Third of benefit claimants fall behind on bills

New data from Citizens Advice shows 49% of benefit claimants affected by the benefits freeze have struggled to meet essential costs such as rent, household bills and food while 40% have lost sleep due to money worries in the past 12 months.

The report, achieving income security for all, found that 33% have fallen behind on household bills (such as their energy bills) and 38% have gone without essentials like heating or food.

The findings are worse for Universal Credit claimants, with over half (55%) having gone without essentials such as food, and 51% saying they have lost sleep because of their finances.

The charity is calling for increased financial support for people claiming benefits as it finds almost two in five (39%) people who claim have less than £100 at the end of each month, after paying for rent or their mortgage, food, council tax and household bills.

Disabled people and people with children were more likely to have gone without essentials such as food and toiletries. Around 44% of disabled people’s households and 45% of households with children went without in the past 12 months.

Citizens Advice is calling on the government to end the freeze on benefit rates and reduce the five-week wait for Universal Credit claims.

Since April 2016, the level of most benefits like Universal Credit and Tax Credits has been frozen.

This is having serious consequences for people with over a quarter (27%) of people claiming benefits saying financial worries have made them feel lonely/isolated. Some 29% say financial worries have affected their mental health.

Citizens Advice provides free, independent and impartial advice in England and Wales and last year we helped 580,000 people across England and Wales with their benefits. Some one in six households in the UK claim income-related benefits.

Citizens Advice is calling for urgent solutions from the government:

  • End the freeze on benefit rates. Uprate payments by the Consumer Prices Index plus 2% for four years. Recalculate the Local Housing Allowance to at least the 30th percentile of local rents and re-establish the link with rental prices.
  • Reduce the five-week wait by bringing forward the first non-repayable payment to no later than two weeks into a Universal Credit claim.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

The benefits system is designed to help people with their finances in times of need, but too often our frontline staff and volunteers see a different story.

We’ve found people are losing sleep and unable to afford essential things like food and housing while receiving Universal Credit. It is totally unacceptable that our benefits system is not providing the financial safety net that people need.

The government needs to take urgent action in this week’s spending review by reducing the five-week wait for Universal Credit and ending the freeze on benefit rates.

Danielle, a parent of two children who was helped by Citizens Advice, said:

I have been through so much in the past year. I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I went through chemotherapy and now I am in remission and healthwise am doing so much better.

Universal Credit during this time added so much stress that I did not need. My payments were delayed when I went from being self-employed to being off due to needing chemotherapy.

Thankfully I have family who were able to help me to make sure my rent was paid. And I repaid them when I received my Universal Credit payments. But the stress of thinking I might not be there for my children and how I would pay my bills was at times unbearable.

Lack of money will stymie government fuel poverty review

A lack of funding to tackle statutory targets on fuel poverty in England could have damaging long term consequences, according to the End Fuel Poverty Coalition.

The Coalition’s response to the Government’s Fuel Poverty Strategy Review broadly welcomes the consultation, but warns there are major areas which need improvement.

Fuel poverty means that a household is forced below the poverty line as a result of the cost of using energy in their home. Using the current measurement, at least 2.53m households are in fuel poverty in England alone.

The Strategy review proposes widening this definition to include all low income households living in cold homes (the ‘Low Income, Low Energy Efficiency’ indictor). The government believes this will better incentivise energy efficiency. This increases the number of fuel poor households in England from 2.55 million to 3.66 million: an increase of 44%.

The Coalition’s response argues that the most crucial action that Government can take is to support proposals for a new ‘Clean Growth Fuel Poverty Challenge Fund.’ This would help the poorest households living in the worst F and G-rated homes, mainly in hard to heat homes.

The Coalition’s detailed response to the Strategy Review also calls for additional improvements, to create a longer term framework for energy efficiency. These include:

  1. Better regulation of the private sector
  2. Make the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) Scheme more accessible to those in greatest need
  3. Introduce more locally led, area-based schemes to improve energy efficiency, backed up by a national “safety net”
  4. Ensure all improvements are of the highest and safest quality
  5. Examine new financial measures to improve energy efficiency across the wider housing stock such as stamp duty reforms, zero interest loans, etc.

 Dr Brenda Boardman, Emeritus Fellow at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute, and one of the core authors of the Coalition’s response, commented:

Fuel poverty policy has been in the doldrums for several months, so that this consultation is welcome evidence that the Government wants to revive policy.

There is recognition of the crucial importance of energy efficiency improvements, but no statements yet of appropriate funds. And yet there needs to be prompt, positive action to upgrade all the fuel poor in F and G-rated properties in the next 15 months, as promised.

The growing emphasis on regulation, for instance of the privately rented sector, is encouraging, but still depends on enforcement to be effective. We believe this is a great opportunity for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to be strong and really champion the fuel poor. 

Peter Smith, Director of Policy and Research at National Energy Action (NEA), said:

Without more ambitious action 160,000 fuel-poor households could still be living in the least efficient homes by 2020, with the Government way off-track towards meeting its 2030 statutory target. As well as the devastating impacts cold homes have on their occupants, the delayed cost of inaction extend to all of us.

Addressing fuel poverty is a crucial part of meeting the new stretching carbon targets. Without a big improvement in current efforts, the government will not meet its climate change targets. Poorer households will benefit the least from energy policies, whilst paying a higher share of the costs, despite making lower contributions to our overall emissions.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Ending fuel poverty is in our grasp through a National Energy Efficiency Programme, fully funded support for those in fuel poverty and reform of the private rented sector.

A full copy of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition response is available online.

You can follow the Coalition on Twitter @EndFuelPoverty.

£500 grants available to organisations working to combat fuel poverty

End Fuel Poverty Coalition member, National Energy Action (NEA) is inviting applications to support its Warm and Safe Homes campaign. This is an annual campaign to raise awareness of fuel poverty, the solutions available and to enable action to tackle fuel poverty at a local level.

Awards of £500 are available to support not-for-profit and statutory organisations in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to deliver events or activities which raise awareness of the impacts of cold homes and the solutions available to help those in or at risk.

Organisations are able to determine how their funding is spent but activity should showcase the work being undertaken to reduce fuel poverty and be aimed at members of the public and/or stakeholders. Successful applicants will be required to try and engage the support of their MP. Delivery will take place between November 29th and the end of February 2020.

The deadline for applications is October 4th 2019. Click here for more information on the awards and application process.

Ofgem seek views on proposals to reduce self-disconnection and rationing

Ofgem, the regulator for domestic gas and electricity markets, are consulting on proposals to improve outcomes for prepayment meter consumers who self-disconnect (not topping-up their meter) and/or self-ration energy (limiting energy use).

In 2018, Ofgem’s Consumer Engagement Survey identified that 1 in 10 prepayment consumers had self-disconnected in the last year. This equates to 350,000 gas and 450,000 electricity customers. End Fuel Poverty Coalition member, Citizens Advice, have previously reported that 16% of prepayment meter customer report running out of credit annually, with 50% citing keeping their meter topped up as being a significant daily concern. 72% of prepayment customers who self-disconnect are vulnerable to cold homes (i.e. households containing children or someone with a health condition).

Ofgem aims to reduce the proportion of customers who engage in self-disconnection and self-rationing practices and in so doing, reduce the detriment caused. The consultation includes the following proposals:

  •  Introducing a requirement on suppliers to identify consumers and provide support to those self-disconnecting and self-rationing.
  • Formalising emergency, friendly and discretionary credit offered by suppliers to those in temporary crisis situations.
  • Incorporating the Ability to Pay principles (requiring suppliers to consider a customer’s ability to pay when setting debt repayment rates) into the supply licence condition.

The full consultation document can be accessed here. Responses can be sent to response  by September 20th 2019.

Fuel poverty strategy for England open for consultation

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) have opened a consultation on the fuel poverty strategy for England. This will assess the implementation of the 2015 strategy and seek views on proposals for an updated fuel poverty strategy. The full consultation document is available here.

The Government will retain the fuel poverty target and milestones set out in the 2015 strategy, which aims to bring as many fuel poor homes as reasonably practicable up to a Band C by 2030, Band D by 2025 and Band E by 2020.

However, BEIS propose to change the way fuel poverty is measured (currently ‘Low Income High Cost’) by implementing a ‘Low Income Low Energy Efficiency’ (LILLE) metric. Under this definition, households will be deemed fuel poor if their disposable income (after housing and energy costs) is below the poverty line and they live in a property with an energy efficiency rating of Band D or lower. The LILEE measure would increase the number of households considered fuel poor by approximately 1 million, bringing the total number of fuel poor households in England up to over 3.6 million.

Comparison of statistics under LIHC and LILEE (BEIS, 2019)

Also included in the document, is an update to the vulnerability principle to clarify those most at risk to the impacts deriving from cold homes. This may include better aligning vulnerability with that outlined in the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance on cold-related ill health. BEIS also propose adding a new principle to the strategy which would ensure policies relating to fuel poverty complement other Government priorities including the Clean Growth Strategy.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition (EFPC) said:

The UK Government’s consultation on updating its fuel poverty strategy suggests that there are over 1 million more households in fuel poverty than previously recognised. 3.7 million households are now reckoned to live in cold, inadequately heated and insulated homes. The EFPC urges the UK Government to invest £1bn of public funds in a programme to bring it back on track towards meeting its statutory fuel poverty target. This is a key recommendation of the Government’s advisory group, the Committee for Fuel Poverty“.

The consultation will close on Monday 16th September 2019 at 11:45pm. Responses can be submitted online or by email (

EFPC member National Energy Action’s initial response to the consultation can be read here.

BEIS Committee urge the Government to revive energy efficiency policy

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee have published a report assessing the Government’s action on energy efficiency.

Energy efficiency: building towards net zero‘ highlights the important role of energy efficiency measures in tackling fuel poverty, reducing energy bills, meeting net zero greenhouse gas emissions and unlocking significant long-term economic returns. However, with the UK housing stock remaining among the least efficient in Europe, the Committee stresses that the Government is not set to meet its targets. 

A summary of the key points and recommendations are as follows:

Investment and infrastructure. The amount of public money invested in residential energy efficiency schemes in England per capita, is lower to that in devolved nations.

Recommendation: The Government should be clear about how much public investment is needed to meet EPC targets.

Retrofitting homes. As the Government’s only energy efficiency scheme, the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) is unsuitable due to limited funding, households required to make a financial contribution towards measures and the focus on low-cost rather than need. The introduction of new regulations in the private rented sector is welcome but the impact and scope is limited.

Recommendation: A three tier funding system should be established to support fuel poor households. This would consist of ECO, centrally funded local authority schemes and an additional national funding safety net. Higher standards of installation should be enforced and a comprehensive advice network established.

Recommendation: The cost cap in place for landlords should be increased and local authorities should receive adequate resources to enforce standards.

New homes. Most large housebuilders are only likely to raise the energy efficiency of stock  if they are required to by regulation.

Recommendation: Government should legislate the Future Homes Standards as soon as possible. The Building Regulation regime should also be revised to remove the loophole which permits developers to build homes to outdated energy efficiency standards.

Independent responses from End Fuel Poverty Coalition members the Energy Saving Trust and National Energy Action, can be read by clicking on the members name.

Committee on Fuel Poverty sets out proposal for a new energy efficiency programme

The Committee on Fuel Poverty has published a proposal for a £1.08 billion Treasury-funded household energy efficiency programme ‘Challenge Fund’.

This follows, the CFP’s Third Annual Report, which stated that current resource, programmes and policies were insufficient in meeting the Government’s fuel poverty target and corresponding milestones. It is estimated that by 2020 just over half of properties with an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) of Band F or G, will have been upgraded and therefore leave a significant proportion of fuel poor households living in inadequate homes.

The proposed Challenge Fund would run from April 2020 to April 2022 and would complement the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) and the Private Rented Regulations (PRS) requiring landlords to bring properties up to a minimum of a Band E. The fund would be primarily targeted to deliver energy efficiency improvements in private sector properties, which equate to half of all fuel poor F and G homes. Households living in a Band E property will also be able to receive support in cases where ECO is not a suitable intervention. The fund would:

  • Assist in meeting Government targets in improving energy efficiency of domestic properties.
  • Identify opportunities and choices for future energy efficiency programmes.
  • Encourage innovation in technology and delivery.
  • Develop new proxies for targeting fuel poverty using data sharing powers under the Digital Economy Act. This in turn would reduce the cost of energy efficiency programmes.

The CFP’s full proposal can be downloaded here.

Publication of Annual Fuel Poverty Statistics in England

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), have today published the Annual Fuel Poverty Statistics in England, 2019 (2017 data). This is an annual statistical release, which provides a comprehensive view of fuel poverty in England.

Headline figures include:

  • 2.53 million households in England are in fuel poverty. This equates to 10.9% of all households and represents a 0.2% decrease since 2016 (2.55 million).
  • The average fuel poverty gap, which is the amount of money a household would need to heat their home to an adequate temperature and remain above the poverty line, is £321. This is down from £333 in 2016.
  • Fuel poverty is highest in the private rented sector (19.4%)
  • Single parents are the highest proportion of households in fuel poverty (25.4%) with a fuel poverty gap of approximately £315.
  • 92.2% of fuel poor households live in properties with an energy efficiency rating of Band E or higher.


Ofgem announces methodology for the next energy network price control

Ofgem, the regulator for gas and electricity markets, has today confirmed its network price control methodology.  The next round of network price controls, otherwise known as RIIO-2, will run from 2021 to 2026 and aims to deliver a smarter and sustainable energy network at a lower cost to consumers.

The methodology highlights the imperative role distribution networks have in supporting consumers in vulnerable situations. As such, the assistance network companies provide to consumers in vulnerable situations will increase. This includes:

  • Enhanced licence conditions
  • Incentives to ensure vulnerability is considered during customer interaction
  • A reform of current innovation funding and additional funds to support projects which help vulnerable customers.

Ofgem have confirmed that the fuel poor network extension scheme, which provides fuel poor households access to free or subsidised gas network connections, will continue. A re-opener will also be introduced to allow for networks to deliver energy efficiency measures, should the Government decide that networks have a role in providing such to fuel poor households.


Downward trend in fuel poverty levels in Scotland continues

The Annual Compendium of Scottish Energy Statistics, published by the Scottish Government, has revealed that the downward trend in fuel poverty has continued.

Approximately 613,000 households in Scotland lived in fuel poverty in 2017, equating to 24.9% of all households. 7% (174,000) of these were living in extreme fuel poverty (when a household is required to spend over 20% of their income on fuel). These figures are the lowest recorded since 2005/06.