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Energy bills set to hit highest peak since price cap introduced

Millions of people across Britain are set to be hit with the highest fuel bills since a price cap was introduced, according to a new analysis of data.

With wholesale prices increasing [1], Ofgem is set to announce an increase in fuel bills as early as 6 August. Around 15m people on default tariffs and pre-payment meters will be affected.

The move, estimated by Cornwall Insight analysts to see bills increase by £112 a year, will hit homes from 1 October [2]. Just as furlough comes to an end and the nation heads into winter. Such a rise would mean bills for homes on a standard variable tariff will be £226 higher than in February 2017. [3]

Calculations by the Coalition, provided to The Guardian, estimate that the price rise will force an additional 392,000 households into fuel poverty. [4]

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

Over 4m people are behind on their household bills and a second Ofgem price cap rise this year will be disastrous for the millions on the brink of fuel poverty.

Any price cap rise will only make matters worse for families struggling to make ends meet. At the same time, people are still reeling from the increases in bills caused by stay at home lockdown measures for the last 18 months.

While people’s attention is diverted by the rush out of lockdown, the reality is that the countdown to winter is on and it is a race against time. Any price rise – however small – will mean the choice between heating or eating becomes even starker later this year.

If that wasn’t bad enough, fuel poverty can make respiratory illnesses worse – meaning conditions such as Covid may be exacerbated by living in cold damp homes.

Short-term energy saving measures and shopping around for cheaper energy can help reduce bills, but the scale of the problem faced by people this year is huge and any increases during the pandemic and the recovery should be avoided.

We’d urge Ofgem and policy makers to think again about the price cap rise, or the Government to step in and provide emergency financial support to those who suffer due to the decision.”

Ruth London from Fuel Poverty Action, commented:

With thousands dying of cold every year the current energy pricing system – complete with price caps – is not fit for purpose.  As prices rise, a carbon tax rebate would help, but won’t solve this.

We need a new pricing framework, where poorer people don’t pay higher rates than the rich.

We need well-insulated housing, renewable energy, and wages and benefits that meet our costs. No special provisions or consumer protection will stop fuel poverty from killing pensioners and wrecking childhoods. The pandemic has taught millions that real change can’t wait.

Matt Copeland, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at National Energy Action said:

The price cap is an important measure to ensure that households are not exposed to excess profits in the energy market. However, if prices rise as is expected, Ofgem and Government must work together to help those worst affected by rising utility debt in order to avoid a devastating winter for people in and on the brink of fuel poverty. This must be combined with a long-term boost to spending to improve energy efficiency of buildings.

Without intervention, more people will remain cold at home during the winter, be more susceptible to respiratory illness, and unfortunately many will die. That is a truly unacceptable outcome, especially as the solutions to avoid it are well known.

Frazer Scott, CEO of Energy Action Scotland, commented:

More than a quarter of Scottish households are living in fuel poverty with many of these households living off the gas grid, dependent on electricity. The anticipated price rises will have a catastrophic effect on struggling households particularly as the job retention scheme ends and the Scottish winter approaches.

Scotland needs a fuel poverty strategy as a matter of urgency to ensure that we are prioritising the homes and families most in need. We must move quickly in order to protect our health service from the additional burden created by cold, damp homes and we must see adequate investment from Scottish Government that will eradicate the national shame that is fuel poverty.

Ben Saltmarsh, Chair of Fuel Poverty Coalition Cymru and Head of NEA Cymru, added:

Hundreds of thousands of households in Wales already struggle to keep warm at home. Far too many must ration essentials, cutting back on heating and electric. If these price rises come to bear, people will find it even harder still.

It is vital that the Welsh Government follows through with the promises that it made in its Fuel Poverty Plan to support the worst-affected first; upgrading the energy efficiency of fuel poor homes, maximising incomes, and working with partners, including the UK Government and Ofgem, to protect Welsh households.

[1] Wholesale prices on Zenergi show a rise of between 19% and 42% (from 2/6/21 to 30/6/21).

[2] Cornwall Insight data from energy analysts forecasts that the price cap on standard and default tariffs will rise in October to around £1,250/yr for a typical dual-fuel household paying by direct debit, up from the current price of £1,138/yr.

[3] End Fuel Poverty Coalition analysis of official Ofgem announcements.

[4] The calculation is based on EFRA Select Committee on Energy Efficiency and Fuel Poverty HC37 2009 and Fuel Poverty Methodology handbook BEIS / BRE, updated September 2016 which estimates that for every 1% rise in energy prices an additional 40,000 homes go into fuel poverty. The rise from 1138 to 1250 is a 9.8% rise so that equates to 392,000 (40,000 * 9.8).

Business and campaigners unite in call for fair heat deal

Over twenty businesses, energy suppliers, green and anti-poverty groups (including the End Fuel Poverty Coalition) have called for the Government to back a Fair Heat Deal to make the transition away from fossil fuel boilers attractive, easy, and fair for all.

The groups want the Government to ensure it is affordable for every household to install and run a heat pump. This would help households benefit from cheaper energy bills and warmer, healthier homes, while slashing carbon emissions.

Buildings in the UK are responsible for nearly a quarter of climate emissions. Moving away from polluting fossil fuel boilers is necessary to decarbonise Britain’s buildings and to get on track to net-zero.

The UK’s scientific advisors, the Climate Change Committee, say heat pumps will play the largest role in decarbonising Britain’s heat supply. Air source heat pumps work like fridges in reverse, extracting the warmth in the air outside and compressing it to heat the building inside.

The Fair Heat Deal would stimulate the heat pump market, helping to accelerate a reduction in technology and installation costs as economies of scale are achieved. This means the costs of subsidising the programme could rapidly fall over time.

By boosting economic activity, the Fair Heat Deal could generate as much growth as any infrastructure programme but would have the extra benefits of creating good jobs in every part of the UK while slashing energy bills. The UK has a world-leading heat appliance manufacturing industry. This means accelerating the deployment of heat pumps could create a massive inward investment and global export opportunity as other countries look to decarbonise heat.

The groups urged Government to provide comprehensive support for households moving to heat pumps. The Fair Heat Deal would include:

  • Moving environmental levies off electricity bills to ensure it is always cheaper to run a heat pump than a boiler.
  • Free heat pumps and insulation for fuel poor and low-income households.
  • Grants for everyone else to equalise the cost of a new heat pump with a fossil gas boiler.
  • Financial incentives including zero VAT on green home products and installation and green Stamp Duty to reduce the cost of low carbon homes.
  • Strong consumer protections.
  • A Warm Homes Agency to train installers, create quality green jobs in every part of the country and maintain high standards.

Juliet Phillips, Senior Policy Advisor at E3G said:

Moving from a gas boiler to a heat pump is one of the biggest carbon savings a household can make to fight climate change. But it must be affordable and we urge the Government to support our Fair Heat Deal to ensure no one is left behind in the green industrial revolution. If done right the UK can lead the world in reducing carbon emissions from heat while slashing energy bills, boosting the economy and protecting the fuel poor.

Energy Saving Trust CEO Mike Thornton

With the climate emergency upon us, there is no time to waste and we need to take positive action. We have to make our homes more energy efficient and move away from reliance on fossil fuels for heating. Heat pumps are an important low carbon heating technology that will help us meet net zero. A Fair Heat Deal will make heat pumps more attractive to householders and help them to switch over to low carbon heating. For the UK to reach its net zero targets, we need real pace and scale in rolling out heat pumps. A Fair Heat Deal will provide the confidence, clarity and certainty which will unlock the investment required for this.

Signatories to the Fair Heat Deal

CPRE-The Countryside Charity, End Fuel Poverty Coalition, E.ON, E3G, Federation of Master Builders, Energy Saving Trust, Energy UK, Friends of the Earth, Good Energy, Green Alliance, Green Finance Institute, Greenpeace UK, Heat Pump Federation, Kensa Contracting, MCS Foundation, New Economics Foundation, OVO, Possible, The Association for Decentralised Energy, UK Green Buildings Council, WWF.

Image: Flickr

New figures show 3m households face fuel poverty

Press Association have reported that the English government has released the latest fuel poverty statistics, the first since an updated definition of fuel poverty was adopted.

The change to the definition came following a consultation on a new fuel poverty strategy for England.

The Coalition supported the widening of the definition to include all low income households living in cold homes (the ‘Low Income, Low Energy Efficiency’ indictor). It is believed this will better incentivise energy efficiency.

This initially suggested that the number of fuel poor households in England would sit at 3.66 million: an increase from 2.4m using the previous definition.

However, the new figures from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy suggest the proportion of families in fuel poverty will fall from 13.4% or 3.18 million homes in 2019, to 12.5% or 3 million homes in 2021.

The latest figures suggest 180,000 households are being brought out of fuel poverty between 2019 and 2021, around 90,000 a year, driven by improvements to energy efficiency that lift properties up to a rating of C or above. But nearly half of low-income households are still living in homes with poor energy efficiency.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition said:

These figures are the first under the new measurement for fuel poverty and show the scale of the challenge facing governments – both at a national and local level.

While any predicted reduction in fuel poverty is to be welcomed, we are concerned that the reduction in Covid financial support later this year will offset any improvement predicted.

We also need to see continued and renewed emphasis on delivering policies that will end fuel poverty as quickly as possible.

Image: Shutterstock

Council candidates urged to take action against fuel poverty

Candidates standing for election to local authorities across England have been urged to take action to end fuel poverty.

In a pledge, co-ordinated by the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, councillors and council candidates can pledge their support for ending fuel poverty.

The pledge commits candidates to campaign for a range of measures – all of which can be implemented by local authorities – that will help end fuel poverty.

The pledge reads:

Councils have a vital role to play in ending fuel poverty.

I pledge to do all I can to end the scourge of fuel poverty.

I will campaign for:
– improving energy efficiency of Council / housing association housing stock
– better enforcement of existing regulations on energy efficiency and property standards in the private rented sector
– improving private tenants’ rights
– providing information advice and guidance on energy efficiency and benefits to those most at risk of fuel poverty
– use of central government energy scheme grants to help those most at risk
– fair funding from central government so local authorities can deliver services residents need

Candidates can sign up using the form below or by visiting: https://forms.gle/8TnQcdTj1DSRi1Bq9.

Government axes £700 million of Green Homes Grant Funding

The Westminster Government sneaked out an announcement – over the weekend and during Parliamentary recess – that a key part of its support to end fuel poverty has been axed.

After just six months delivering vital home energy saving measures, the Green Homes Grant (GHG) voucher scheme – which was at the heart of last year’s Summer Statement – is to close its doors to new applications on 31 March at 5pm.

Even with the welcome and newly announced £300m funding to low-income households through the extension of the Local Authority Delivery (LAD) scheme, NEA estimates that the majority of the original £1.5bn GHG budget will now be returned to HM Treasury.

This equates to around £700 million of underspent funding which should have been keeping homes warmer and helping us build back better in the wake of the pandemic.

Despite being the essential cornerstone of any credible energy policy, the fortunes of energy efficiency programmes have blown hot, then cold and often ended prematurely leaving the industry and households high and dry. In stark contrast, devolved governments in the rest of the UK have successfully run low income energy efficiency schemes for many years.

William Baker, a representative from Solutions to Tackle Energy Poverty (STEP) and member of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, commented:

England is fast under threat of becoming the coldest part of the UK to live for those most at risk of fuel poverty.

Cutting off the Green Homes Grant programme in its prime is a disaster for people banking on this to improve the energy efficiency of their homes and lift them out of fuel poverty.

It is a shame that the Westminster government has not sought to learn from the positive experiences of delivering energy efficiency programmes in other parts of the UK.

Unlike its predecessors, the Green Home Grant has not been axed due to a lack of take up. The latest data shows that following its launch in September there has been significant interest in the scheme by members of the public with 82,800 household applications associated to 123,500 vouchers to the end of February 2021.

Regrettably however, given the frequent and very public airings of the significant challenges with the administration of the GHG scheme, the rollover of the scheme’s unspent budget was first cast in doubt and now the scheme has been totally axed.

In the wake of this announcement, The End Fuel Poverty Coalition calls for three urgent actions:

  1. Low-income households that applied for the higher GHG voucher must get the measures they so desperately need

Shockingly, out of over 60,000 applications only around 25% of low-income households have had their vouchers issued and only 904 vouchers have been paid. This means the vast majority are still waiting for any assistance and continue to live in cold, damp homes.

  1. Installers must be paid

Many organisations have however worked very hard to make the GHG a success and the impact on their business, agency or charity of the closure of GHG may be very significant. One of the most frequent challenges with the administration of the GHG scheme has been installers not being paid promptly when work is carried out. Overall, only 2,900 vouchers have been paid out.

  1. Close the gap

The final immediate challenge which must now be urgently confronted is the gap in provision that GHG will leave. The upcoming Heat and Buildings Strategy will now be even more vital in setting out the future of energy efficiency policy over this Parliament. It will also need to set out how any key lessons can be learnt for the GHG’s demise so that delivery risks aren’t simply outsourced away from central government to local authorities.

This learning will be particularly critical to inform the rollout of the Conservative’s original manifesto commitments to support fuel poor households via the new Home Upgrade Grant (HUG), the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF) and the upcoming new phase of the expanded Energy Company Obligation (ECO).

Only once these new programmes are in place and are reaping the types of positive outcomes we all hoped GHG would help deliver can we finally live up to the soundbites and truly build back better and deliver a fair transition to net zero.

Image: Shutterstock

New fuel poverty strategy for England announced

18 months after the consultation on a new fuel poverty strategy for England closed, the Government has launched “Sustainable Warmth” a new strategy designed to protect the most vulnerable households.

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition commented:

There is much to be applauded in the new strategy and we welcome many of the measures that are being introduced and the announcement of additional funding.
The updated strategy will ensure progress is made towards meeting previously missed milestones and we look forward to seeing the progress being made in the Committee on Fuel Poverty’s upcoming annual reports.
The updated fuel poverty strategy for England also takes another step in revealing the true extent of fuel poverty in the country.
More households are now classified as being in fuel poverty. But we know even more people are struggling with energy bills due to the double impact of a very cold winter and lockdown measures.
While this long term strategy is clearly not the place for short-term measures, we do urge the Government to do more to help people through the challenging, immediate, threat of severe fuel poverty this winter.
More reaction from the Coalition will follow. Our original submission to the consultation can be viewed online.
Featured image: Mike McBey / Flickr / Creative Commons

Ofgem announces hike in fuel bills for millions

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition, a broad coalition of anti-poverty, environmental, health and housing campaigners, charities, local authorities, trade unions and consumer organisations, has criticised the decision to increase fuel bills for an estimated 11m people:

At the last count, 3.7 million households were already classified as living in fuel poverty and more than 2.1 million more were behind on their fuel bills.

Any price cap rise will only make matters worse for families struggling to make ends meet at the same time as bills are rocketing due to stay at home lockdown measures and the closure of schools.

While the price cap rises may seem small to officials, for ordinary people any increase will mean the choice between heating or eating becomes even starker.

If that wasn’t bad enough, fuel poverty can make respiratory illnesses worse – meaning conditions such as Covid may be exacerbated by living in cold damp homes.

Short-term energy saving measures and shopping around for cheaper energy can help reduce bills, but the scale of the problem faced by people this year is huge and any increases during the pandemic should be avoided.

We’d urge Ofgem and policy makers to think again about the price cap rise, or the Government to step in and provide emergency financial support to those who suffer due to the decision.

Support for households who are in fuel poverty is available from organisations such as Citizens Advice and can be found in our resources section.

Fuel bills set to soar under latest work from home rules

New research from Nottingham Trent University has revealed the likely impact of the latest work from home restrictions on fuel poverty.

According to the experts, working from home could cost some households an extra £45 per month more this winter in increased heating and electricity bills.

The Fuel Poverty Coalition told the BBC:

Increasing numbers of people right across the country are having to make the stark choice between heating and eating. As temperatures continue to hover around freezing and lockdown restrictions mean people are spending more time at home, so energy bills will soar.

Recently, Citizens Advice estimated an extra 600,000 households fell into fuel poverty due to previous lockdowns.

Separate figures show millions of people are already way behind on their fuel bills meaning the latest findings from Nottingham Trent University make for grim reading.

The additional concern is that, according to experts, fuel poverty can make respiratory illnesses worse – meaning conditions such as Covid may be exacerbated by cold damp homes.

While the long term solution to ending fuel poverty is more energy efficient buildings, and programmes like the Government’s Green Homes Grant will help facilitate this, there is a real need for energy debt relief for millions of families immediately.

Employers could help by paying the energy bills of staff working from home, but it is likely that the government will need to step in to provide much more emergency support to those living in freezing conditions right now.

A study led by Professor Amin Al-Habaibeh, an expert in energy efficiency and intelligent engineering systems, shows that people in England’s 600,000 most inefficient properties could face almost an extra £28 in heating bills per month while the average pandemic home
worker will pay more than £17 extra on electricity.

However, those who previously commuted long distances to work, and who live in energy efficient properties, could make savings by working from home and reduce their carbon footprint at the same time.

Professor Al-Habaibeh, of the School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment, said:

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing many people to work from home and this clearly has a major effect on domestic energy consumption, as well as the nature of our carbon
emissions.

The results show that a family living in a well-insulated home and who normally use a car to travel to work will not be affected significantly in terms of their household budget, as they will save on diesel or petrol.

It also shows that the increase of carbon emissions from heating their homes will on the whole be compensated by the reduction in car use.

But for a family with a poorly insulated house who in normal circumstances do not travel long distances to work, working from home over winter will cause much more of a strain on their budget as they will be consuming more energy.

Researcher Arijit Sen, who worked on the project, said:

There is clearly a risk highlighted here that households which already suffer from energy poverty could experience a worse
financial situation during a winter lockdown if they are working from home.

While many people in employment will be better off financially due to the current situation, there will be a number of people who will find working from home a much more expensive
option for them. This project shows the importance of building insulation and its effect on household budget.

Coalition responds to Warm Homes Discount Consultation

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition has responded to the government’s Warm Home Discount consultation calling for the extension of the programme to 2026 and welcoming the possibility of debt relief being introduced.

The response is summarised below and can be read in full online: http://www.endfuelpoverty.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/End-Fuel-Poverty-Coalition-WHD-Submission-FINAL.pdf

In our responses to government consultations, we have been clear that there must be urgent delivery of government promises on tackling fuel poverty, such as confirming the extension of Warm Home Discount (ideally to 2026), introduction of the promised Home Upgrade Grants and social housing decarbonisation programme.

This also needs to include an extension to the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) from April 2022- March 2026 and maintain its key focus on low income and vulnerable households.

Government should further ensure that the Shared Property Fund (SPF) helps end cold homes across the UK and plans are introduced to extend and, as suggested by National Energy Action, strengthen the increase to Universal Credit for low income households.

Therefore, the End Fuel Poverty Coalition welcomes the publication of this consultation for an extension of the Warm Home Discount.

During this extraordinary time, for many, personal finances are under intense pressure and schemes such as this will prove welcome relief for many households. Overall, the proposals within the consultation move the scheme forward in a positive direction. However, there is a need to accelerate wider reforms of the scheme.

The Coalition broadly supports the principle contained in the consultation of a debt write off. This is suggested to be capped at £2,000 in order to enable energy suppliers and delivery partners to assist customers who have a debt which is likely to be less than 4 years old, even if they have a higher than average level of debt. This will allow for more customers to be supported within the limited budget for industry initiatives, while allowing significant debt clearance for potentially more than 3,000 households.

However, this should be kept under review to ensure it meets the needs of the most vulnerable in light of Covid-19 lockdowns and the likely increase in energy usage as people stay at home.

This consultation contains welcome proposals for reform, especially within the context of Industry Initiatives, but it is clear that these tweaks in rules will only serve to remove support from one group to improve support for others.

A broader set of reforms is needed to increase the financial envelope of the scheme and to ensure that it can support all of the households that need it.

More information from our wider proposals is available in our response to the Comprehensive Spending Review.

MPs demand fuel poverty answers

MPs from across the political spectrum have been demanding answers from the government on fuel poverty in recent weeks.

The answers have shown how the government is committed to taking steps to reduce fuel poverty – but that more needs to be done.

Rebecca Long-Bailey (Lab, Salford & Eccles) asked the Department for Health whether people in cold homes and in fuel poverty will be at higher risk from the worst effects covid-19 in winter 2020-21.

The Minister, Jo Churchill, replied:

As the United Kingdom heads into its first winter with COVID-19, the impacts of the concurrent risks of COVID-19, cold weather and fuel poverty are not yet known. In light of the concurrent risk of COVID-19, Public Health England will be reviewing the Cold Weather Plan for England and related resources ahead of this winter.

Ms Long-Bailey put further pressure on, asking what assessment the Government has made of the effect of fuel poverty on trends in the level of respiratory problems. The government referred to an Atlas of Variation of trends which will require further examination by fuel poverty experts.

Emma Lewell-Buck (Labour, South Shields) asked if the government would look at proposals suggested by the End Fuel Poverty Coalition to ensure debt relief for those in extreme fuel poverty. Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng replied:

The Department is working with Ofgem to assess the level and impact of domestic consumer energy debt this winter and we will continue to review options to support energy customers in debt, including those in or at risk of fuel poverty.

David Linden (SNP, Glasgow East) took the issue further, asking the Prime Minister:

With 2.4 million households in the UK facing fuel poverty this winter, a figure that will only be exacerbated by the pandemic, will the Prime Minister consider introducing a one-off covid-19 winter fuel payment to every household at risk.

The Prime Minster replied that the government “will consider all sorts of measures to alleviate poverty and suffering in the months ahead.”

William Wragg (Conservative, Hazel Grove) asked about support for energy efficiency, which saw Treasury Minister Kemi Badenoch reply:

The Government recognise the importance of energy efficiency in achieving our climate change objectives and tackling fuel poverty. That is why in July my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced over £2 billion of new funding to upgrade homes through the green homes grant scheme. In addition, we have a range of policies in place to support home energy efficiency improvements.

Nadia Whittome (Labour, Nottingham East) raised the subject of fuel poverty among those in rented accommodation. Prompting Minister Kwarteng to respond:

We intend to consult on strengthening the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards in due course, in line with our Clean Growth Strategy aspiration for privately rented properties to reach EPC Band C by 2030 where practical, affordable and cost-effective. Landlords will also be eligible for subsidised energy efficiency measures through the Green Homes Grant scheme this autumn.

Martyn Day (SNP, Linlithgow & Falkirk East) has demanded the government make an annual statement to the House of Commons on fuel poverty. The issue of the Fuel Poverty Strategy for England has also been raised and while it has been over 55 weeks since the consultation on the strategy closed, the Minister is still hopeful it will be published. In response to Sarah Olney (Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park), the Minister said:

We intend to publish an updated Fuel Poverty Strategy for England in due course which will provide further information on the range of schemes available to support low income and vulnerable households in improving the energy efficiency of their homes.

Luke Evans (Conservative, Bosworth), Colleen Fletcher (Labour, Coventry North East) also raised local fuel poverty issues with Ministers stressing they understood the danger of the issue.