Coalition responds to Government heat now, pay later plans

Reports in the media today suggest that the Government is bringing forward the Ofgem price cap announcement to tomorrow.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition commented on today’s developments:

Today’s media reports will do very little to alleviate the concerns of people across the country, especially the poorest households.

Rumours of a “heat now, pay later” scheme will do nothing to help vulnerable people living in fuel poverty. Tomorrow’s Ofgem price cap announcement, which will be somewhere between devastating and catastrophic for millions of people across the country, could very quickly wipe out any support these loans can provide.

The devil will be in the detail of what the Government has cooked up, but unless there is sufficient support for the most vulnerable people, they won’t be able to disguise the reality of  millions more people being forced into fuel poverty. 

Reaction to tomorrow’s announcement will be available as soon as possible.

Eight million older people worried about heating their home

More than three in five over-65s (62 per cent) – equivalent to 7.8 million older people – are worried about heating their homes compared to 43 per cent just six weeks ago, according to new research for Age UK.

Ahead of the widely anticipated price cap announcement from Ofgem next month, the new poll shows a sharp rise in concern over energy bills.

Over half (52 per cent) of over-65s – 6.5 million older people – are worried about their energy bills now compared to just under a third (31 per cent) last month, and nearly half (45 per cent) – 5.6 million over-65s – are worried about having to reduce energy use due to financial concerns compared to under a third (30 per cent) in December.

Additionally, 82 per cent – equivalent to over 10 million over-65s – think the Government should step in to help poorer older people pay their energy bills.

The high levels of concern are reflected in a surge of support for the Charity this month, with over 50,000 people adding their names to a letter to the Prime Minister in the past week, urging him to act now to protect older people from unaffordable energy bills.

The Charity is warning that many older people are already feeling the impact of the rising cost of living, with basic household bills fast becoming unaffordable for many pensioners living on a low fixed income – many of whom have few, if any, savings to fall back on.

Age UK has been flooded with stories from thousands of older people who are already struggling and cutting back on heating, food and other essentials. People such as Carol who is 78 and says, “I simply cannot cope with even higher bills”, or Denise who says, “This is so scary.”

Financial support for older people during the colder months has remained broadly unchanged for years and is nowhere near enough to match the scale of the current problem.

In its letter to the Government, Age UK echoed concerns of other members of the Coalition and urged Ministers to announce a financial package to support vulnerable older people through this crisis.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said:

The number of older people who are worried about being able to heat their homes is staggering and should be a source of shame for this Government. Millions of older people across the UK are absolutely dreading the imminent price cap announcement and urgently need reassurance that help is on its way so they can keep their heating on. This is a national crisis which needs a swift and decisive response from Ministers.

Every single day we are hearing heart-breaking stories from desperate older people who are being forced to choose between heating and eating. This isn’t a looming crisis, it’s already upon us – and while the Government is dithering, millions of older people are suffering and putting their health at risk because they can’t afford to keep warm. It is an absolute scandal and one that requires urgent government action.

Energy price rises on the scale we are now seeing are unprecedented and the Government’s response must be equal to the threat they pose to older people, many of whom are vulnerable and struggling to afford exorbitant bills on a meagre state pension.

Anyone who is interested in adding their name to the Charity’s open letter to the Prime Minister can do so by visiting: bit.ly/ageuk-energy. Sources for the press release are available from the Age UK website as well.

Massive increase in children experiencing fuel poverty revealed

An exclusive report in the i Paper has revealed the numbers of children living in fuel poverty.

The report, based on Coalition calculations, shows that 2.2m households with dependent children will be in fuel poverty from 1 April. This is a 74% increase since 2019.

There are 6.6m households with dependent children in England, so this means a third of those households are facing – or already in – fuel poverty. Previous calculations have suggested that roughly a quarter of all households will face fuel poverty, so homes with children are more badly impacted than the national average.
A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, commented:
With millions of families already in fuel poverty and experiencing the toughest winter on record financially, the figures in the i Paper make for grim reading.
That so many parents are having to make the choice between keeping the heating on and feeding their kids is heartbreaking. Living in cold homes is not just bad for your health, but can also impact on mental performance, meaning this fuel poverty crisis could be affecting children’s education and development.
Fuel poverty is a health and social crisis, but can only be solved by financial and technical solutions. We need urgent Government action to help those most in need now alongside consistent investment and support for energy efficiency measures.

Charities unite in call for funding to tackle energy bill crisis

An alliance of 27 major charities have today written to the Prime Minister and Chancellor, calling for urgent action to tackle the energy bill crisis, including boosting insulation funding.

The charities, which include Save the Children, Age UK, WWF, Green Alliance, Faith for the Climate, Tearfund and Greenpeace, are calling for emergency funding to support the most vulnerable and for insulation and clean energy funding to be increased to help wean the UK off expensive gas.

Without urgent government action the energy price cap could be increased by £600 in April, driven by the surging price of gas on the international markets, taking an average energy bill to around £2000.

The charities estimate that fuel poverty could increase by 50%, from 4 to 6 million households across the UK. There are fears this will lead to households choosing between heating and eating, an increase in the number of people dying in cold homes and a greater burden on the NHS, when it is already under great strain.

The charities remind the Prime Minister that a cut in support for making homes energy efficient after the last surge in energy bills in 2013 left households far more vulnerable to surging gas prices.

As a result of the Energy Company Obligation levy being cut in half and the Warm Front programme for the fuel poor being abolished, millions of British homes have not been insulated.  The cuts led to a 90% cut in loft and cavity wall insulation measures and half of those in the insulation industry lost their jobs. The charities warn that insulation rates have still not recovered and the same mistake must not be made today.

Juliet Phillips of the climate change think tank E3G said:

The Energy Company Obligation is the biggest programme the government has to insulate the homes of the fuel poor. Any damage to this levy would make these households more dependent upon gas, entrenching the crisis further.

Improving the efficiency of the worst performing UK homes could provide bill savings of over £500 every year per household upgraded, an aggregate saving of around £8bn

Investing in UK green energy and technologies like heat pumps would also help end the UK’s reliance on fossil gas. Renewables have helped to keep electricity prices from soaring as much as gas prices, as cheaper wind and solar cushion the increased expense of using gas to generate electricity.

The charities are also calling for emergency support for the most vulnerable, funded in part by a windfall tax on the fossil fuel industry, who are due to make profits up to ten times higher this financial year due to the surge in wholesale prices.

They are recommending expanding the Warm Homes Discount to ensure the majority of the expected rise in energy bills is covered for the most vulnerable households, for example those on universal credit and providing a one-off payment to those eligible for Cold Weather Payments.

The charities are also joining calls for legacy costs for renewables to be moved off power bills, to be paid for by the Exchequer instead, whilst leaving the Energy Company Obligation on the energy bill as a critical levy to help the fuel poor. They calculate that this would save households an additional £100 a year.

The charities also want the Government to fulfil its manifesto commitment to spend £6 billion on making homes more energy efficient. There is a £2 billion black hole in the funding committed after the Spending Review which they say must be filled, most of which was meant to go to the fuel poor.

Two thirds of households having no access in the UK to any insulation grant scheme. The charities want a new insulation grant programme set up to replace the failed Green Homes Grant which anyone can access.

The charities also call on the Government to ramp up the heat pump grant programme due to launch in April with ten times more funding, boosting it from £400m to a £4 billion programme, to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuel boilers.

William Baker of Solutions to Tackle Energy Poverty said:

The Energy Company Obligation is central to the Government’s legal duty to abolish fuel poverty by 2030. Scrapping the programme would show the Government does not take its statutory responsibilities seriously. It would condemn many fuel poor households to unaffordable fuel bills, ill health and in the worst cases death as a result of living in dangerously cold, unhealthy homes. The government must take urgent action to address the current crisis of rocketing fuel bills and expand its programmes to upgrade the insulation and heating systems of our notoriously leaky homes so that we are less dependent on volatile gas markets.

Dan Paskins, Director of UK Impact at Save the Children said:

The cost of living crisis, fuelled by soaring energy prices, is totally unsustainable and is hitting the lowest income families the hardest. Parents we work with tell us that they’re struggling to meet basic needs, leaving them having to make impossible choices between heating their homes and buying clothes for their children. And children are paying the price. Children deserve a fair and green future, and need a concrete plan from the UK Government that tackles both the cost-of-living and climate crises.

Dr Doug Parr, Policy Director at Greenpeace UK said:

The twin imperatives of a gas price crisis and the climate crisis mean we need to get off fossil fuels as fast as we can whilst protecting people on low incomes. That means we need to see short-term support for fuel poor families and long term support for energy efficiency and cheap renewables. A windfall tax on oil and gas companies would be a fair way to help finance the transition as we exit fossil fuel production in line with advice from leading experts at the International Energy Agency.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, which was also a signatory to the letter, commented:

After years of tireless campaigning by health, anti-poverty and environmental charities, trade unions and researchers, politicians are finally waking up to the tragedy of fuel poverty in the country.

Fuel poverty is a public health and social crisis but can only be solved by economic measures and the Government must do everything possible to help people in crisis now while investing in energy efficiency programmes to fix the long-term problems.

The full letter is available to read online.

Legal challenge against Government’s fuel poverty failings launched

A legal challenge against the “shocking” and “lacklustre” climate commitments by the Government has been launched by Coalition members, Friends of the Earth.

A Judicial Review, brought to the High Court by the environmental campaign group, will challenge both the government’s Net Zero Strategy (NZS) and its Heat and Buildings Strategy.

It will do so on the basis that the NZS does not comply with the Climate Change Act 2008, which Friends of the Earth was central to devising and securing. The group also contends that the Heat and Buildings Strategy should have considered the impacts of its policies on protected groups, as part of ensuring a fair energy transition where climate action aligns with social responsibility.

Factors such as age (both the elderly and the very young who will live with the greatest future climate impacts), sex, race, and disability can make people more vulnerable to climate impacts. This unaddressed inequality needs transparency and political accountability.

A refusal so far to disclose its equality impact assessment for the Net Zero Strategy has raised similar concerns.

The environmental group is concerned that people in these groups can be unfairly and disproportionately impacted by a badly planned transition to low carbon living. Yet the government has not identified and considered their specific needs as required by the Equality Act 2010.

With the number of households in fuel poverty in England soaring to record levels, Friends of the Earth previously found that people of colour are twice as likely to be living in fuel poverty as white people, while areas identified by the government as having a high number of residents with disabilities or other health needs are more likely to be rated in the worst category for fuel poverty.

The government did not consider these factors which is why the environment group is today taking legal action. The need for a fair and just transition away from reliance on damaging fossil fuels makes these collective legal failures all the more serious.

Katie de Kauwe, lawyer at Friends of the Earth, said:

With characteristic sleight of hand the government has set out an imaginary pathway for reducing carbon emissions but no credible plan to deliver it.

A rapid and fair transition to a safer future requires a plan that shows how much greenhouse gas reduction the chosen policies will achieve, and by when. That the plan for achieving net zero is published without this information in it is very worrying, and we believe is unlawful.

We know that those who do least to cause climate breakdown are too often the hardest hit. Climate action must be based on reversing these inequalities, by designing the transition with the most vulnerable in mind.

Not even considering the implications of the Heat and Building Strategy on groups such as older and disabled people, and people of colour and ethnic minorities is quite shocking, given these groups are disproportionately impacted by fuel poverty, for example.

Housing is a good example because people who need to consume the smallest amount of energy due to cost find themselves trapped in reliance on gas heating in cold, leaky homes. And now people across the country are facing an energy price crisis, with gas prices expected to double compared to just two years ago.

Friends of the Earth is represented in these proceedings by David Wolfe QC of Matrix Chambers and Catherine Dobson of 39 Essex Chambers, and by the law firm Leigh Day LLP.

Cost of cold highlighted in new campaign

An estimated 150,000 older households are likely to be plunged into fuel poverty this winter because of soaring energy prices, according to new analysis by Age UK.

Launching its new The Cost of Cold campaign, the charity issued a stark warning that the number of fuel poor older households could reach over 1.1 million by the spring unless the Government takes urgent action.

Rising energy prices and living costs will lead to some of the poorest pensioners rationing their heating this winter in order to afford higher energy bills.

Age UK believes that rising inflation and escalating prices are now threatening the standard of living of many pensioners on low incomes, creating uncertainty and anxiety as winter begins to bite.  Part of the problem is that many older people are living in hard to heat, older homes and, as a result, often need use a lot of energy just to stay warm.

The cold can be dangerous for older people, especially those with pre-existing health conditions.  Older people tend to feel the cold more than younger people, as it is harder for them to regulate and maintain body temperatures. Low temperatures can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes in an older person, exacerbate lung conditions and worsen arthritis.

Living in a cold home can also undermine an older person’s mental health, contributing to anxiety, depression and loneliness.

Extra support such as Cold Weather Payments and the Warm Home Discount Scheme are vital tools in the fuel poverty armoury for those on a low income, yet they fail to reach many of those who need them the most because they are not claiming Pension Credit. This crucial benefit opens the door to these and many other benefits, but nearly a million (920,000) pensioner households are missing out on Pension Credit payments worth up to £1.6 billion every year – that’s an average of £32 a week.

Age UK, which is a member of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, is campaigning for the Government to:  

  • Provide a one-off £50 payment to all those eligible for Cold Weather Payments and expedite existing payments so they arrive no later than seven days after a period of cold weather. 
  • Double the Household Support Fund to £1billion to help safeguard all those on low incomes this winter.  
  • Take urgent action to get Pension Credit – a vital benefit and passport to a package of extra financial support – into the pockets of all those who are eligible. 
  • Ensure the energy price cap is enshrined in law in the shorter term, and then move to re-introduce a social tariff into the energy market to offer protection against high energy costs in the medium term. 

Peter, aged 75, told Age UK:

It’s a simple choice, heat or eat. I already confine myself to one room and stay in bed as long as possible. If I cut down any further there won’t be any point in living.

Geraldine, aged 77, said:

I have arthritis which is worse when it is cold. I will have to keep my heating low now. Already I wear gloves on my hands and a heat pack inside my leggings to help my back.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said:

There’s no doubt that media reports about rising energy bills are filling pensioners on low fixed incomes with absolute dread. More than twenty-five thousand people have told us how worried they are, and it is clear that as things stand, some fully expect to have to choose between cutting down on food or turning down their heating, once the cold weather sets in. Doing either is a potential risk to their health, especially if they are living with serious underlying health conditions like heart disease or COPD.

Age UK is urging older people to call its free national advice line BEFORE turning the heating off or down, to check they are receiving the full package of financial support available to them, including key benefits such as Pension Credit and Attendance Allowance.

In addition, energy suppliers have a duty to offer support if people are struggling with bills or debt, so the Charity is urging people to contact their supplier directly to ask about available support including an affordable repayment plan. 

Age UK’s advice line is open every day (365 days a year) from 8am to 7pm. Information and advice is also available on www.ageuk.org.uk or via a local Age UK.

Mass fuel poverty protest planned for Westminster

Rising public anger at the levels of fuel poverty have seen two members of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition call a mass protest on 26 November 2021.
Led by the National Pensioners’ Convention and Fuel Poverty Action, the protest will highlight the excess winter deaths caused by fuel poverty.
Protestors will demand immediate action from the Government to address rising levels of fuel poverty that were failed to to be addressed in Chancellor’s “bleak” Budget earlier this year.
The action will take place in Westminster on 26 November 2021 (12 noon, assemble at George V statue, Old Palace Yard) and after a rally outside Parliament, protesters will march on Downing Street to demand immediate support for those in fuel poverty.
One of the organisers, Ruth London, said:
Deaths from fuel poverty in this wealthy country are not an act of God but an obscenity. They’re a result of deliberate policies on housing, fossil fuels, pensions, benefits, taxes, and wages, that cannot be allowed to stand.

Jan Shortt, General Secretary of the National Pensioners’ Convention said:

No one should die in this country – one of the richest in the world – from the cold related illness in the 21st century.  Yet millions of people on low incomes will already be having to choose whether to eat or heat their homes this winter.

We need the Prime Minister to recognise the death penalty awaiting our poorest, oldest and most vulnerable this winter, and personally step in with measures to regulate prices and most importantly help those in need afford the basics he and the more well off take for granted.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition added:
People are so desperate and scared at the prospect of not being able to heat their homes this winter that they are now taking to streets in the hope the Government hears their concerns and takes the urgent economic steps necessary to halt a public health crisis.

Bleak budget blasted by fuel poverty campaigners

Campaigners have reacted to the Government’s “bleak” budget which failed to help people facing fuel poverty this winter.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition commented:

This is a budget that has plenty for champagne swilling, jet-set bankers. But there is nothing for people facing the choice between heating and eating this winter.

The Chancellor’s cold words for people in fuel poverty will be heard in millions of households across the country.

Coming on the back of the pitiful Winter Support Fund, revelations that funding is not helping those most in need and missing billions from the promised support for energy efficiency improvements, this is a bleak budget from the Government.

Adam Scorer, Chief Executive of Coalition members, National Energy Action, tweeted:

Campaigners at Scope, tweeted:

Ruth London from Fuel Poverty Action added:

Zero on fuel poverty, and zero for the climate – two sides of the same filthy coin.

This budget was a chance to finally fund repair and insulation of the  UK’s cold damp housing.

Instead of domestic warmth and health, we got more, polluting and domestic flights.

The Centre for Sustainable Energy’s response to the Heat and Buildings Strategy is also now available online.

A petition for the public to sign is now available on Action Storm: https://actionstorm.org/petitions/fuel-poverty-crisis

Government must fund missing billions from energy efficiency programmes

The Government’s new Heat and Buildings Strategy has had a mixed reaction, with many anti-poverty and climate change campaigners pointing to significant shortcomings in the final announcement.

The headline announcement in the strategy is a grant to help cover costs of heat pumps up to £5,000. The current cost of a heat pump is between £6,000 and £18,000.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, commented:

For millions of households who desperately want and need to improve their energy efficiency by switching to heat pumps, the promised government money won’t be enough. While costs for heat pumps will come down in time, the level of grant available at present is nowhere near enough for households already in fuel poverty.

Coming on the back of the damning Committee for Fuel Poverty report, which suggested that government investment is not targeted at those who need it most, it would appear that the Government has yet to learn lessons from the past.

The government also needs to confirm what has happened to the missing billions, which is the gap between the investment announced today and the levels of investment promised in the Conservative Party Manifesto at the last election.

We hope the Comprehensive Spending Review will offer more support for families in fuel poverty and plug the gap between funding that has been promised and that which has been delivered.

Reports highlight growing fuel poverty crisis

Two reports have highlighted the gulf between rhetoric and reality in the fight against fuel poverty.

The latest BEIS Committee on Fuel Poverty report revealed that only 15% of funding to improve energy efficiency and help with fuel bills actually went to households in fuel poverty.

Commenting, a spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition said:

This is a devastating report which highlights just how much work the government has to do to alleviate the rapidly growing fuel poverty crisis.

Improved financial assistance this winter must be matched by rapid and targeted investment in improving energy efficiency of homes in the long-term. The Budget later this month simply cannot ignore introducing urgent measures to help people.

Meanwhile a report by AgilityEco and Gemserv reveals that current funding and policy to relieve fuel poverty will help only a fraction of the 3.2 million homes that were in fuel poverty in 2019. 

The legally binding target to all but end fuel poverty by 2030 requires a further £18 billion to be spent in fuel poor homes across the rest of the 2020s. Even if some proposed action is taken, double the amount of current funding is still required for energy efficiency programmes.  

A spokesperson for Coalition members, National Energy Action, commented:

The urgent need to provide additional support to fuel poor households has never been greater. We know what needs to be done and how far current policies will take us. We also know all too well the consequences of not meeting our legal duties to help the poorest households who live in the least efficient homes.

Beyond directly supporting the most vulnerable households through this winter and better targeting of current policies, we need to boost investment to improve home energy efficiency in fuel poor homes. Public investment in keeping people warm and well pays for itself and will deliver huge national benefits.

The Treasury’s upcoming Budget and Spending Review provides a vital opportunity to protect health outcomes and support the most vulnerable people across the United Kingdom as well as delivering the Government’s levelling up agenda.

Image: Mike McBey / Flickr / Creative Commons