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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:

Other reaction from Coalition members will follow.

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

Coalition responds to ongoing energy crisis

The Coalition has been quoted in The I and the Morning Star, responding to the ongoing energy crisis.

A spokesperson said:

While there seems to be plenty of political support for subsidies for high energy use firms, there is silence on supporting the millions facing fuel poverty this winter.
Of course there is a balancing act to play between calling for an increased payments and extending the scope of existing schemes.
But we know there is a crisis facing the country this winter and so in addition to extending existing schemes, additional short-term energy debt relief measures will be needed.
As a starting point everyone who is eligible for the cold weather payment should also get the winter fuel payment.
This would mean extending the payment to broadly the same cohort who are eligible for the Warm Home Discount, this includes households in receipt of Pension Credit, Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance as well as Universal Credit.
This should help an additional 2.6 million households across the UK. If paid at the higher level this would help counter the recent rise in energy prices covered by the Ofgem price cap.
These short term changes will buy the government time to work out a longer-term solution which will be needed from 1 April when the price cap is increased again.

Media reacts to End Fuel Poverty Map of England

The media and the public have been reacting to the publication of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition’s new Index revealing the areas worst affected by fuel poverty.

Media coverage for the launch of the map has been widespread with Sky News leading on the story alongside coverage in the Big Issue, The Guardian, The i, Politics.co.uk, ITV, LBC and Yahoo! The story even got international attention with broadcasters in Japan, Germany and the Netherlands talking about the issue and EuroNews running an in-depth look at the crisis.

As the number of households in fuel poverty is expected to pass 4m this winter, the Government and councils are feeling the heat to act.

A petition has been launched by campaign website Action Storm so people can send a message to the UK Government.

Meanwhile, local authorities have been put under pressure to pass the End Fuel Poverty Coalition motion to take action on the ground.

The motion can be read online (http://www.endfuelpoverty.org.uk/end-fuel-poverty-councillor-pledge/end-fuel-poverty-council-motion/) and the public can write to councillors to ask them to table the motion at a session of the council.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said:

Councils play a hugely important role in the fight against cold homes. They work with landlords and housing providers to ensure that all rental properties in the area are let to a decent standard. By working with local health bodies and community groups, they can identify and support those most at risk from the negative impacts of fuel poverty.

Local authorities must have the resources needed to properly enforce energy efficiency regulations which keep older people and families safe. As we approach the winter, no one must go cold and unwell for fear of the cost of turning the heating on. Longer term, we need to see greater investment from the government in energy efficiency programmes, which will help lower bills, reduce anxiety for those in cold homes and protect people against any future surges in fuel costs.

Fuel poverty map of England revealed

A new map of England has laid bare the stark reality of the high number of people living in fuel poverty, with millions of households affected. [1]

The Fuel Poverty Index has created a league table of local authority areas by combining fuel poverty figures with data on measures improving energy efficiency and therefore reducing fuel poverty.

The worst place in England for fuel poverty is Barking & Dagenham, followed by Stoke-on-Trent and Newham. [2]

But it’s not just inner city areas which are badly ranked in the map with Shropshire, Herefordshire and King’s Lynn and West Norfolk all struggling with fuel poverty.

Meanwhile Bracknell Forest, Runnymede and East Hampshire are among the areas least affected by fuel poverty.

The map has been released as the ongoing energy crisis could see fuel poverty becoming endemic in society, according to campaigners.

The latest calculations [3] have revealed that rising wholesale energy prices could see the number of households in the country rise from the current estimate of 4.1m to 5.3m. This would equate to 22% of all households in England classified as being in fuel poverty.

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition recently launched a petition with campaign website Action Storm to call on the government to take immediate action to avert the fuel poverty crisis this winter. [4]

Simon Francis, co-ordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, said:

The latest rises in wholesale prices means that we face the possibility of more households facing fuel poverty than ever before. And with fuel poverty comes increased risks of suffering the worst effects of respiratory illnesses, such as Covid-19.

Indeed, when combined with the increase in general prices caused by inflation and Brexit supply issues we face the real possibility of fuel poverty becoming endemic in our society.

Local authorities who want to understand more about what they can do have been encouraged to pass the Coalition’s fuel poverty motion [5]. William Baker from Solutions to Tackle Energy Poverty (STEP) said:

Local authorities are responsible for some of the most innovative and far-reaching initiatives to tackle fuel poverty.

However, the UK government must give all local authorities the powers and resources to make sure such initiatives are standard practice across the country.

Ruth London from Fuel Poverty Action, which is currently Crowdfunding to continue its grassroots campaign to tackle fuel poverty, said:

It cannot be those who have least already who end up paying the price for the UK’s dependence on gas. Total UK wealth increased by £900bn [6] over the pandemic yet people will die from cold this winter. We need a transformed pricing system and sustainable energy, housing and heating so all can keep warm and dry.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK [7], said: 

This map reveals stark inequalities in rates of fuel poverty across England. Many areas in the North are particularly affected, as well as Stoke-on-Trent, Birmingham, and London. The problem is that too many older people are living in energy inefficient cold homes, guaranteeing that they will be facing sky high bills.

Keeping warm through the winter is an annual challenge for older people on low fixed incomes. It’s vital that they keep the heating on as the cold can make many pre-existing health conditions worse. To avoid the knock-on impact on the NHS, older people who are worried about making ends meet must have the confidence to keep their heating turned up when the temperatures drop, so they can stay well.

The Government must provide support for households who are struggling the most. Longer term, we need to see greater investment in energy efficiency programmes, which will help lower bills, reduce anxiety for those in cold homes and protect people against any future surges in fuel costs.

Peter Smith, Director of Policy and Advocacy at National Energy Action, said:

This toxic cocktail of challenges will leave millions of households struggling to cope with less income and higher costs. For many it will be an impossible task.

We need immediate support for those on lowest incomes, we need to clear levels of household energy debt fast, we need to give more protection to the fuel poor from future price rises and we need to reduce people’s exposure to high prices by making homes more efficient.

The Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) has published energy saving advice and top tips for people worried their energy supplier is about to go bust or thinking of switching as prices soar. Ian Preston, Head of Household Energy at the CSE, said:

Keeping healthily warm is a basic human right and it’s wrong that so many people are struggling with cold homes when living in a developed country like the UK. Cold homes cause misery, ill-health and social exclusion.

Many government and industry support programmes, like furlough, are due to end soon and the energy advice sector will face a tsunami of demand from people needing support. We need urgent action from the government to maintain support for people in vulnerable circumstances.

Paul Dixon, from Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE), commented:

The energy crisis will plunge many more rural households into fuel poverty this winter.

Rural homes are some of the most difficult to keep warm. Whilst immediate measures must be found to alleviate financial pressures facing the most vulnerable, there must be a longer-term commitment from government to insulating homes and supporting communities to generate their own local renewable energy solutions.

Christine Nicholls, Community Development Officer for Community Action Northumberland, added:

The timing of this increase will hit vulnerable families hard, families already struggling with the impact of the pandemic.

Guy Stenson, Director of Housing Operations – Customer Experience at Stonewater, said:

We recently appointed a fuel poverty specialist to provide advice and alleviate the pressures faced by our customers, tackling the energy crisis will require working with Government, partners and the wider sector to develop more rapid solutions.

To address the immediate challenge we are offering flexible rent payment arrangements and working closely with our voluntary sector partners and charity partner, Longleigh Foundation, to support those most in need.

ENDS

[1] For sources, calculations and methodology, please visit: 

http://www.endfuelpoverty.org.uk/english-fuel-poverty-index-2021/.

[2] The ten local authorities worst affected by fuel poverty, according to the End Fuel Poverty Coalition Index:

– Barking and Dagenham

– Stoke-on-Trent

– Newham

– Waltham Forest

​- Kingston upon Hull

– Sandwell

– Wolverhampton

– Birmingham

– Manchester

– Norwich

The ten local authorities least affected by fuel poverty, according to the End Fuel Poverty Coalition Index:

– Bracknell Forest

– Runnymede

– East Hampshire

– Torridge

– South Hams

– Hart

– Wokingham

– Fareham

– Surrey Heath

– Spelthorne

[3] For detailed calculations and methodology statement visit: http://www.endfuelpoverty.org.uk/price-cap-methodology/

[4] Petition: https://actionstorm.org/petitions/fuel-poverty-crisis 

[5] Motion: http://www.endfuelpoverty.org.uk/end-fuel-poverty-councillor-pledge/end-fuel-poverty-council-motion/ 

[6] Report in: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/jul/12/uk-wealth-gap-widens-in-pandemic-as-richest-get-50000-windfall 

[7] Age UK’s Advice Line is available 8am-7pm 365 days a year and can be reached on 0800 678 1602. Age UK provides information guides on staying warm this winter and reducing energy bills as well as a factsheet on the help available to consumers to meet their energy costs. The organisation also provides a free benefits calculator which helps older people to find out what benefits they could be owed.

Coalition comments on new Winter Household Support Fund

The Government has announced an emergency Winter Household Support Fund to be delivered via local authorities.

However, a spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, commented:

This panic response to negative headlines about rising levels of fuel poverty is a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed.

The fund has the potential to provide some short-term relief. But it is no replacement for a comprehensive investment and spending plan to end this winter’s fuel poverty crisis and improve the energy efficiency of our homes in the long-term.

Coalition members National Energy Action have called on the Government for comprehensive emergency provision to help fuel poor households to stay warm at home this winter, including:

  1. Providing additional funding towards the Warm Home Discount scheme this winter as an emergency provision to guard against significantly increased gas prices
  2. Supporting more households with the Winter Fuel Payment, especially for those eligible for the Cold Weather Payment in Northern Ireland
  3. Helping accelerate the repayment of utility debts across the UK by enhancing Fuel and Water Direct
  4. Continuing the Winter Grant Scheme through this winter

Additionally, through the Spending Review, it is proposed that the following longer-term actions to ensure that fuel poor households can be warm at home for years to come:

  1. Fully implement the Conservative Manifesto for the Home Upgrade Grant Scheme (HUG) and Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF)
  2. Ensure the Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF) helps end cold homes across the UK
  3. Extend and strengthen the £20 a week uplift in Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit for low-income households.  

Fuel poverty increases on horizon due to energy crisis

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition has warned of a drastic rise in the number of households affected by fuel poverty unless urgent action is taken.

With wholesale energy costs increasing, experts are increasingly concerned at the impact this will have on fuel bills.

Simon Francis, Co-ordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, said:
Where wholesale energy prices rise, consumer prices follow – usually with a six month lag due to the Ofgem price capping process.
The latest rises in wholesale prices means that we face the possibility of more households facing fuel poverty than ever before. And with fuel poverty comes increased risks of suffering the worst effects of respiratory illnesses, such as Covid-19.
Indeed, when combined with the increase in general prices caused by inflation and Brexit supply issues, we face the real possibility of fuel poverty levels increasing drastically.
The Government must take urgent action to ensure people don’t have to choose between heating and eating this winter while rapidly deploying programmes to improve the energy efficiency of homes.
Coalition members have also highlighted the problems caused by rising energy prices. Peter Smith, Director of Policy and Advocacy at National Energy Action, said:
This is the toughest start to an autumn that I can remember. This toxic cocktail of challenges will leave millions of households struggling to cope with less income and higher costs. For many it will be an impossible task.
We need immediate support for those on lowest incomes, we need to clear levels of household energy debt fast, we need to give more protection to the fuel poor from future price rises and we need to reduce people’s exposure to high prices by making homes more efficient.

Ian Preston head of household energy at CSE said:

Heating your home isn’t cheap and with the price of energy sky rocketing right before winter, it is going to be a difficult time for many people. Keeping healthily warm is a basic human right and it’s wrong that so many people are struggling with cold homes when living in a developed country like the UK.

CSE has energy saving advice and top tips for people worried their energy supplier is about to go bust or thinking of switching as prices soar.

Cold homes cause misery, ill-health and social exclusion. Many government and industry support programmes, like furlough, are due to end soon and the energy advice sector will face a tsunami of demand from people needing support. We need urgent action from government to maintain support for people in vulnerable circumstances.

A spokesperson for Age UK added:

Lots of older people will have seen the reports about the possibility of energy shortages & price hikes coming soon and will be extremely anxious as a result. It’s hard enough for many to keep warm through the winter as it is, but now it seems this annual challenge could become tougher still.

We urge older people not to be overly concerned at this stage, pending more information from Government, which we hope will be published very soon. In the meantime, if you are having problems paying your energy bills, or repaying a debt, it is the duty of your energy company to help you so it’s worth getting in touch with them, though at present their phone lines are likely to be busy.  Any older person is also welcome to call the Age UK advice line. Hopefully we can assist you, for example by checking you are receiving all the financial help to which you are entitled.

If these reports about soaring energy bills turn out to be true Age UK will certainly be calling on the Government to take action so that a problem in the energy sector doesn’t translate into a tragedy for millions of older people who can’t keep their homes adequately warm.

Reactions to devastating Ofgem price cap increase

With Ofgem announcing that the energy bill price cap is set to increase from 1 October, charities, trade unions, campaigners and politicians have been reacting to the news.

Described as “devastating” by the End Fuel Poverty Coalition and National Energy Action, the latest analysis of the Ofgem data shows the significance of the energy price increase:

Media and politicians across the political divide have been responding to the concerns of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition.

Classic FM said that the timing of the price hike “may seem cruel”, while the Guardian Editorial on Saturday wrote:

If ministers display the same tin ear that they did towards Marcus Rashford over children’s food poverty in this new crisis over fuel poverty, they will get what they deserve. They cannot say they have not been warned. The choice is theirs.

Meanwhile more Coalition members have also reacted to the news. Christine Nicholls from Community Action Northumberland commented:

It is now more important than ever we support people with switching to better tariffs, the timing of this increase will hit vulnerable families hard, families already struggling with the impact of the pandemic.

Tamara Sandoul, Policy and Campaigns Manager at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, said:

A price rise in energy bills this Autumn – right before the coldest months of the year – is likely to have devastating consequences. Living in a cold home can contribute to a range of serious health conditions, especially in vulnerable groups. We know that when people can’t afford to heat their home, they underheat it in order to make ends meet, resulting in ill health and additional costs and pressure on the NHS at the busiest time of the year.

Ofgem’s decision is expected to result in nearly half a million extra households living in fuel poverty. This would mean a serious step back for the Government’s targets of reducing fuel poverty. The move could also exacerbate the levels of homelessness. Many people living in the private rented sector have been struggling to meet the costs of their housing throughout the pandemic. Now that furlough and other Covid-related support is coming to an end, the cost of increased energy bills could push some tenants into arrears, debt and homelessness.

Read more about the story in:

Organisations condemn unprecedented Ofgem price hike

Ofgem has confirmed the worst price hike in energy costs in the history of the price cap.

According to End Fuel Poverty Coalition estimates, the £139 rise (equating to 12.2%) will result in an additional 488,000 households in fuel poverty.

Over 4m people are already estimated to be behind on their household bills and the price cap rise will take effect this autumn at the same time as the furlough scheme and the Universal Credit uplift end.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition said:
This unprecedented hike in energy bills comes at the worst possible time for millions of households across the country.
It is difficult to put into words just how devastating this news will be for people.
Especially hard hit will be vulnerable customers and those on pre-pay meters who are unable to switch suppliers and will be facing a winter in abject fuel poverty.
Switching advice and the price cap may provide some protection from the worst excesses of the energy market, but this will be no comfort to those now facing the stark choice between heating and eating.
The Government must take immediate action to provide emergency support for those who suffer due to the decision and speed up plans to improve the energy efficiency of the nations’ homes.

The Big Issue has recently warned of increasing levels of homelessness, caused in part by fuel poverty. Jacky Peacock from Advice for Renters, commented:

Recent research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that 400,000 private renters already face eviction for Covid related rent arrears and up to a million are worried about being evicted in the next three months .  The hike in fuel costs could be the final nail in the tenancy coffin for these tenants, with homelessness escalating at a cost of billions to the public purse.

William Baker from Solutions to Tackle Energy Poverty (STEP) commented:

The massive rise in fuel bills caused by the price cap hike will affect most those hit hardest by the impacts of Covid and lockdown. It’s essential that the Government does not cut the £20 increase in Universal Credit this September and accelerates plans to improve home energy standards so that low income consumers waste less money on heating leaky homes.

Fuel poverty can make respiratory illnesses worse – meaning conditions such as Covid may be exacerbated by living in cold damp homes.

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

The energy advice sector will face a tsunami of demand from people needing support once furlough ends, benefits reduce and bills go up. This price increase on energy bills is hitting at the worst possible time; just before winter, when millions of people are already struggling to pay their bills and people are spending more time at home than ever due to the pandemic.

Cold homes cause misery, ill-health and social exclusion. Many government and industry support programmes are due to end soon and people will struggle to survive. A warm home is a basic human right and it’s going to be a really tough winter unless we see action to maintain support for people in vulnerable circumstances.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, added:

The level at which energy prices are capped is of enormous importance to older people, because we know they are less likely to switch providers for a better deal – especially if they are not online, which is the case for about half of the 75+ population. For all those who are therefore effectively stuck on their existing tariffs, the best protection they have against unfair and unaffordable fuel bills is a robust energy price cap. Unfortunately, the fact that the cap is going up significantly this year will set them up for a miserable and anxious winter.
We know that many older people resist turning their heating up high enough to stay warm during cold spells, for fear of the cost. Sadly, today’s announcement is likely to mean even more older people find themselves in this horrible position and energy suppliers must identify and support those that will struggle in the cold months to come.

National Energy Action has developed a briefing setting out the support and solutions the government can implement. Peter Smith from NEA said:

This is a devastating increase. Millions of household budgets are already stretched to the limit and this massive increase could not be coming at a worse time. As well as a significant rise in general inflation – driving up spending on other essentials such as food – the new cap level takes effect in October when millions of people will see a reduction in their incomes, as furlough winds down and the uplifts to Universal Credit are likely to be withdrawn. This toxic combination of higher prices, reduced incomes and leaky, inefficient housing, will lead to a further surge in utility debt and badly damage physical and mental health this winter.

There is far more Ofgem and the UK Government can do to help to protect the most vulnerable consumers this winter. For years Ofgem and [the UK] Government have insisted the way to avoid increases to bills is to switch. Many fixed deals have however come to an end and for some customers switching is impossible due to levels of debt or because pre-pay customers have far fewer options to switch supplier or tariff. There may be limited scope to mute the impact of soaring wholesale prices within the cap, but Ofgem can and must provide deeper protection for the most vulnerable customers. The UK Government can also directly help reduce energy arrears as well as maintaining investment to reduce needless energy waste in our homes.

Ruth London, co-director of Fuel Poverty Action, concluded:

The massive increase in price-capped energy bills will be a body blow to millions, and advice to shop around for cheaper deals does not add up as a solution: If everyone affected switched, the deals would disappear, to cover suppliers’ costs and profits. Finding a better deal is laborious and suppliers rely on catching out those who are not only cash poor, but time poor. Placing the onus on victims to individually find an escape from the price hike is a false solution. Change needs to go beyond redistributing poverty.

We need a new pricing framework, where poorer people don’t pay higher rates than the rich. We need well-insulated housing, renewable energy, new heating systems, and wages and benefits that meet our costs. Fuel Poverty Action believes the government should investigate a totally new pricing system where everyone is guaranteed, free of cost, the basic energy we need for our homes and our health, while more cost falls on those who are heating mansions or joy-riding into space.