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.

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.

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.