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 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.

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.