affordability for private tenants.

Finally, we must see a Fuel Poverty Debt Relief, not deferral of payment, programme introduced to ensure fewer people will have to choose between heating and eating.

Ruth London from Fuel Poverty Action added:

The Chancellor’s £2 billion for energy efficiency retrofits could have done wonders to relieve fuel poverty.  Instead, targeted at homeowners and landlords, it will do very little for renters. And without clear protections, homeowners will be at the mercy of high-pressure sales teams and unskilled retrofitters, who can leave them colder, and poorer, than before.

The public have been asked to show their support for steps to tackle fuel poverty by signing the petition https://www.change.org/EndFuelPoverty.

[1] End Fuel Poverty Coalition calculations. Unemployment is predicted to rocket from 1.29m to 3.08m people by late 2020, with the OECD predicting even higher figures. 3.08m people equates to 1.17m households. 148,000 or 30% of households with an unemployed HRP were fuel poor in 2018 (Government data). This will increase to 351,000 households in late 2020, assuming the fuel poverty rate for the unemployed is still 30% – a growth of over 200,000 households. Furthermore, many more households are likely to be forced into fuel poverty due to both reduced income and higher fuel bills arising from fewer working hours and spending more time in the home. 

[2] PHE, 2014. Warm homes enable immune systems to better fight off viruses, improve the likelihood of people with viruses only suffering ‘mild’ symptoms and help improve the recovery process. See: Baker, Ambrose et. al. https://extra.shu.ac.uk/ppp-online/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/stuck-home-cold-covid-19-fuel-poor.pdf

[3] http://www.endfuelpoverty.org.uk/latest-fuel-poverty-data-published/

Coalition responds to Chancellor’s Economic Statement

Ending fuel poverty is a public health priority, which can only be solved through economic measures. We hope that the plans set out in the Chancellor’s Economic Statement are the first step towards an ambitious programme to end fuel poverty.

The Green Homes Grant and the social housing decarbonisation fund are welcome, but must be expanded to become long-term programmes. And the government must go further and faster.

The government must deliver the full manifesto pledge to invest £9.2 billion in building energy efficiency, extend the Warm Home Discount and introduce wider Home Upgrade Grants. It must also take further steps to improve energy standards in the private rented sector, alongside improved security and affordability for private tenants.

Finally, we must see a Fuel Poverty Debt Relief programme (not deferral) introduced to ensure fewer people will have to choose between heating and eating.