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.

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/

End Fuel Poverty Coalition writes to Prime Minister

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition has written to the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, warning of the risks of a future wave of COVID-19 striking during colder winter months.

In the letter, copied to Minister Kwasi Kwarteng MP, the Coalition write:

Dear Prime Minister,

Urgent action is needed now to prevent tens of thousands of needless deaths which could overwhelm the country this coming winter.

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

However, policy to end fuel poverty has been frozen for three years.

Should a second wave of Covid-19 hit during cold weather, the impact could be catastrophic for individuals and our health services.

Energy use is rising as people stay at home more, incomes are being squeezed and improvements in energy efficiency of housing are on hold.

This means the numbers in fuel poverty are set to soar.

While there is currently no cure for Covid-19, cold homes are entirely preventable and four clear actions must be taken to save lives and help address the financial impact of the current crisis:

  • Rapid roll-out of large-scale energy efficiency programmes which would also deliver a green economic stimulus that is shovel ready (e.g. retrofitting of people’s homes and improved heating systems). The Government must confirm their manifesto pledge to invest £9.2 billion in building energy efficiency and bring forward £2.8 billion to invest in the next two years which can support 42,500 jobs across the country and help a million households save an average of £270 on their energy bills. 150,000 jobs could be supported to 2030.
  • Urgent delivery of government promises on tackling fuel poverty, such as extension of Warm Home Discount, introduction of the promised Home Upgrade Grants and social housing decarbonisation programme.
  • Immediate steps to improve energy standards in the private rented sector, alongside improved security and affordability for private tenants.
  • Fuel Poverty Debt Relief (not deferral) to ensure fewer people will have to choose between heating and eating.

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition campaigns to influence government and other bodies to take action to end fuel poverty and thereby improve people’s health and quality of life as well as seeking to reduce the cost of living, create jobs and negate carbon emissions in the process. It is a broad coalition of over 20 anti-poverty, environmental, health and housing campaigners, charities, local authorities, trade unions and consumer organisations.

We would welcome the opportunity to discuss this further or to hear your views on this vital issue.

A campaign on the potential devastating impact of fuel poverty combined with COVID-19 this winter will be launched by the Coalition shortly.

To be kept up to date – or join with this campaign – please email info@ endfuelpoverty.org.uk.

Latest fuel poverty data published

The latest data shows that 2.4m households are classed as being in fuel poverty in England.

This represents 10.3% of the population, which is down 0.7 percentage points from the previous figures.

The figures are based on the “old” definition of fuel poverty and not the one recommended by the End Fuel Poverty Coalition in its response to the fuel poverty strategy consultation.

Therefore, the numbers should be treated as an under-estimate of the scale of the problem.

Additionally, the Government has admitted that it does not have enough information to develop assumptions about the impact of Covid-19 on the numbers of households in fuel poverty.

Reports suggest that domestic energy use has increased 15% in the UK during lockdown and the huge increase in the number of people applying for Universal Credit suggest that many more may be struggling with their energy costs.

Adam Scorer, Chief Executive of fuel poverty charity National Energy Action which is a member of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, said:

Every year around 10,000 people die directly as a result of a cold home. Many thousands more who cannot afford to keep their homes warm are hospitalised, suffer from a severe respiratory condition or just shiver in damp, cold homes.

Over the last decade more than 100,000 people in the UK have lost their lives to a cold home. It is chronicled each year in official excess winter death statistics. Unless the numbers are exceptional, that annual figure seems to be regarded as not ‘excessive’ at all, but within the bounds of some perverse statistical acceptability.

The impact of Covid-19 is truly horrific. But we have been fortunate that, so far, the virus has struck hard during warmer weather.  The possible coincidence of a further wave in a cold winter should make us think long and hard about the steps we need to take to avoid the deadly collision between Covid-19 and fuel poverty related mortality.

Among the many policy decisions delayed due to the coronavirus response are new Fuel Poverty Strategies, decisions on the main fuel poverty programmes and the centrality of domestic energy efficiency within an infrastructure strategy. The delay is understandable, and if used to make the hard connection between cold homes, ill health and vulnerability to early death, that delay could be beneficial.

Cold homes create underlying medical conditions. They take thousands of lives. Deaths and suffering from fuel poverty are not novel, unimaginable or unprecedented. It is an annual catalogue of failure, as society and successive governments to protect the most vulnerable. We know the cause, the scale and the consequence. We know the solutions. At this precise moment we should be more alert to these issues than ever before.

 

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

 

 

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.