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Emergency measures needed to protect people pushed into poverty by Covid-19

Ahead of the government publishing emergency legislation to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, Citizens Advice is calling for measures to ensure that vulnerable people and low-income families are not pushed into financial hardship as a result of the outbreak.

These include immediate changes to Universal Credit and the extension of the Cold Weather Payment to households that are self-isolating.

Those at particular risk include seven million people in the UK without savings to fall back on;  five million self-employed people; and those in 1.5 million low-income jobs that don’t qualify for statutory sick pay (SSP).

The charity warns many will also face higher energy bills and other essential costs as a consequence of having to self-isolate or stay at home to look after dependents.

Without action from the government, Citizens Advice fears the public health response to coronavirus could be undermined by people who feel they just cannot afford to self-isolate.

Citizens Advice has set out temporary emergency measures that could be taken to protect the most vulnerable during the outbreak, including:

  • Sick pay: Legislating to provide Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) at 80% of their wage for people earning less than the Lower Earnings Limit. Temporarily increasing SSP and the level of benefits to support people facing sustained drops in income.

  • Universal Credit: Suspending the Minimum Income Floor for all self-employed people. Making advance payments a grant for those making new claims and advised to self-isolate. Making use of repayment pauses for benefit debt and third party deductions.

  • Household bills: Extending the existing Cold Weather Payment to provide support for self-isolating households in receipt of Universal Credit or legacy benefits.

  • Housing: Legislating to suspend section 21 to temporarily stop no-fault evictions for private renters. Amending the grounds under which section 8 can be used to ensure people aren’t being evicted as a consequence of being in arrears due to coronavirus.

Dame Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

The government has made it clear that it will do everything in its power to support the public health response to this virus, but financial protections are crucial to ensure people can follow guidance to self-isolate.

Millions of families across the country are already balanced on a financial cliff edge. Their biggest worry right now is that the knock-on effects of the coronavirus could send them tumbling over, with missed bills and rent arrears.

No one should fear being pushed into poverty if they fall ill or need to self-isolate. Yet without further emergency measures to protect society’s most vulnerable, this will be the reality for millions of people.

Budget a missed opportunity to end fuel poverty

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition has responded to the first Budget delivered by Chancellor Rt. Hon. Rishi Sunak MP.

A spokesperson for the Coalition commented:

Despite the exceptional circumstances of today’s Budget, the lack of any proposed measures to boost domestic energy efficiency and end fuel poverty is nothing but an insult to the millions of ordinary people living in cold homes.

We urge the government to rectify this urgently and take concrete steps to end fuel poverty at the earliest opportunity.

The Coalition urges the government to publish its response to the Fuel Poverty Strategy Review, set out the funding and eligibility criteria for the proposed Home Upgrade Grants and to put in motion the social housing decarbonisation programme at the earliest opportunity.

It must also guarantee the extension and expansion of the Warm Home Discount programme as a matter of urgency.

Two million households could miss out on vital lifeline

A new report released today warns a scheme which provides a payment of £140 towards energy bills – the Warm Home Discount (WHD) – could end in March 2021, despite it providing a lifeline to millions of pensioners across Great Britain.

The authors also highlight that up to two million working age households across Great Britain could already be missing out on the energy rebate each winter, leading to difficulties keeping homes at a safe temperature.

National Energy Action (NEA) and Fair By Design (FBD) have teamed up to call for an extension and expansion of the scheme to ensure all eligible low income working age households receive the rebate automatically without needing to apply each year to their supplier.

Peter Smith, Director of Policy and Research at NEA commented:

For nine years the Warm Home Discount scheme has been hugely successful in ensuring that the most vulnerable pensioners receive vital rebates automatically and are better able to afford to keep their homes adequately warm over winter.

It’s crucial this continues. Legislative powers were also passed in Parliament three years ago which allow the Government and suppliers to provide this support automatically to working age households too but up to two million Brits  are missing out on £140 energy rebates each year.

This is despite them being eligible for support and paying for the cost of the policy through their energy bills.

NEA and FBD say most poorer customers miss out each year because the Warm Home Discount is poorly advertised which means many are unaware of its existence. And even when customers are aware and apply, their applications can be unsuccessful because there is only a finite amount of money available for the limited annual budget. Smaller suppliers are also not required to provide the WHD meaning some customers switch suppliers in order to benefit from a cheaper deal but end up losing their entitlement to the £140 rebate making them worse off.

Carl Packman, Head of Corporate Engagement at Fair By Design said:

Many low income households are already compelled to make a choice nobody should have to make: to heat or to eat.  At the same time many pay a poverty premium for the way they pay for household heat, which makes that desperate situation even worse.

The Warm Home Discount is a lifeline for many struggling to heat their homes, to levels many of us take for granted. But there is a risk the scheme will end in March 2021.

Putting £140 back in the pockets of millions of working age people will mean they pay a fair price for their energy. It mustn’t be underestimated just how valuable this measure will be.

NEA and FBD are calling for Government to extend and expand the Warm Home Discount scheme for at least three years and ensure smaller suppliers are also required to provide the WHD. Current powers within the Digital Economy Act allow Government to ensure that all those eligible for the WHD rebate actually receive it without reducing benefits for low income pensioner recipients who are most risk of dying over winter.

WHD Industry Initiatives also fund the work of community and voluntary organisations to deliver assistance with debt and energy advice. Without a commitment to the extension of this element of the scheme NEA and FBD have warned that this work will cease.

NEA and FBD’s full briefing highlights how this can be achieved in a cost neutral way. Smith concludes:

We hope the UK Government, Ofgem, parliamentarians, and energy companies work together  in 2020 to ensure that the scheme continues and expands after 2021.

British Gas reverse top-up decision after campaign

British Gas has announced that it is reversing its decision to increase the minimum top up for prepayment customers.

British Gas will work with Payzone and Post Office to ensure the minimum top up amount will move back to £1 for customers using any Payzone outlets or Post Offices to add credit to their prepayment meters.

The decision comes following a campaign led by Preet Kaur Gill MP and supported by the End Fuel Poverty Coalition.

Preet Kaur Gill MP commented:

This is a vital win for the thousands of people affected by British Gas’s decision to raise the minimum pre-pay top-up.

Campaigners will now turn their intention to other energy providers who have £5 minimum vend policies in operation. The MP will be writing to any of the other major energy companies who charge the higher top up amount to encourage them to follow British Gas’ lead and reduce their charge to £1.

She will also be looking at the related issue of the reduction of payzone points around the country which obviously has an effect on people’s ability to top-up their meters.

Sarwjit Sambhi, Chief Executive, Centrica Consumer, said:

Our customers are always at the heart of the decisions we make and so we’ve listened closely to feedback after making this change.

The aim of this move was to keep our costs down in order to offer our customers the best value, but I am happy to change this decision whilst we continue to look at ways that we can help our most vulnerable customers.

British Gas has a number of services available for any customers who struggle financially. It has specialist call centre agents to help anyone struggling to advise them on how to access the help they need. It also set up the British Gas Energy Trust as an independent charity that offers advice, assistance and grants to people who are struggling to pay their bills.

Brighton & Hove Council Pledge Action on Fuel Poverty

Brighton and Hove City Council has declared fighting fuel poverty a local priority.

Working with the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, the councillors developed a motion to examine the ways the local authority can tackle the problem.

The Labour leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, Nancy Platts, said:

More than one in ten households in Brighton and Hove live in fuel poverty – that is above average for the south east.

Cold homes are linked to illness and winter deaths during normal winter weather. But, as the temperature drops below 6C, winter death rates increase.

More people die from cold homes than they do alcohol, Parkinson’s disease or traffic accidents.

She led a debate about fuel poverty at a meeting of the full council at Hove Town Hall on Thursday (30 January).

Green group convenor Phélim Mac Cafferty said that people were forced to choose between heating and eating. Councillor Mac Cafferty said:

Access to sustainable energy is vital to keep our residents’ fuel bills down.

Renewable energy run by and for our communities offers all of us the opportunity to combat climate change, bring down fuel bills, improve energy efficiency and reach people in fuel poverty.

The Council motion pledges to examine ways that the authority can take action to tackle fuel poverty. All local authorities have measures at their disposal which can help fight the issue, these include:

  1. improving energy efficiency of Council / housing association housing stock
  2. better enforcement of existing regulations on energy efficiency and property standards
  3. publishing a statement of intent to access Energy Company Obligation funding via LA Flex
  4. improving tenants’ rights
  5. providing information advice and guidance to those most in need

Fuel Poverty Coalition members including the London Borough of Camden helped to identify the ways councils can help beat fuel poverty and a template motion for other local authorities to use is available from the Coalition by emailing info@endfuelpoverty.org.uk.

The Council has also pledged to join the End Fuel Poverty Coalition.

Image by Clive D / Flickr / Creative Commons

 

 

Petition against minimum energy top-ups launched

The MP for one of the areas most hit by fuel poverty has launched a campaign against British Gas’ decision to increase the minimum top-up amount for customers on pay-as-you-go tariffs from £1 to £5.

The move has been criticised by anti-poverty campaigners and charities that claim it will impact parents and pensioners on low incomes who will be forced to make a choice between food and fuel.

More than 16% of households experience fuel poverty in Birmingham – well above the national average. Nationally, at least 3.66 million households are in fuel poverty.

Those who use top-up meters are often in debt and have insecure incomes, and rely on small top-ups to ration their heating to see themselves through to payday. Research shows that those on pre-pay meters pay hundreds of pounds more in tariffs on average than direct debit customers.

The MP for Birmingham Edgbaston, Preet Kaur Gill, has written to the CEO of British Gas, Sarwjit Sambhi, to urge him to take his ‘social responsibilities seriously and reverse the decision immediately’.

Ms Gill also set up an online petition to put pressure on British Gas, the country’s biggest energy supplier.

Ms Gill says:

This decision will disproportionately affect those who are already struggling to get by. To implement it in the middle of winter, and what is the most financially challenging time of the year for many people, is the height of social irresponsibility.

A company which last reported profits of £466 million should not be increasing the burden on its most hard-up customers. We ask that British Gas does the responsible thing and reverses this decision.

The public can sign the petition at: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/british-gas-reverse-the-minimum-top-up-rise-1

Call for action on the crisis of the winter death rate among penisoners

End Fuel Poverty Coalition Member, the National Pensioners Convention (NPC), is calling upon the next government to respond to figures released today that show that excess winter mortality rates in 2018 to 2019 reached 23,200 in all English regions and Wales.

Excess winter mortality rates continue to be higher in females compared with males, with the figure highest in females aged 90 years and over. Respiratory diseases, such as pneumonia, remain the leading cause of death.

Today’s figures are proof that older people struggle with poor housing, rising fuel costs, and a basic state pension that is inadequate and bottom of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) league table.

Pensioner poverty is increasing with 2 million pensioners living in poverty and one in three older people living in homes with inadequate heating or insulation making their homes more difficult to heat or keep warm.

Jan Shortt NPC General Secretary said:

The next government must make a commitment to end fuel poverty and ensure that energy companies do not abuse the implementation of the next cap on prices.

The key to tackling winter deaths is to make sure older people have got a well-insulated, warm home and the income needed to pay the fuel bills.

This is a basic requirement of what a decent society should do. We need the next government to roll out a more effective programme to insulate homes, building more suitable properties for older people and raising the winter fuel allowance in line with inflationary costs of energy.

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition released a Manifesto setting out the changes the next government needs to make to end the scourge of fuel poverty.

Ending fuel poverty must be priority for next government

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition has called on all political parties to adopt four pledges to end the scourge of fuel poverty in England.

A full copy of the Manifesto is available for download and prospective Parliamentary Candidates wishing to show their support can do so by signing up online.

Fuel poverty means that a household is forced below the poverty line as a result of the cost of using energy in their home.

According to the latest definition of fuel poverty, almost one in five households are in fuel poverty in England alone (BEIS).

Fuel poverty is caused by low income, high fuel prices, poor energy efficiency, unaffordable housing prices and poor quality rental housing.

It can lead to respiratory, circulatory and mental health problems (PHE) as well c.15,000 winter deaths caused by cold homes (NEA). In children, it can lead to developmental problems and poor performance at school (NCB). It can also lead to people taking days off work (IPPR).

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition calls on all political parties to commit to a Manifesto that will end fuel poverty for good. To achieve this, the next Government must:

  1. Declare energy efficiency and eliminating fuel poverty a national infrastructure priority.
  2. Take immediate action to improve the standards of rented homes.
  3. Reform the domestic energy supply market.
  4. End the Benefits Freeze and address the chronic scale of unclaimed benefits

 Jacky Peacock, Director of Advice4Renters, said:

Without more ambitious action, people will be condemned to fuel poverty for decades to come. As well as the devastating impacts cold homes have on their occupants, the delayed cost of inaction extends to all of us.

Addressing fuel poverty is a crucial part of meeting new stretching carbon reduction targets. Without a big improvement in current efforts, the government will not meet its climate change targets.

Ruth London of Fuel Poverty Action, added:

Ending fuel poverty is in our grasp if a National Energy Efficiency Programme is combined with fully funded support for people in fuel poverty, reform of the private rented sector, effective accountability to social housing residents, and proactive, genuinely independent and fully empowered local authority supervision of retrofits and new residential construction.

As well as providing detailed recommendations to policy makers, the Coalition Manifesto sets out the benefits to ending fuel poverty.

Improving the energy efficiency standards of Britain’s homes could cut household bills by around £370 a year, while reducing reliance on gas imports by a quarter. It would also boost economic growth, create jobs in every constituency of the country and reduce pressure on health and social care services.

Improved winter warmth and lowered relative humidity have proven benefits for cardiovascular, respiratory, and mental health. For every £1 spent on retrofitting fuel-poor homes an estimated £0.42 is saved in UK National Health Service spending.

Peter Smith, Director of Policy and Research at National Energy Action (NEA), said:

Ending fuel poverty is a crucial part of meeting new stretching carbon reduction targets and improving health and well-being.

The key actions that are necessary are in our grasp and have cross-party support. We hope our recommendations will be acted on by all the main political parties within their manifestos.”

A full copy of the Manifesto is available for download.

Prospective Parliamentary Candidates wishing to show their support for the End Fuel Poverty Manifesto can do so by signing up online, emailing info@endfuelpoverty.org.uk or completing the form below.

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Coalition responds to Committee on Fuel Poverty Interim Report

The Committee on Fuel Poverty has announced its decision to delay its annual report until after the Government has completed its review of the Fuel Poverty Strategy.

It has issued an interim report given that the Government’s first strategic fuel poverty milestone is due in 2020 and recent commitments to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

Commenting on the report, a spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition commented:

The Committee on Fuel Poverty interim report is clear that without more investment, the government will miss its targets for both fuel poverty and net zero.
The Chancellor needs to take bold and decisive action in the planned Budget on 6 November to ensure that tackling fuel poverty is set out as a national infrastructure priority with the funding to match.
Vital funding will include £1.1bn to fund a nationwide Fuel Poverty Clean Growth Challenge Fund.

The Coalition previously set out the steps Government needs to take to end fuel poverty in its response to the Fuel Poverty Strategy review.

Business and charities unite in call for energy efficiency investment

End Fuel Poverty Coalition members have joined leading charities and businesses in a new drive for energy efficient investment.

A Declaration, ‘Energy Efficiency First’, has been published, calling on all political parties to make investment in home energy efficiency an infrastructure investment priority.

The Declaration states that to reach the UK’s legally binding net-zero emission and fuel poverty targets, all the UK’s homes will have to be made highly energy efficient. Additional public capital investment of £1 billion a year for the next 15 years is needed to ensure the targets are achieved.

The signatories point out that there is potential to reduce energy demand in UK homes by at least a quarter, saving the average household £270 every year. A quarter of the energy currently used could be saved and there is technical potential to cut home energy use in half.

The Declaration has been published on the day that the Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group (EEIG) sets out its vision for how to make all UK homes energy efficient. Called ‘The Net-Zero Litmus Test’, it reminds politicians that energy efficiency is the most cost-effective way to decarbonise the economy and would deliver a net benefit of over £50 billion to UK households, businesses and government.

The report finds that installation rate of home insulation measures has been cut by 95% since 2012. 170,000 homes are being upgraded with energy efficiency improvements in the UK each year but the number needs to rapidly rise to 1.2 million a year in order to meet decarbonisation targets.

The EEIG reports progress made against the its six-step plan to set up an energy efficiency infrastructure programme for the UK and sets out how to get on track.

Peter Smith, Director of Policy and Research at National Energy Action, and End Fuel Poverty Coalition Member said:

Fuel poverty continues to be a very real and stark reality for millions of people across the UK. The aim to reach net-zero is one of the most ambitious strategic goals the UK Government has ever set. It will have profound implications for all UK citizens, businesses and society at large.

The UK can only move rapidly towards net-zero, whilst creating a fair energy future for all citizens, if we urgently provide central investment to improve domestic energy efficiency. The top priority is to help the poorest households living in least efficient homes, mainly in rural areas and other hard to heat homes.

Alasdair MacEwen, Spokesperson for the Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group said:

Achieving net-zero emissions cost-effectively is simply impossible without a huge cut in energy demand. Whether any political party is prepared to do this is the litmus test of whether it is serious about achieving net-zero emissions. It can only be achieved if we treat the decarbonisation of homes as the UK’s number one infrastructure priority. No other infrastructure project can benefit so many and at the same time create returns on investment.

Tom Thackray, Director of Infrastructure and Energy Policy at the CBI said:

All government departments must buy in to improving the efficiency of our homes and buildings and work with industry to provide the correct regulation. Treating energy efficiency as an infrastructure priority, would change the way in which it is approached by the Government allowing the issue to be treated as other public investments, such as in public buildings and transport infrastructure. It would send a clear message to investors and consumers as to the direction and ambition of government policy.

The EEIG represents a growing and broad-based coalition of over 25 industry groups, NGOs, charities and businesses that are asking for rapid improvement on energy efficiency in homes and buildings policy in the UK.

For a full list of signatures to the Declaration, please visit www.e3g.org