MSPs must act to help end cold homes crisis

Members of the Scottish Parliament have been urged to put political differences aside to unite in support measures that will help end fuel poverty.

In a letter sent to all MSPs, politicians have been asked to ensure the next First Minister does not abandon government policies which could help end the cold damp homes crisis.

For over 400,000 Scots, their homes are almost uninhabitable due to the cold and damp

The letter, signed by leading civil society organisations and coordinated by the End Fuel Poverty Coalition and Energy Action Scotland, warns that among the most vulnerable, the crisis is even worse. 

New figures from research among Social Workers Union members has found that 69% of Scottish social workers have seen the people they support living in cold damp homes.

The letter states that the health complications of this are potentially serious: “Everyone remembers the tragic case of Awaab Ishak, but people young and old, with disabilities or with a range of health conditions are at risk.”

The campaigners have demanded that MSPs from across all parties to unite in support of:

  1. A Heat in Buildings Bill which is ambitious in its vision for improving the energy efficiency and insulation of the nation’s homes and contains a clear fuel poverty duty enshrined in the legislation.
  2. The current Housing Bill that will enhance tenants’ rights and provide financial protections for tenants during the ongoing cost of living crisis.
  3. Additional Government support in future budgets and legislation to help households cope with the cost of living crisis.
  4. Reintroducing the Fuel Insecurity Fund to help at least those most at risk of harm and struggling in energy debt.
  5. The new Pension Age Winter Heating Payment being fundamentally better targeted than the Winter Fuel Payment that it replaces.
  6. A strengthened framework of support for the renewables and offshore wind sectors and the fastest possible “just transition” for the oil and gas sector, as described in the Draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, commented:

“Any further delays to boosting energy efficiency plans, protecting tenants rights and organising financial support for the most vulnerable will hit households hard.

“We need MSPs to come together and unite on a programme that will tackle the long term causes of Scotland’s cold homes crisis and provide emergency support to those most at risk next winter.”

Other groups signing the letter range from the Poverty Alliance and the Disability Poverty Campaign Group to Fathers Network Scotland, the National Pensioners Convention and Parents for Future Scotland. 

Local groups such as Aberdeen Heat & Power, East Kilbride Housing Association, Musselburgh Food Pantry, Stirling District Citizens Advice and Tighean Innse Gall have also backed the letter.

One signatory, Gaynor Allen from Sustaining Musselburgh, which is organising an event to help East Lothian residents find out how to make their homes warmer and less expensive to heat on 1st June, said:

“Everyday we hear more shocking stories of the hardships people are facing due to high energy bills and poorly insulated homes. We need both the UK and Scottish Governments to prioritise the short term and long term solutions to fix people’s cold homes.”

Warm This Winter spokesperson Fiona Waters, added:

“What voters really care about is the cost of living crisis driven by high energy bills that is still putting unbearable pressure on millions of households around the country.

“We need governments in each nation who will prioritise fixing our broken energy system by getting us off expensive oil and gas and onto cheap, homegrown renewables and by properly insulating our leaky housing stock to bring down bills for good.

“Politicians should not lose sight of that or they will pay at the ballot box.”

To read the full letter, click here.

Ministers told to show leadership on prepayment meters scandal

Ministers must show further leadership and ban the forced transfer of homes onto prepayment meters, according to campaigners.

In a letter sent to the Secretary of State for Energy Security & Net Zero, Claire Coutinho MP, and copied to the Minister for Consumer Energy and the Lord Chancellor, the End Fuel Poverty Coalition has claimed that to date, people across government and industry have tried to “wash their hands of responsibility.”

The latest revelations in the Times on forced prepayment meters (PPMs) showed agents for Scottish Power securing warrants to break into the homes of mothers with young children to force them onto PPMs.

Concerns were raised about Scottish Power by the House of Commons Energy Security Committee after a letter on the issue to MPs from the Coalition. Scottish Power is among the firms being considered by Ofgem as potentially being in a fit state to restart the forced transfer of homes onto PPMs in the coming weeks.

However, according to the letter now sent to the Minister, the Times investigation raises concerns that: “the checks and systems Scottish Power have in place are not fit for purpose. 

“Given the firm has been making progress towards being granted permission from Ofgem to restart forced PPM installations, we believe this calls into question the whole system the regulator has in place.”

In the letter, the Coalition asks the Secretary of State to:

  • Ban the practice of forced prepayment meters outright through legislation in the House of Commons. Ministers rejected the opportunity to do this during the passage of the Energy Act, leaving enforcement up to voluntary codes of practice and licence conditions.
  • Instruct Ofgem that the current ban – which includes switching of smart meters into PPM mode – must stay in place until at least April 2024. 
  • Ensure that Ofgem places Scottish Power under heightened monitoring for all aspects of its customer service and for its dealings with vulnerable customers. Scottish Power and its subcontractors must also be instructed to cancel all warrants it has sought so far and cease any current warrant applications being made.

The letter also highlights the “cloak of secrecy” which magistrates courts operate under and raises concerns that the same poor practices identified in the original PPMs scandal are still present, including distant hearings and nodding through batch applications.  

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition stresses that it recognises energy firms have genuine concerns about the levels of household energy debt caused by record energy bills, but argues for an alternative to forced PPMs – the introduction of a Help to Repay scheme and an Emergency Energy Tariff for vulnerable groups.

Over the summer, the End Fuel Poverty Coalition repeatedly highlighted to regulators and Ministers that the PPMs scandal was in danger of returning, first issuing a warning about energy firms’ conduct on PPMs on 17th May.

On 13th July, in a formal consultation response [pdf], the Coalition warned the regulator about firms’ conduct and in an accompanying press release urged the Government to act, also writing to the Minister highlighting the consultation response [pdf].

On 8 Sept the Coalition wrote to the current Secretary of State asking for a ban on forced PPMs again and on other issues including energy debt. The minister is still to reply to this letter.

Jonathan Bean from Fuel Poverty Action said: 

“This is yet more evidence that energy firms and Ofgem cannot be trusted to protect struggling customers from harm.  

“Forced installations of prepayment meters or switches of smart meters to PPM mode are inherently risky as they can lead to the loss of heating in the depths of winter.”

Jan Shortt, General Secretary of the National Pensioners Convention commented:

“The Secretary of State must ensure that the regulator, Ofgem, is much more proactive in applying the Code of Practice. 

“The NPC has been assured in writing that no energy provider currently meets the standards and therefore no Court should be undertaking the signing of warrants. 

“The impact on customers put through this process should not be dismissed by the energy industry and government so lightly.”

Warm This Winter campaign spokesperson Fiona Waters added: 

“It’s appalling that Scottish Power were granted warrants which would allow them to force their way into over a hundred homes to install prepayment meters and leave vulnerable people with just £30 credit.

“We now know at least two of those targeted had babies and toddlers which is completely against the Ofgem guidelines. It shows vetting is not working and the only way to safeguard against children being put in danger is to ban this barbaric act and find a better way to help ordinary people who find themselves in energy debt through no fault of their own.”

The full letter can be read online [pdf].

Commons Committee asked to take urgent evidence on forced PPMs

The House of Commons Energy Security Committee has been asked by campaigners to hold an urgent evidence session on the prepayment meters scandal.

Last week Scottish Power was granted 124 warrants by Berkshire Magistrates Court to forcibly enter people’s homes to force them onto prepayment meters (PPMs). 

According to media reports, the magistrate granted all 124 warrants after examining just 20 of them in detail.

One of these warrants was granted against a property in Grimsby, almost 200 miles away.

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition has now written to the Committee outlining more than ten serious concerns about this decision and requesting its help in understanding the circumstances around the warrants. 

The group has asked the Committee to take evidence within the next 28 days from Scottish Power, Richburns Ltd (debt collection agency), His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service and Ofgem.

The forced PPMs scandal rocked the energy industry after investigations by the i paper and The Times revealed the extent energy firms were using the courts to gain warrants to people’s homes to force vulnerable people onto PPMs. 

Expert reports highlight the health dangers potentially caused by people’s PPMs switching off and leaving them in cold damp homes.

These warrants were granted despite a ban on the forced transfer of homes onto prepayment meters still being in place. 

Campaigners have previously written to Ministers to call for a Help To Repay scheme to be introduced to remove the need for forced prepayment meter transfers.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, commented:

“It is totally inappropriate for energy firms to be seeking to force their way into people’s homes to push them onto dangerous prepayment meters in this way. This strategy leaves potentially vulnerable customers at risk of disconnection and going without energy.

“Instead, we need Government and industry to agree to a Help To Repay scheme which will help bring down the astronomical levels of energy debt and help households struggling with the cost of living crisis to get back on an even keel.”

National Pensioners Convention General Secretary Jan Shortt said: 

“It is interesting that Scottish Power had warrants passed before 8 November, when Ofgem’s mandatory regulations covering energy providers are due to come into force.

“We oppose magistrates signing warrants for forced entry in bulk. Magistrates have the overriding power when it comes to human rights, and we expect that they will take genuine steps to ensure that every application for a warrant to force entry to fit a prepayment meter will be vigorously scrutinised to ensure adherence to the Ofgem Code of Practice.  

“We recognise this will cause delays, but the alternative is to breach individual human rights and cause distress to those struggling with paying bills.

“We would prefer to see an end to the use of prepayment meters with an agreed strategy to transfer those customers who do not want them back to a payment scheme that enables them to be debt free.”

Frazer Scott, CEO, Energy Action Scotland commented:

“People are struggling with unaffordable energy costs and spiralling debt. This has reached record levels. Some of the most vulnerable in society have not seen the right levels of support to ensure that their health and wellbeing is protected. 

“The forced movement of people from credit to prepayment places an unacceptable level of risk to the lives of people. Government, regulator, suppliers and our courts are failing to provide meaningful protection. 

“We are dismayed that action has been taken by suppliers and the courts ahead of the introduction of changes to regulations which should ensure that no vulnerable person has to endure being subject to a forced installation.” 

Warm This Winter spokesperson, Fiona Waters said: 

“It’s appalling that Scottish Power have been granted warrants to force their way into over a hundred homes, install prepayment meters and leave vulnerable people with just £30 credit. Prepayment meter users often have to clear debt before they can top them up. We hope Ofgem and the Energy Security Committee will exert all their authority to stop this and not condemn these customers to living without any heating or lighting.”

Jonathan Bean of Fuel Poverty Action added: 

“Scottish Powers’ plan to break into homes, and risk leaving people unable to stay warm this winter, has been exposed. The courts are failing to properly assess most cases, and Ofgem is guilty of wishful thinking. Government must act now to end this inhumane and dangerous practice.”

The full letter is available to read as a pdf.

Government isolated as organisations line up to back energy tariff reform

Over 140 charities, organisations and MPs have taken joint action to call on the government to support vulnerable households with their energy bills.

In an open letter sent to the Prime Minister [pdf], the groups highlight how the government is yet to announce any winter financial support, despite households facing even higher costs of living and with energy bills still at relative highs.

According to new polling carried out for National Energy Action by YouGov, a third of British adults are expecting to struggle to afford their heating bills this winter if the government doesn’t offer financial help with energy bills.

The government has previously committed to consult on future approaches to consumer protections including a social tariff. This was promised on repeated occasions, as the End Fuel Poverty Coalition has highlighted to the Speaker of the House of Commons.

But with the next winter looming and no consultation launched, the signatories to the letter are urging the government to make good on its commitment to consult on a social tariff.

Adam Scorer, CEO at National Energy Action, said:

“With a third of households expecting to struggle to heat their homes this winter, the cost of energy will remain simply unaffordable for millions.

“We have to face reality. Even without a price rise, which now looks likely in January, the crisis is deepening, and it demands a proper response from government now.

“That means urgent targeted financial support this winter and for government to get moving on its commitments to consult on and deliver a longer-term social tariff for energy.”

Caroline Abrahams CBE, Charity Director of Age UK, said:

“We believe the introduction of a comprehensive, targeted energy social tariff is the best way to deliver support to those who need it. That’s why we are calling on the government to keep their promise and launch a consultation. Older people struggling to heat their homes have waited patiently only to learn that in fact there would be no social tariff consultation before the autumn.

“With estimates showing that high energy prices are here to stay, at least for the next two winters, this targeted support package cannot come soon enough for our older population.”

Louise Rubin, Head of Policy at disability equality charity Scope, said:

“Life costs a lot more for disabled people. When you rely on energy for equipment to help you breathe or get out of bed, cutting back on energy is not an option.

“Last winter pushed disabled people and their families to the brink. Now disabled people who’ve cut back everything they can are facing the terrifying prospect of even higher energy bills.

“We’re hearing from people who have been forced to go without food for days. One person told us they’d been surviving on food donations from a neighbour.

“We need emergency support now, and a social energy tariff to end sky-high bills for disabled people. The government must keep its promise.”

Frazer Scott, CEO of Energy Action Scotland, said that a social tariff is essential for health and wellbeing:

“That we are still having to argue a case for a social tariff as we approach autumn is a disgrace. People need to know that essential and basic levels of heat and power are within reach.

“The UK government must work with regulators and energy suppliers to create a long-term, fair and affordable social tariff. Millions of households are approaching this winter with significant amounts of debt. This means that while gas and electricity prices remain at historically high levels, energy bills are simply unaffordable for those on the lowest incomes, those with essential medical needs, the disabled and older people. It is exacerbated by poor-quality housing, that is cold and damp. This is fast becoming a humanitarian crisis unfolding in plain sight of our politicians and policymakers.”

A Department for Energy Security and Net Zero spokesperson told Press Association that the Government “continues to keep all options under review for those most in need.”

But a spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition responded:

“MPs on the Energy Select Committee back reform to energy tariffs, MPs on All Party Parliamentary Groups back reform, charities and campaigners back reform, the public backs reform. Even energy firms support reform.

“The only people left who do not support making our energy system fairer are Rishi Sunak and his Cabinet. They need to wake up to the strength of feeling on this issue and take action now to keep people warm this winter – and every winter.”

Energy Secretary warned of perilous winter ahead

Following the new Energy Secretary’s first appearance in front of MPs, ministers have been warned of a perilous winter ahead.

A letter sent by the End Fuel Poverty Coalition to the new Secretary of State comes after the group warned MPs that almost 5,000 excess winter deaths were caused by people living in cold damp homes in the relatively mild winter of 2022/23.

The letter states that “the situation is perilous, the outlook deeply worrying and the need for support with energy bills is increasingly urgent.”

After the new Secretary of State failed to attend the House of Commons Energy Committee last week, her first major intervention since taking office was an article in the Sun which also failed to acknowledge the challenge faced by families this winter. 

And while Rt Hon Claire Coutinho MP answered questions in the House of Commons chamber on long term energy issues, she was silent on the need for help for families this winter.

But alongside longer-term reforms to Britain’s broken energy system, the Government has been urged by campaigners to launch a new “Help to Repay” to tackle energy debt this winter, to reform the Energy Bills Support Scheme (EBSS) Alternative Fund, to move policy costs from energy bills onto general government spending and to bring in a new Extreme Weather Payment.

To bring bills down for the most in need, a new energy cost support scheme (ECSS) has been proposed via the reduction of unit costs and standing charges under the existing Energy Price Guarantee legislation. 

Local authorities could also be supported by investing the underspend in the Energy Bills Support Scheme into Household Support Funds and further work to reform the Private Rented Sector to ensure higher and more enforceable Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition which is part of the Warm This Winter Campaign, commented:

“The Government appears to have abandoned plans to consult on reform of energy tariffs which could help protect the most vulnerable from the worst excesses of the energy market. This means they must bring in support to help people trapped in energy debt now and introduce an emergency tariff for vulnerable households this winter. We believe this is more than possible using existing legislation.”

Tessa Khan, director of Uplift, commented:

“While the minister is obsessed with nuclear fusion, oil and gas, the Government is ignoring the plight of millions of people facing a winter in cold damp homes. What the Secretary of State should be focussed on is helping people to insulate their homes, unblocking cheaper onshore renewables and bringing down our energy bills.”

ENDS

The full letter is available to read online (pdf) and is below.  It was sent on 8 September 2023.

On behalf of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, congratulations on your appointment as Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero.

We appreciate that you will be incredibly busy with the volume of vital decisions that are in your in-tray. And we know from recent polling that policies to reduce energy bills are seen by voters as the best way to tackle the cost of living crisis.

It is vitally important that the right decisions are made to reform Britain’s broken energy system. As we explained in evidence to the House of Commons Energy Security Committee this week, the situation is perilous, the outlook deeply worrying and the need for support with energy bills is increasingly urgent. 

We were disappointed that the previous Secretary of State abandoned plans to consult on reform of energy tariffs which could help protect the most vulnerable from the worst excesses of the energy market in the long term. We hope you will recommit the Government to this vital consultation on a social tariff – and introduce reforms before the Energy Price Guarantee protections end in Spring 2024. You can read our letter to the Speaker of the House of Commons online [pdf link].

As an immediate priority, the Government must commit to providing a targeted package of support to help the most vulnerable stay warm this winter:

  • Introduce the widely supported “Help to Repay” proposals to tackle energy debt
  • Move policy costs from energy bills to be covered by general government spending
  • Support local authorities by investing the underspend in the Energy Bills Support Scheme into Household Support Funds
  • Reform and re-run the Energy Bills Support Scheme (EBSS) Alternative Fund
  • Deliver a new Extreme Weather Payment of £6.50 per day for every day the Met Office declares the temperature will drop below -4 degrees Celsius (with the potential for a similar equivalent for summer months also investigated)
  • Ensure that all households who received the Warm Homes Discount in winter 2021/22 can access a £150 rebate this winter, regardless of the new process introduced in winter 2022/23 which uses an algorithm to decide who benefits.
  • Provide a new energy cost support scheme (ECSS) for households most in need of support applied directly to energy accounts (for example via the reduction of unit costs and standing charges, which can be done using existing Energy Price Guarantee mechanisms).
  • Ban the forced transfer of homes to prepayment meters and end the Government’s dereliction of duty on this issue.
  • Work with housing ministers to reform the Private Rented Sector to ensure higher and more enforceable Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards

 At the moment, many of the other vital reforms needed to reduce energy bills are seen as longer term, but the reality is that decisions need to be taken now to:

  • Speed up reforms to ensure customers start enjoying the advantages of more affordable renewable electricity options, and that their electricity rates are no longer subject to the unpredictable cost fluctuations of fossil fuels. 
  • Turn the current crisis into an opportunity to engage households in a large-scale retrofitting programme, investing in an emergency roll out of cheap energy saving measures that could permanently cut energy bills by hundreds of pounds.
  • Address UK energy security and independence by quickly weaning the UK off its dependence on oil and gas and ending subsidies for fossil fuels, using the money to support a fair transition, invest in immediate support for vulnerable households and long term measures to reduce the cost of energy and make the UK supply more secure.
  • Ensure Ofgem works with energy firms to improve standards of customer service at energy firms, holding them accountable for contact ease, success and empathy. This means customers can get in touch with their energy supplier to resolve issues easily, that problems are solved in one contact and that customers are treated with respect and understanding throughout all forms of communication from the energy firm. 

 We look forward to working with you in your role and if you would like to discuss any of the issues we have raised, please do not hesitate to contact us via our coordinator.

Yours sincerely,

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition

 

Minister Amanda Solloway invited to discuss energy bills support

Members of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition have invited Amanda Solloway MP, the Minister for Energy Consumers and Affordability, to meet and discuss plans to keep everyone warm this winter.

The letter to the Minister says:

“We all know that this winter will be as challenging as the last for many households, with energy bills remaining around double what they were in winter 2020/21.

“While last winter’s unprecedented levels of Government support did indeed help households, we know that millions still spent the winter in cold, damp homes.

“And this winter, people’s ability to pay high energy bills has been further diminished by the increased cost of living (while inflation may be falling, the high prices will remain with us).”

The letter sets out some immediate financial and non-financial support the Government could provide households. A wider package of recommendations are being developed by Coalition members as part of the Warm This Winter campaign and will be launched later in summer 2023.

The immediate actions the Coalition suggests are:

  • Directing the money returned to Government through unused Energy Bills Support Scheme payments and vouchers to be given to local authorities to use in the Household Support Funds (or equivalents in Scotland and Wales).
  • Introducing a ban on the forced transfer of households onto prepayment meters (PPMs) when the Energy Bill returns to the Commons at Report Stage.
  • Using funds raised through an extension to the Windfall Tax to help introduce a “Help to Repay” scheme which is backed by a range of charities. 

Additional proposals and recommendations are being developed by Coalition members as part of the Warm This Winter campaign and will be published shortly.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition commented:

“Many of our members have heard the Minister speak passionately about fuel poverty in recent weeks. We would welcome the opportunity to discuss our wider proposals to provide support for households this winter – and beyond – with the Minister.”

The full letter can be read online: https://www.endfuelpoverty.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/230713-Amanda-Solloway-EFPC-Letter.pdf 

Leading charities urge PM-hopefuls to end fuel poverty

Warm This Winter, a new national coalition group, has published an open letter in The Times to all candidates in the race to become the next Prime Minister asking that they urgently set out how they plan to address the cost of living crisis driven by soaring energy bills.

The letter calls on each of the candidates to use these next precious few weeks to set out practical measures for how they will help people now, and how they will ensure we have lower energy bills in future. 

The campaign, which is backed by the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, is pushing for practical solutions that have the public’s support, and which are ready-to-roll out now, including:

    • Providing financial support to people who without urgent action will be on the front-line of poverty this winter
    • Upgrading and insulating homes across the UK to bring down bills and prevent energy waste
    • Rapidly expanding clean energy, which is now four times cheaper than gas, to urgently lower energy bills
    • Stopping drilling new oil and gas fields so that we can escape our dependence on volatile fossil fuels.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition commented:

Based on current estimates, well in excess of a third of all homes will be in fuel poverty this winter, yet the candidates to be our next Prime Minister are ignoring the single most pressing issue facing families across the country.

Unless leadership candidates promise bold and decisive action, the next Prime Minister’s first act as leader will be to preside over the worst winter for millions of people in living memory.

Full letter to candidates

We are writing to you from Warm This Winter – a new national coalition representing 40 organisations and over 22 million people from across the UK during this time of national economic crisis – to ask what your plan would be as Prime Minister to address the cost of living crisis.

We are headed into a potentially catastrophic winter. In eleven weeks time, more than a third of households – many millions of British families –  may not be able to afford to heat their homes. Meanwhile, earlier this year, 2.3 million families on low income were going without enough food and were unable to keep their homes warm. 

According to the latest predictions, from October 1st the average annual energy bill will be over £3200. That means, for example, that the average pensioner will spend more than a third of their state pension on heating their home – and many people, including families, will have to choose between heating and eating. In the words of Martin Lewis last week: “millions of households will be forced into poverty unless we act. This is a genuine, urgent emergency.”

So far in the Conservative leadership campaign, no candidate has put forward a credible plan to support families, businesses, village and community halls, places of worship, hospitals and schools to keep their buildings warm this winter. Indeed whilst the public has grasped the scale and seriousness of the crisis heading our way, none of the leadership candidates seems to have done so.

We believe that in these next precious few weeks – when the Government should be planning and preparing for this winter – you should set out your plan for tackling the crisis of unaffordable energy bills, which are set to remain high until at least 2025. We know that this emergency, fuelled by the spiralling price of gas and by the war in Ukraine, does have solutions that are ready-to-roll out now – and that would also help us protect the future of the natural world – these include:

  • Providing financial support to people who without urgent action will be on the front-line of poverty this winter
  • Upgrading and insulating homes across the UK to bring down bills and prevent energy waste
  • Rapidly expanding clean energy, which is now four times cheaper than gas, to urgently lower energy bills
  • Moving away from drilling new oil and gas fields so that we can escape our dependence on volatile fossil fuels

Our members and supporters want to know what your plan would be – so we can have a proper debate on the most important and urgent issue facing this country. Whilst we may not all have a say in who becomes the next Prime Minister, we can ask that any candidate has a practical plan to keep people safe and warm this winter. 

We would be keen to meet with you to discuss this further.

Full list of signatories:

  1. End Fuel Poverty Coalition
  2. The Climate Coalition
  3. CPRE The countryside charity 
  4. Wildlife & Countryside Link
  5. Save the Children
  6. WWF UK
  7. The Wildlife Trusts
  8. Oxfam
  9. Fuel Poverty Action
  10. Fair Energy Campaign
  11. Robin Hood Tax
  12. The Centre for Sustainable Energy
  13. Energy Action Scotland
  14. Chartered Institute of Environmental Health
  15. Possible
  16. Ashden
  17. Austerity Action Group part of Social Workers Union
  18. New Economics Foundation
  19. Uplift
  20. Camden Federation of Private Tenants
  21. Regen
  22. Northern Housing Consortium
  23. Groundwork
  24. Advice for Renters
  25. Fairer Housing
  26. Friends of the Earth Scotland
  27. MCS Charitable Foundation
  28. Fairness Foundation
  29. Tax Justice UK
  30. Women’s Budget Group
  31. The Economic Change Unit 
  32. Wellbeing Economy Alliance Scotland
  33. IPPR
  34. Chartered Institute of Housing
  35. The Centre for Ageing Better
  36. The Working Class Economists Group
  37. Greenpeace UK 
  38. Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland
  39. 38 Degrees
  40. Action with Communities in Rural England
  41. %0

Business groups call for action on fuel poverty

Leading business groups, including the Advertising Association, Business In The Community, Food and Drink Federation, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and RenewableUK, have urged Conservative Party leadership candidates to support the millions of people facing fuel poverty.

In an open letter, the groups also call on the next Prime Minister to implement manifesto commitments on net zero and nature restoration.

The letter states:

In today’s challenging context, an accelerated rollout of low cost, clean energy, energy efficiency, and industrial decarbonisation is vital to protect the UK from the volatile global fuel prices underpinning the ongoing energy crisis.

This is an urgent priority as skyrocketing energy bills inflict considerable costs on businesses and push ever more households into fuel poverty.

Eliot Whittington, Director, UK Corporate Leaders Group said:

The Conservative Party has a significant track record of climate leadership. Their new leader will have a choice between building on this track record and delivering for the UK economy and society or abandoning it and condemning the country to fall behind on the energy transition and face unnecessary costs and risks.

Forward looking businesses want more, not less, ambition on climate action, especially as we see the ramifications of volatile fossil fuel supply chains ramping up the cost-of-living crisis and reducing regional energy security.

The next Prime Minister must centre climate policy and continue delivery of net zero and regenerating the UK’s nature.

Julie Hirigoyen, CEO, UK Green Building Council said: 

As prices soar businesses are looking for the next Prime Minister to deliver on the UK’s legal climate commitments, not ditch them.

Tackling the climate and cost of living crises are two sides of the same coin. Insulating our homes and businesses will bring bills down, bolster energy security and help achieve net zero carbon, whilst giving a real boost to the economy and industry.

Sandy Begbie CBE, Chief Executive Officer, Scottish Financial Enterprise said:

Whoever succeeds Mr Johnson as Prime Minister will face significant challenges, particularly tackling the cost of living crisis, accelerating economic recovery and addressing the pressing climate emergency.

Government urged to address ten failures in energy bills plans

Fuel poverty campaigners have revealed ten significant failures in the Government plans to address the escalating energy costs this winter.

In a letter to the Chancellor and other Cabinet Ministers, the End Fuel Poverty Coalition has called for a meeting to discuss operational problems with the measures announced by the Government on 26 May.

Among the concerns highlighted by the group of more than 60 charities, trade unions, social enterprises, local government representatives and other campaigners are:

  • A failure of proposals to help those on pre-payment meters, in Park Homes, off-gas, on heat networks and not on electricity meters.
  • The risk that those in the Private Rented Sector will not see the benefits of Government support passed on by landlords.
  • Concerns about how the financial support may impact on the care charges disabled, elderly and vulnerable people are assessed on.

With the winter 2022/23 price cap now predicted to exceed the £2800 Ofgem estimates, the End Fuel Poverty Coalition has also called for wider reform to the energy market.

It warns that further, short-term, financial support for people in fuel poverty will be needed this winter to mitigate any further increases in the price cap above £2800 and support for those suffering already.

The Coalition has also repeated its calls for a review and subsequent reform of the energy supply market to consider the introduction of policies such as a social tariff, energy for all allowance and a total price cap ceiling.

Anne Vivian-Smith, a disabled former community worker from Nottinghamshire, commented:

The lack of urgency from the Government is terrifying. Special tariffs for disabled customers who have unavoidably high energy use need to be created now. Disability benefits have not increased, yet disabled people have very few ways to economise without cutting something essential like food or care.

Heating or eating isn’t a slogan, it’s reality, it’s now and we need help.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, commented:

As well as operational concerns about the existing Government support, Ministers must also realise that the measures will only seek to prevent additional homes entering fuel poverty and help to stop many of those in fuel poverty becoming utterly destitute. It will not fundamentally improve the situation of the 6m-plus households already in fuel poverty.

We would urge the Government to make further statements to set out additional financial support for people in fuel poverty this winter, announce co-ordinated action to improve the energy efficiency of our homes and ensure we have a secure, renewable-led, domestic energy supply.

Ian Preston, director of household energy services at the Centre for Sustainable Energy said:

It’s not fair that people, especially those on low incomes, are paying for the energy market failure through bills. If the government insists on reclaiming these costs via our bills, then they should be collected at the unit rate so those that consume more energy pay more. The average annual energy bill increase is significant for people on low incomes, who are already having to make tough choices about paying for energy or other essentials like food. They simply can’t cover any additional costs.

Every month, CSE’s advice service helps thousands of people reduce their bills and we’ve already seen unprecedentedly high numbers of people seeking energy saving or financial advice. Urgent support is needed to cope with the UK pandemic of fuel poverty, but the only long-term solution is insulation.

We need to stop energy waste from cold buildings and homes. If you insulate someone’s home, you are literally insulating them against the cost of energy.”

Ruth London from Fuel Poverty Action commented:

Instead of further subsidising investment in polluting fossil fuels, the government should be ensuring that every household has enough energy to keep warm and keep the lights on. Energy For All – a free band of energy to cover basic needs – would spur a sudden interest in insulating UK’s notoriously cold damp homes.

Roni Marsh, Money Advice Team Leader at South West London Law Centres, said:

We are seeing clients on prepayment meters who do not have the funds to turn their gas or electric on. South West London Law Centres provides debt advice to help people reduce debts and access additional funds but this does not fix the fact that someone has not got enough money to afford to buy gas or electric.

We are living in the age of heat or eat and we cannot fix this for a client on a limited income.  South West London Law Centres believes that a social tariff is needed. To have to tell someone that there is no way we can reduce their fuel costs any further and give them a foodbank voucher to try and free up the money they would spend on food so they can spend that on fuel instead is not a long term option.

Laura Santamaria, Chair for Fair Energy Campaign, added:

Should a family in a developed country have to choose between heating or eating? As the situation keeps spiralling out of control, the number of households under fuel poverty is increasing exponentially. This unprecedented scenario in UK history has set the scene for urgent action towards energy justice and deep sector reform. Access to clear, affordable energy is a human right.

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

The NPC has also written urging Ofgem and the Chancellor to work together to urgently look at immediate and long term measures to help those struggling with fast rising energy bills. We don’t believe the Chancellor’s emergency measures are enough to deal with the ongoing hikes in energy prices and we need to see a long term strategy from the government and Ofgem.

The NPC is also asking for: the reduction or removal of Standing Charges; a permanent £500 increase in the Winter Fuel Allowance; an end to Price Discrimination against those who can’t pay online, or by Direct Debit, or who don’t have Smart Meters; the removal of 5% VAT on energy; and major investment in insulation of cold, damp housing.

Georgia Whitaker, Oil Campaigner at Greenpeace UK, added:

It’s no wonder the UK is in the mess it’s in given the incessant short-term thinking in government. Yes, urgent financial support is desperately needed for the millions struggling to pay their bills. But without tackling the root-cause of fuel poverty, this crisis is only going to get worse. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that providing warm homes that waste less energy and cost less to heat will bring down bills, so why is the government so reluctant to invest in improving the efficiency of people’s homes?

A spokesperson for the Chartered Institute of Housing added:

We welcomed the Chancellor’s emergency measures to support people in fuel poverty, but they were only a sticking plaster. The best way to help keep people’s energy bills down, now and in the future, is to invest in a national insulation scheme to tackle energy inefficiency in our homes, which are the leakiest in Europe. Landlords need support from the government to do this effectively and at pace, including funding and programmes to tackle the shortfall in skilled retrofitters across the country.

ENDS

Full copy of the letter to sent to the Chancellor and copied to the Secretary of States at DWP, LUHC and BEIS:

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition welcomes the support you outlined in the House of Commons on 26 May 2022.

Two important principles have now been established:

  • That financial support for those in fuel poverty will be needed in the short-term
  • That the Government has identified the means with which to fund this significant support

However, we have heard concerns from our Members that there are important questions which remain to be answered by your officials in relation to the support on offer.

There are ten key areas we need clarification on:

  1. How will the scheme work to provide funding to the millions of people on pre-payment meters given the challenges of previously used voucher systems?
  2. What steps can be taken to support those in the Private Rented Sector to ensure landlords pass on the full savings of bills (especially in Multiple Occupancy Households)?
  3. What support will be available to the estimated 200,000 people living in Park Homes?
  4. How can financial help reach those households who do not receive electricity bills?
  5. What will the impact of financial support be on the care charges disabled, elderly and vulnerable people are assessed on?
  6. What will the impact of support be on the benefits cap and the minimum income guarantee?
  7. How will access to the Household Support Fund be made easier and consistent across the country?
  8. What other steps will the Government be taking to ensure full take up of benefits this winter?
  9. How can those living off-gas and people on heat networks be better supported by the Price Cap?
  10. What further steps can be taken to support those households already in fuel debt as a result of recent price increases?

We would also request re-assurances that customers will no longer be penalised for the failures in the energy market through standing charges or other costs added to energy bills.

Members of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition have ideas to help address the above questions and we would welcome the opportunity to facilitate a meeting with you and Coalition Members to discuss the proposed solutions.

We are aware that you will have already heard from our Members that we need urgent, co-ordinated, action to improve the energy efficiency of our homes. We would like to take this opportunity to support these calls and also ask you to prioritise funding for a  skills strategy to deliver the “retrofit army” needed to deliver the improvements needed.

We would also request that you recognise that the support provided will only seek to prevent additional homes entering fuel poverty (based on the predicted Ofgem price cap) and stop many of those in fuel poverty becoming utterly destitute. It will not fundamentally improve the situation of the 6m-plus households already in fuel poverty.

Therefore, we would urge you to make further statements to set out further financial support for people in fuel poverty this winter, announce funding for the action needed to improve the energy efficiency of our homes and ensure we have a secure, renewable-led, domestic energy supply.

End Fuel Poverty Coalition calls for further Ofgem action

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition has called on Ofgem to instigate five urgent reforms to the energy market to help the millions of homes in fuel poverty.

In a letter to the chief executive of the regulator, the Coalition calls for Ofgem to abandon plans to introduce a quarterly price cap increase in January 2023 which will penalise households in the depths of winter.

It also argues that changes to the price cap must be made to support those on pre-payment meters and add consumer protection to consumers who live off-gas and on heat networks.

As record numbers of households face fuel poverty this winter, the Coalition also calls for Ofgem to work with energy suppliers to create a package of additional support from suppliers for this winter.

The package suggested would be similar in scope to that introduced during the Covid pandemic, but enhanced in its ambition given the numbers of people expected to be in fuel poverty this winter and extend to debt relief rather than deferral.

The Coalition also calls for urgent reform of the regressive and punitive standing charges regime that penalises the most vulnerable.

Longer-term, the Coalition has formally requested that Ofgem reviews the operation of the price cap and works with consumer groups to set out reforms to the market that would offer more support to those in fuel poverty.

Campaigners have urged the regulator to consider the introduction of a price ceiling (i.e. a “super cap” set at current levels over which consumers will not have to pay for fair usage) and the introduction of a social tariff or “energy for all allowance.”

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, commented:

With a new political will to address the challenge of the millions of homes fuel poverty, we need to see Ofgem taking action to better support households across the country.

Ruth London from Fuel Poverty Action, said:

Ofgem has supported higher charges for people on prepayment meters, and has added to the burden of the standing charge element of bills. Both force people on low incomes to pay for energy at much higher rates than the wealthy. The current crisis makes it urgent to reverse this grotesque injustice and bring in Energy For All – a free band of energy to make sure that everyone can keep warm and keep the lights on.

Ian Preston, director of household energy services at the Centre for Sustainable Energy said:

While we welcome new measures of support, these are only short-term sticking plasters. To help tackle soaring energy bills and cold homes we need a longer-term, large scale home retrofit programme. This must include a green skills strategy to ensure there are enough people to do the work across all trades. We also need more support for energy advice services. CSE’s energy advice line calls are at an all-time high, and it’s going to be another tough winter for so many people unless urgent action is taken.

Rhiannon Hughes, South West London Law Centres, commented:

Some people on prepayment meters do not have the funds to turn their gas on. South West London Law Centres provides debt advice to help people reduce debts and access additional funds but there needs to be permanent solutions. 

The current system is forcing people into crisis and although advice for fuel bills is critical – a better solution is needed. The high cost of services charges on gas prepayment meters mean that people like my uncle disconnect.

My uncle who is partially sighted, a pensioner and works can not afford to put any money on his prepayment meter, when he does have a bit more cash he tries to turn on his gas for heating but because the service charges have been piling up, it has caused so much debt on the meter that any money he puts on will be swallowed in debt repayment, not on heating.

It is already an unjust situation that is due to get worse so needs urgent reform.

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

The NPC has also written to Ofgem and the Chancellor asking them to work together to urgently look at immediate and long term measures to help those struggling with fast rising energy bills. We are calling for a number of specific actions before the price cap rises again in October to a shocking average of £2,800 a year.

NOTES

Full text of the letter to Jonathan Brearley, Chief Executive of Ofgem, also copied to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Chair of the Commons BEIS Committee:

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition would like to thank you for your appearance at the Commons BEIS Committee which sparked the financial support outlined by the Chancellor on 26 May 2022.

With a new political will to address the challenge of the millions of homes in fuel poverty, we would also request that Ofgem reviews the areas where the regulator could better support households across the country.

First, we would urge you to abandon plans for a quarterly price cap and instead move to a three-times a year (at most) model. This would ensure more flexibility in the cap, but also mitigate a devastating January price increase, as predicted by Cornwall Insight, in the middle of winter.

Second, we need to see reform of the price cap itself – especially so that it does more to help those on pre-payment meters and is extended to cover people off-gas and on heat networks.

More broadly, we also need to see Ofgem lead the way to ensure better support for vulnerable customers, including a package of additional support from suppliers for this winter.

This support should be similar in scope to that introduced during the pandemic, but enhanced in its ambition given the numbers of people expected to be in fuel poverty this winter. We would also welcome Ofgem’s views on how it can ensure no-one is disconnected this winter or abandoned by their supplier.

We also need urgent reform of the regressive and punitive standing charges regime that penalises the most vulnerable. These charges should be reduced. In addition, customers should no longer be penalised for the failures in the energy market, which we will highlight as an issue to the Treasury.

Finally, in the longer-term we would request that Ofgem reviews the operation of the price cap and works with consumer groups to set out reforms to the market that would offer more support to those in fuel poverty. This could include the introduction of a price ceiling (i.e. a “super cap” set at current levels over which consumers will not have to pay for fair usage) and the introduction of a social tariff or “energy for all allowance.”

We would welcome the opportunity to speak to you about these issues at a future meeting of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition.