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.

Third of benefit claimants fall behind on bills

New data from Citizens Advice shows 49% of benefit claimants affected by the benefits freeze have struggled to meet essential costs such as rent, household bills and food while 40% have lost sleep due to money worries in the past 12 months.

The report, achieving income security for all, found that 33% have fallen behind on household bills (such as their energy bills) and 38% have gone without essentials like heating or food.

The findings are worse for Universal Credit claimants, with over half (55%) having gone without essentials such as food, and 51% saying they have lost sleep because of their finances.

The charity is calling for increased financial support for people claiming benefits as it finds almost two in five (39%) people who claim have less than £100 at the end of each month, after paying for rent or their mortgage, food, council tax and household bills.

Disabled people and people with children were more likely to have gone without essentials such as food and toiletries. Around 44% of disabled people’s households and 45% of households with children went without in the past 12 months.

Citizens Advice is calling on the government to end the freeze on benefit rates and reduce the five-week wait for Universal Credit claims.

Since April 2016, the level of most benefits like Universal Credit and Tax Credits has been frozen.

This is having serious consequences for people with over a quarter (27%) of people claiming benefits saying financial worries have made them feel lonely/isolated. Some 29% say financial worries have affected their mental health.

Citizens Advice provides free, independent and impartial advice in England and Wales and last year we helped 580,000 people across England and Wales with their benefits. Some one in six households in the UK claim income-related benefits.

Citizens Advice is calling for urgent solutions from the government:

  • End the freeze on benefit rates. Uprate payments by the Consumer Prices Index plus 2% for four years. Recalculate the Local Housing Allowance to at least the 30th percentile of local rents and re-establish the link with rental prices.
  • Reduce the five-week wait by bringing forward the first non-repayable payment to no later than two weeks into a Universal Credit claim.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

The benefits system is designed to help people with their finances in times of need, but too often our frontline staff and volunteers see a different story.

We’ve found people are losing sleep and unable to afford essential things like food and housing while receiving Universal Credit. It is totally unacceptable that our benefits system is not providing the financial safety net that people need.

The government needs to take urgent action in this week’s spending review by reducing the five-week wait for Universal Credit and ending the freeze on benefit rates.

Danielle, a parent of two children who was helped by Citizens Advice, said:

I have been through so much in the past year. I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I went through chemotherapy and now I am in remission and healthwise am doing so much better.

Universal Credit during this time added so much stress that I did not need. My payments were delayed when I went from being self-employed to being off due to needing chemotherapy.

Thankfully I have family who were able to help me to make sure my rent was paid. And I repaid them when I received my Universal Credit payments. But the stress of thinking I might not be there for my children and how I would pay my bills was at times unbearable.

Lack of money will stymie government fuel poverty review

A lack of funding to tackle statutory targets on fuel poverty in England could have damaging long term consequences, according to the End Fuel Poverty Coalition.

The Coalition’s response to the Government’s Fuel Poverty Strategy Review broadly welcomes the consultation, but warns there are major areas which need improvement.

Fuel poverty means that a household is forced below the poverty line as a result of the cost of using energy in their home. Using the current measurement, at least 2.53m households are in fuel poverty in England alone.

The Strategy review proposes widening this definition to include all low income households living in cold homes (the ‘Low Income, Low Energy Efficiency’ indictor). The government believes this will better incentivise energy efficiency. This increases the number of fuel poor households in England from 2.55 million to 3.66 million: an increase of 44%.

The Coalition’s response argues that the most crucial action that Government can take is to support proposals for a new ‘Clean Growth Fuel Poverty Challenge Fund.’ This would help the poorest households living in the worst F and G-rated homes, mainly in hard to heat homes.

The Coalition’s detailed response to the Strategy Review also calls for additional improvements, to create a longer term framework for energy efficiency. These include:

  1. Better regulation of the private sector
  2. Make the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) Scheme more accessible to those in greatest need
  3. Introduce more locally led, area-based schemes to improve energy efficiency, backed up by a national “safety net”
  4. Ensure all improvements are of the highest and safest quality
  5. Examine new financial measures to improve energy efficiency across the wider housing stock such as stamp duty reforms, zero interest loans, etc.

 Dr Brenda Boardman, Emeritus Fellow at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute, and one of the core authors of the Coalition’s response, commented:

Fuel poverty policy has been in the doldrums for several months, so that this consultation is welcome evidence that the Government wants to revive policy.

There is recognition of the crucial importance of energy efficiency improvements, but no statements yet of appropriate funds. And yet there needs to be prompt, positive action to upgrade all the fuel poor in F and G-rated properties in the next 15 months, as promised.

The growing emphasis on regulation, for instance of the privately rented sector, is encouraging, but still depends on enforcement to be effective. We believe this is a great opportunity for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to be strong and really champion the fuel poor. 

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

Without more ambitious action 160,000 fuel-poor households could still be living in the least efficient homes by 2020, with the Government way off-track towards meeting its 2030 statutory target. As well as the devastating impacts cold homes have on their occupants, the delayed cost of inaction extend to all of us.

Addressing fuel poverty is a crucial part of meeting the new stretching carbon targets. Without a big improvement in current efforts, the government will not meet its climate change targets. Poorer households will benefit the least from energy policies, whilst paying a higher share of the costs, despite making lower contributions to our overall emissions.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Ending fuel poverty is in our grasp through a National Energy Efficiency Programme, fully funded support for those in fuel poverty and reform of the private rented sector.

A full copy of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition response is available online.

You can follow the Coalition on Twitter @EndFuelPoverty.