Awareness week set to celebrate renewable ways to end fuel poverty

The Great Big Green Week (10th – 18th June) is a UK-wide celebration of community action to tackle climate change. 

While the energy industry lobbies for the continuation of oil and gas, including opposing the Windfall Tax on excess energy firm profits which is used to tackle fuel poverty, experts have predicted that renewable energy sources completely replacing fossil fuels by 2050 will save trillions of dollars globally.

Labour has announced plans to block all new oil and gas development in the North Sea if they are elected, in a move which has been welcomed by 139 organisations including the End Fuel Poverty Coalition. These organisations have signed an open letter to Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer urging him not to U-turn on this policy, citing the importance of investing in renewables in ensuring that the UK has secure access to affordable and green sources of energy. 

The Government is also examining how best to reform of electricity marketing and pricing which calculates how electricity costs are determined. Currently, costs per unit are calculated by “marginal pricing”, meaning that the price per unit (kWh) of electricity is determined by the last energy source delivered onto the grid to meet demand in any given half hour period. In practice, this is often determined by the cost of energy from expensive gas power stations, rather than cheaper renewables. 

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition responded to this consultation by urging the government to unlink the cost of energy from gas prices, and better factor in renewable energy to help mitigate price volatility and drive energy bills down.  

Community schemes are becoming vital ways to promote renewables at a local level. One such scheme is Net Zero Now in South Cambridgeshire, which is a free training programme for local residents. The scheme is designed to support individuals to act on climate change in their community, and consists of six weekly workshops where attendees learn from each other to deliver effective carbon reduction activities, events and communications. Local schemes such as this one are being celebrated during Great Big Green Week, as it has been found that these programmes help to lower emissions and restore nature within communities. 

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition commented:

“The Great Big Green Week asks us to think about what inspires us to tackle climate change and protect nature. For millions of people, the answer is that tackling climate change is also how we end fuel poverty in the long run. We already have solutions ready to do this. For example, reforming the energy grid and adopting renewable energy sources will contribute to the achievement of net zero, but would also mean more affordable bills. Additionally, improving our homes to be more energy efficient could reduce heating bills by 20%.

Energy firms cash in on cost of living crisis

Energy firms have been cashing in on the energy bills crisis as Shell has held its AGM.

In the first three months of the year alone, Shell made a profit of more than £7.6bn. BP have also recorded bumper profits, enjoying one of the company’s best ever starts to the year. Despite the windfall tax, energy firms have still been able to profit from the misery of people living in cold damp homes.

National Grid, the firm which runs the energy network, similarly reported a boost in annual profits to £4.6bn. This had led to calls for a higher windfall tax for energy companies. 

Scotland-based energy firm SSE’s profits have also rocketed to £2.53bn.

To put these profits into context, Energy UK estimated that the current energy debt in the UK has soared to around £3.6bn. Profits from the National Grid alone could completely wipe out energy debt for the entire country.

Meanwhile, a groundbreaking report from One Earth has calculated that fossil fuel companies owe at least $209bn in annual climate reparations to compensate communities which are suffering climate catastrophes as a direct result of global warming.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition commented: 

“The scare stories from industry about the impact of the windfall tax on energy firms have not materialised, with more massive profits being posted. Meanwhile the Ofgem Price Cap is set to keep household energy levels at historic highs.

“Closing the energy firms’ windfall tax loophole could have almost eradicated fuel poverty last winter, but instead people suffered in cold damp homes. 

“Now we are seeing the first signs that energy suppliers – as well as the producers – will be cashing in on the energy bills crisis with fixed term energy deals designed to boost their profits.”

Forced PPM threats still a problem for vulnerable households

Energy companies are continuing to threaten households with warrants for entry to forcibly install prepayment meters (PPMs), despite a voluntary end to the practice coming into force in February 2023. 

BBC Radio 4’s You & Yours programme and the I newspaper has reported that energy firms who agreed to the voluntary ban are continuing to threaten households with forced installation. 

The forced installation of prepayment meters is especially a concern for vulnerable households, as changing to a PPM runs the risk of households having to suddenly stop using energy as the meter runs out of money, which can mean that these people will suffer the worst effects of living in cold damp homes during winter months. 

Desperate consumers have taken to social media asking for advice after they have continued to receive threats of court warrants for forced installation of prepayment  meters from their energy companies. 

Screenshots posted to an online group show email and post correspondence from debt collection firms and energy companies claiming that they will obtain a court warrant to forcibly enter their properties and install the meter. 

Many of the threats posted from energy companies are taken from emails and letters sent after the voluntary end to forced installation was imposed earlier in 2023. 

One woman based in Scotland complained that Scottish Power had failed to replace her faulty meter for three years, meaning that all of her readings during this time had been estimated. In screenshots of email correspondence, Conexus (employed by Scottish Power) insist that she must settle outstanding debt based on estimated readings or they will apply for a warrant of entry via the courts. The woman claims that the debt company has hounded her for some time and refused to discuss the matter with Scottish Power. 

Another couple who are vulnerable, receiving benefits and suffering from chronic health conditions, highlighted that their energy company OVO had failed to take their vulnerable status (and the fact that they are on the Priority Services Register) into account and had passed their case to a debt collection agency. This agency is now threatening to apply for a warrant for forcible installation of a prepayment meter in the couple’s home.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition commented:

“Energy firms are just not getting the message. The forced prepayment meters scandal should have been a wake up call as to how they treat their customers. But the evidence is mounting that this is not the case. It appears that they continue to threaten people with prepayment meters. This causes huge amounts of distress to often vulnerable households.

“It’s clear that the voluntary approach to banning forced prepayment meters is just not working and MPs must now act to bring in a legal ban to the practice through the Energy Bill.

“It’s no longer enough for MPs just to claim they support vulnerable customers. They need to take the action required to ban forced prepayment meters.”

Almost three-quarters of the public would back changes to the Energy Bill to ensure the Government introduces a legal ban to the forced transfer of homes onto PPMs, according to figures from the Warm This Winter campaign. 

An amendment to the Energy Bill has been tabled by Anne McLaughlin MP to bring in such a ban and the End Fuel Poverty Coalition urges all MPs to add their names to support amendments NC1 and NC2 during the committee stage of the legislation.

A recent investigation by the i paper found that in total over 13,000 warrants for entry have been issued by courts to energy firms since the voluntary end was introduced in February, with the Ministry of Justice unable to confirm why these warrants were granted. 

Courts continue to grant entry warrants to energy firms

Courts have granted over 13,000 warrants allowing energy firms the right to force entry into homes and businesses since a voluntary end to the forced installation of prepayment meters (PPMs) was introduced in February 2023.

There are currently exceptions to the voluntary ban, meaning that energy firms still have the right to force entry to install prepayment meters on businesses and also to enter properties for safety purposes. 

But the investigation by the i paper claims that the Ministry of Justice “does not keep data on why energy firms and their agents request warrants to force entry into properties.” Only two applications for warrants have been rejected by the courts since February.

The ongoing campaign to ban forced prepayment meters came after it was shown that energy firms were using the courts to gain warrants to enter vulnerable people’s homes to force them onto more expensive PPMs.

Energy firms have recently signed up to a new voluntary code of conduct, designed to govern the forced installation of prepayment meters. This is due to come into force from 1 October 2023, but the End Fuel Poverty Coalition argues that the guidelines do not go far enough, failing to protect highly vulnerable groups and failing to help to tackle rising energy debt. 

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition commented:

“These figures should be sounding alarm bells for ministers, magistrates and at Ofgem. We need urgent clarifications on why these warrants were issued, and the process that energy firms followed to secure them.

“The public have had enough of this scandal and are calling for the government to act to bring in provisions for a ban on forced prepayment meters into the Energy Bill currently in Parliament.”

Almost three-quarters of the public would back changes to the Energy Bill to ensure the Government can ban the forced transfer of homes onto PPMs, according to figures from the Warm This Winter campaign.

An amendment to the Energy Bill has been tabled by Anne McLaughlin MP to bring in such a ban and the End Fuel Poverty Coalition urges all MPs to add their names to support amendments NC1 and NC2 during the committee stage of the legislation.

Hypothermia cases in England surge during energy bills crisis

The Daily Mirror has today reported a huge rise in the number of hypothermia cases in England.

The statistics published in the Mirror today show that there was an 82% increase in hypothermia cases in December 2022, compared with December 2021 and a 36% increase in hypothermia cases comparing 2022 to 2021 as a whole.

The figures come following the inquest of the death of a 87-year-old woman who died in December 2022 after reportedly refusing to turn on her heating for fear of rising energy costs. 

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition commented:

“From Awaab Ishak to Barbara Bolton, the deadly impact of living in cold damp homes has been made painfully clear in recent months.

“The energy bills crisis is now a public health crisis and without additional support for those in fuel poverty we will continue to see thousands of excess winter deaths caused by people living in Dickensian conditions.

“The Government must step in to speed up roll out of insulation measures and reform Britain’s broken energy system this summer. Without this, hypothermia cases will soar again next winter.”