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.

Revealed: The streets where nearly everyone is in fuel poverty

Areas of the Midlands and Yorkshire have topped an unwelcome league table of fuel poverty.

New data projections from the End Fuel Poverty Coalition reveal that the fuel poverty crisis gripping the country is affecting some areas worse than others.

With the increase in energy bills coming into effect on 1 April 2022, over 6.3m households (27% of homes in England) will wake up in fuel poverty that morning.

In parts of the Bushbury South and Low Hill area of Wolverhampton, the situation is even more severe where 88% of households will be in fuel poverty from 1 April.

But Wolverhampton, which was recognised in the Government’s Levelling Up white paper, is not alone in seeing the vast majority of homes in fuel poverty.

The Washwood Heath area of Birmingham, the Castle & Priory ward of Dudley, the Shelton area of Stoke and the area near Smethwick Galton Bridge in Sandwell will also all see fuel poverty levels soar to over 80% of homes.

Just outside the 80% barrier, come parts of Smallbridge & Wardleworth in Rochdale, Bramley in Leeds, Richmond in Sheffield, Derwent in Derby and Nechells in Birmingham.

While these areas are among the highest levels of fuel poverty in the country, in terms of Parliamentary constituencies Birmingham Hodge Hill (55% of households in fuel poverty from 1 April 2022) tops the league table.

This is followed by Barking (48%), Stoke on Trent Central (47%), Wolverhampton South East (47%), Walthamstow (47%) and Birmingham Yardley (47%).

And in a blow to the Government’s levelling up agenda, “red wall” Tory MPs will be feeling the heat from constituents forced into fuel poverty by prices which were spiralling before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

In Stoke Central, where Conservative MP Jo Gideon was elected, the number of homes in fuel poverty has doubled from 9,275 in 2019 to an estimated 18,463 in 2022.

Fellow Tories in Wolverhampton North East (Jane Stevenson MP), Walsall North (Eddie Hughes MP), Stoke on Trent North (Jonathan Gullis MP) and West Bromwich East (Nicola Richards MP) have also seen the numbers of constituents in fuel poverty rapidly increase since the 2019 election. [4]

Rachael Williamson, Head of Policy at Chartered Institute of Housing, said:

The Government’s ambition to ‘level up’ is being undermined by its inaction in meaningfully tackling fuel poverty. We need clear, long-term plans to tackle homes with poor energy efficiency, especially in the private sector, and financial support to address the gap in the meantime. Without this we will see many more households and families plunged into poverty. This was an issue before the invasion of Ukraine but is quickly becoming a real crisis.

Barking & Dagenham remains the local authority with the highest levels of fuel poverty after 1 April 2022 (44.7% of households) and while the West Midlands and Yorkshire continue to dominate the top ten, it is not just cities that suffer.

Around a third of households in market town Kings Lynn and rural West Norfolk will be in fuel poverty (33.8%), as will similar numbers in North East Lincolnshire (33.2%), Herefordshire (32.9%) and Shropshire (32.8%).

On the Chancellor’s home turf, 14,000 households in his constituency of Richmond (Yorks) will be in fuel poverty, with the numbers in wider Richmondshire also among the worst in rural England (32.3%).

Paul Dixon, Rural Evidence Manager at Action with Communities in Rural England, commented:

Rural residents have some of the hardest to heat homes. Additionally, about a million households rely on heating oil which has increased in price by more than three times since the same period last year. Government must recognise and address the particular vulnerabilities of people in this situation.

William Baker, of Solutions to Tackle Energy Poverty, said:

Local authorities will need to step up to tackle the tsunami of fuel poverty that will hit them over the next few months. We urge them to take coordinated action across local services, particularly through improving energy efficiency standards, providing income maximisation advice and protecting private rented sector tenants. And the Government must provide them with the resources to do this.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, said:

Energy prices were rocketing before the Russian invasion of Ukraine as this data shows. Since 2019 households across the country have been feeling the squeeze as the implications of the  Government’s inaction on fuel poverty have been realised.

Charities and campaigners have been warning for years that fuel poverty is a social justice crisis, a public health emergency and a national security priority, but the Government took little action.

We need to see urgent help for households in fuel poverty now combined with a long-term plan to improve energy efficiency of our homes and investment in a sustainable, renewable-led, energy mix.

The Government has talked about this for long enough, but fails to match words with action – the Chancellor’s attempt to provide support for people through a “loans dressed up as grants” scheme is a prime example of this.

Ruth London from Fuel Poverty Action added:

Bad housing, profiteering on energy, and government foot dragging on the urgent switch to renewable energy have combined to create a disaster for millions of people.

The icing on the cake is that the pricing system discriminates – through high standing charges and through prepayment meters, poorer households in areas like these pay more per unit than households in better off regions. Just how much injustice and deprivation do they think people will put up with?

Jo Gilbert from Butterfly Energy said:

It’s no longer a question of heating or eating, sadly a large proportion of people can no longer afford to do either. The government needs to stop knee jerk responses and to take long term sustainable action, Rebates on council tax and £200 loans will not remedy this crisis.

Jess Ralston an analyst at the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit, commented:

Energy efficiency reduces gas demand, shrinking our bills and weaning us further off gas from places like Russia. For the families in this report – many living in places that voted in the Conservatives in levelling up areas at the last election – better insulation is a lifeline against rocketing bills. For our energy system, it’s a shield against volatile fossil fuel supply and prices. If there was ever a time for energy efficiency, it’s now; insulation is the clear winner for lowering bills and improving energy security in the short term.

Ramping up existing schemes that deliver efficiency, like the Energy Company Obligation, is one way to level up homes while levelling down bills. Other policies to get our housing on track for net zero like the boiler upgrade scheme, that gives grants to swap out gas boilers for cleaner alternatives that could be hundreds of pounds cheaper to run this year, could help to isolate British families from the impacts of surging fossil fuels. It really is a no brainer.

For more on the methodology used in this news story, read more here.

Image: Shutterstock

Historic government data doesn’t show true fuel poverty picture

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition commented on the latest release of historic fuel poverty data by the Government and its estimates of the levels of fuel poverty today:

Today’s 2020 historic fuel poverty data shows just how significant the Government’s failure to tackle fuel poverty has been.
The impact of measures taken pre-pandemic has barely shifted the dial – and we know very little has been done since 2020 to change the picture.
Indeed, the situation has become much, much worse.
Estimates from charities working in fuel poverty consistently predict that more than 6m households in England are now in fuel poverty – due in part to the energy bills crisis.
We need urgent help for households in fuel poverty now combined with a long-term plan to improve energy efficiency of our homes and a sustainable, renewable-led, energy mix.

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition’s latest estimate is that 6.3m households (26.7%) in England will be in fuel poverty from 1 April 2022 as a result of recent price increases.

A briefing from National Energy Action sets out the background to the discrepancies between official data projections and the reality of fuel stress and energy poverty on the ground, while the charity’s analysis suggests the Government is 60 years behind its target to end fuel poverty.

Image: Shutterstock

Massive increase in children experiencing fuel poverty revealed

An exclusive report in the i Paper has revealed the numbers of children living in fuel poverty.

The report, based on Coalition calculations, shows that 2.2m households with dependent children will be in fuel poverty from 1 April. This is a 74% increase since 2019.

There are 6.6m households with dependent children in England, so this means a third of those households are facing – or already in – fuel poverty. Previous calculations have suggested that roughly a quarter of all households will face fuel poverty, so homes with children are more badly impacted than the national average.
A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, commented:
With millions of families already in fuel poverty and experiencing the toughest winter on record financially, the figures in the i Paper make for grim reading.
That so many parents are having to make the choice between keeping the heating on and feeding their kids is heartbreaking. Living in cold homes is not just bad for your health, but can also impact on mental performance, meaning this fuel poverty crisis could be affecting children’s education and development.
Fuel poverty is a health and social crisis, but can only be solved by financial and technical solutions. We need urgent Government action to help those most in need now alongside consistent investment and support for energy efficiency measures.

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 (https://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.

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 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

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: https://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.

Hundreds of thousands set to be forced into fuel poverty

Over 200,000 households are set to fall into fuel poverty as the economy struggles to recover from lockdown, according to new estimates. [1]

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition is warning that as the numbers in fuel poverty soar, a future wave of COVID-19 striking during colder weather could be catastrophic for individuals and health services.

Public Health England have declared that there is “clear evidence on the links between cold temperatures and respiratory problems. Resistance to respiratory infections is lowered by cool temperatures and can increase the risk of respiratory illness.” [2]

The Coalition has launched a petition calling on the government to build on announcements in the Economic Statement and take urgent action to save lives and help address the financial impact of the current crisis.

Fuel poverty is caused by low income, high fuel prices, poor energy efficiency, unaffordable housing and poor quality private rental housing. At least 2.4m households in England are already in fuel poverty, affecting 10% of the population. [3]

William Baker, from Solutions to Tackle Energy Poverty and member of the Coalition, commented:

It has never been more important for the government to fix the roof while the sun is shining.

While it is summer now, colder temperatures are on the way and hundreds of thousands more people will feel the harsh reality of fuel poverty. In just a few months we could see a perfect storm of cold homes, high winter fuel bills and a future wave of COVID-19 hitting the NHS during winter – a period when it always struggles to maintain services.

The Coalition wrote to the Prime Minister on 23 June setting out four steps for the government to take to tackle fuel poverty before the winter.

The Chancellor’s Economic Statement of 8 July introduced partial measures to help improve energy efficiency, but the Coalition argues that the government must go further.

Jacky Peacock, from Advice4Renters, said:

Ending fuel poverty is a public health priority, but it can only be solved through economic measures.

The government must deliver its full manifesto pledge to invest £9.2 billion in building energy efficiency, extend the Warm Home Discount and introduce wider Home Upgrade Grants. It must also take further steps to improve energy standards in the private rented sector, alongside improved security and affordability for private tenants.

Finally, we must see a Fuel Poverty Debt Relief, not deferral of payment, programme introduced to ensure fewer people will have to choose between heating and eating.

Ruth London from Fuel Poverty Action added:

The Chancellor’s £2 billion for energy efficiency retrofits could have done wonders to relieve fuel poverty.  Instead, targeted at homeowners and landlords, it will do very little for renters. And without clear protections, homeowners will be at the mercy of high-pressure sales teams and unskilled retrofitters, who can leave them colder, and poorer, than before.

The public have been asked to show their support for steps to tackle fuel poverty by signing the petition https://www.change.org/EndFuelPoverty.

[1] End Fuel Poverty Coalition calculations. Unemployment is predicted to rocket from 1.29m to 3.08m people by late 2020, with the OECD predicting even higher figures. 3.08m people equates to 1.17m households. 148,000 or 30% of households with an unemployed HRP were fuel poor in 2018 (Government data). This will increase to 351,000 households in late 2020, assuming the fuel poverty rate for the unemployed is still 30% – a growth of over 200,000 households. Furthermore, many more households are likely to be forced into fuel poverty due to both reduced income and higher fuel bills arising from fewer working hours and spending more time in the home. 

[2] PHE, 2014. Warm homes enable immune systems to better fight off viruses, improve the likelihood of people with viruses only suffering ‘mild’ symptoms and help improve the recovery process. See: Baker, Ambrose et. al. https://extra.shu.ac.uk/ppp-online/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/stuck-home-cold-covid-19-fuel-poor.pdf

[3] https://www.endfuelpoverty.org.uk/latest-fuel-poverty-data-published/