Coalition reacts to “sky-rocketing” energy prices and “woeful” Government response

Members of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition have been reacting to news of the latest energy price hikes and subsequent Government efforts to partially offset the consequences.

The latest estimates from the End Fuel Poverty Coalition predict that 6.3m households are expected to be in fuel poverty from 1 April 2022 – an increase of 2.1m on previous estimates which took account of the last Ofgem price rise in October 2021.

In addition, a group of civil society organisations have issued a united call for the Government to take further immediate action and a national protest is due to take place in London on Saturday.

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

This has already been a difficult Winter for many households across the UK, with a cocktail effect of higher inflation and higher energy prices. This huge rise in the cost of energy will push many more people into fuel poverty and could put them at risk of health conditions caused by living in a cold home.

The Government also needs a long-term investment strategy into retrofitting homes to make these much more energy efficient and work to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels going forward.

William Baker from Solutions to Tackle Energy Poverty:

This announcement couldn’t come at a worse time. It coincides with a substantial increase to National Insurance, will inevitably exacerbate the cost of living crisis many low income households are facing and will increase reliance on food banks and fuel vouchers – already at record levels. We need a comprehensive package of Government support to both address high energy prices and improve the energy efficiency standards of our homes.

Connor Schwartz, climate lead at Friends of the Earth:

The skyrocketing price of gas will now push people into precarious financial positions, and spells disaster for those already struggling to meet the rising cost of heating their home. The government must ensure sufficient support for anyone already finding it hard, or who are at imminent risk, from these hikes.

We need to address the root cause and that means ending the cause of the crisis: reliance on gas. No mistake, this will be a year-on-year problem unless the government is radical now. The best time to invest in renewables and roll out a huge home insulation programme was 20 years ago, governments didn’t do it then, the next best time is right now.

 Mike Thornton, chief executive, Energy Saving Trust:

We know the additional increase to the energy price cap, alongside higher living costs, will be extremely worrying for people across Britain. With the number of households who find themselves in fuel poverty expected to rise, Government must expand on emergency measures to support those most in need.

As well as the need for immediate action and short-term support, the current crisis emphasises the importance of improving the energy efficiency of the UK’s housing stock in the long-term. Alongside this, we need to invest significantly in renewable energy – including low carbon heating.  Energy efficiency and more renewables are the best ways to protect everybody against volatile gas prices and rising bills in the long-term.

Tackling the current energy crisis must also go hand in hand with meeting net zero ambitions. Reducing our reliance on fossil fuels will minimise our exposure to the volatility of the global energy market and shape a greener and more affordable energy future. Alongside many other mission-led organisations, we’re asking for committed Government investment and clear action plans to scale up home insulation and renewable energy so we can be less reliant on gas in the future.

Fuel Poverty Action co-director Ruth London:

The energy market as it stands is not fit for purpose – it does not give people the energy they need to keep healthy, or the security to plan for the future in difficult times.

We’re asking that the government to introduce “Energy for All” – a universal, free amount of energy to cover people’s basic costs like heating, cooking, and lighting.

This would give us all the security we need, taking account of people’s actual needs according to their age, health, and housing.

Adam Scorer, Chief Executive of National Energy Action (NEA): 

These energy crisis measures are woefully inadequate and will leave those on the lowest incomes and in the least efficient homes in deep peril. 

Government had an exam question: How to protect the most vulnerable from a devastating rise in the cost of energy? While their plans are not without merit, they fail this test by turning away from targeted measures to help the poorest energy consumers. 

We needed deep, targeted support for the most vulnerable. We have shallow, broad measures for all. That simply does not work.

The depth of support is not proportionate to the increases. A household paying by prepayment will still have a £500 increase when you take into account rises from October 2021 and April 2022. 

The rebates on Bills and Council tax are not sufficiently targeted, too small and too complex.

We expect the government will have no choice but to return to the issue of spiralling fuel poverty and another price rise later this year. By then they’ll be playing catch-up and great harm will already have been done.

Ian Preston, director of household energy at the Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE):

People are frightened of getting into debt. Someone we support on our advice line contacted us this morning to say they wouldn’t be able to put the heating on anymore. This is going to be the case for millions of people across the country.

We’ve calculated that this energy price increase each month is about the same as a low-income household would spend on groceries in a week. So to pay for the increase is essentially the same as asking them to go without food for a week every month.

We need to literally insulate people from the impact of future energy price increases! If we insulate our homes and buildings well, they’ll become more energy-efficient – there’s a range of measures available for different budgets and we can support people with finding grants.

Members also took to Twitter to express their concerns:

Catastrophic rise in energy prices will not be offset by Government plans

Over 1m more homes in England could be forced into fuel poverty following the latest Government energy cap price rise, despite Government plans announced today.

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition predictions come as Ofgem confirmed that the average cost of heating a home will rise from GBP1,277 a year to GBP1,971 – a 54% increase.

The Government has pledged a series of measures to try and support homes in fuel poverty, but campaigners have warned these do not go far enough to offset the rises in energy prices over the last few years. The Chancellor claimed this would be worth GBP350. However, much of this will be repaid through a “heat now, pay later” scheme.

Even taking into account the Government’s promised support, the latest price cap rise will still be 27% – the biggest rise since records began.

It is estimated by the End Fuel Poverty Coalition that this will plunge an additional 1.1m homes into fuel poverty, taking the total now in fuel poverty to 22% of all households in England (c.12.5m people). The final total may be higher due and closer to 26% of all households, due to the “heat now, pay later” nature of Government support.

Since it was introduced in 2017, energy bills have risen 52%, with rises of almost GBP600 (GBP578) being passed onto consumers in the last year alone.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, commented:

Today’s catastrophic price cap rise will force hundreds of thousands more households into fuel poverty from April.

The Government’s proposals for support will do little but offset or defer part of the most recent rise.

The reality is that fuel poverty has been increasing at an exponential rate and only a full package to support people – especially the most vulnerable – will be sufficient in the short term.

Longer term, the Government must come good on its promises to help transform housing into safe, warm, energy efficient homes.

Juliet Phillips, Senior Policy Advisor at E3G:

The UK’s exposure to volatile gas markets is fuelling a cost-of-living crisis. While today’s announcements take some edge off the burn, further targeted support for the most vulnerable households is urgently needed to prevent catastrophic outcomes.

Furthermore, without a long-term plan to reduce demand for fossil gas, emergency measures can only act as a sticking plaster. We must also start now towards building a greener, fairer and resilient system as the only long-term solution for preventing future gas crises.

Reaction from other members of the Coalition will follow.

Image: Michael JP / Shutterstock

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.

Welcome for government energy efficiency measures

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition welcomes the government’s moves today to improve energy efficiency of people’s homes. We hope this is the first in a series of announcements that will help end fuel poverty in line with our submission to the Comprehensive Spending Review.

The increase in Energy Performance Certificates to level C for those in private rented accommodation is especially welcome. The next step will be to ensure local authorities enforce these new regulations.

Homeowners in England, including landlords, can get up to £5,000 to pay part of the cost of energy saving measures like insulation. Low income households can get 100% of the costs of work covered up to £10,000.

The scheme will help fund energy efficiency and low carbon heating measures in 600,000 households who could save up to £600 a year on energy bills. Installing energy efficient home improvements also cuts emissions, which is better for the environment. Tradespeople and businesses should make sure they’re eligible to carry out work under the scheme, which will support thousands of green jobs.

More information is available online: https://greenhomesgrant.campaign.gov.uk/

 

One in three British households are already concerned about the health impacts of living in a cold home this winter. And should a second wave of Covid-19 hit during cold weather, the impact could be catastrophic for individuals and our health services.

As a result, the Coalition has urged the Government to commit to five main spending priorities:

1) Rapid roll-out of large-scale energy efficiency programmes

2) Urgent delivery of government promises on tackling fuel poverty

3) This unprecedented level of investment needs to be coupled with large scale training programmes

4) Immediate steps to improve energy standards in the private rented sector

5) Fuel Poverty Debt Relief to ensure fewer people will have to choose between heating and eating this winter

Coalition reveals five priorities for the Comprehensive Spending Review

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition has called on the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review to solve a problem that has plagued the country for generations.

The submission sets out how fuel poverty could be all but eradicated within the lifetime of this Parliament.

Evidence from Public Health England shows that fuel poverty puts households more at risk from the worst effects of Covid-19.

Therefore, ending fuel poverty is now an urgent public health priority, which can only be solved through economic measures.

The benefits of ending fuel poverty include a faster transition to a just net zero, the levelling up of the economy and a green stimulus to aid the recovery from lockdown.

On the other hand, with energy use rising as people stay at home more and the predicted income squeeze, it is estimated that the numbers in fuel poverty could soar by 200,000. The recent National Energy Action / Energy Action Scotland monitor revealed a significant hardship for fuel poor households in the coming winter, as a potent combination of higher energy use resulting from staying at home for longer is mixed with reductions in income.

One in three British households are already concerned about the health impacts of living in a cold home this winter. And should a second wave of Covid-19 hit during cold weather, the impact could be catastrophic for individuals and our health services.

As a result, the Coalition urges the Government to commit to five main spending priorities:

1) Rapid roll-out of large-scale energy efficiency programmes

2) Urgent delivery of government promises on tackling fuel poverty

3) This unprecedented level of investment needs to be coupled with large scale training programmes

4) Immediate steps to improve energy standards in the private rented sector

5) Fuel Poverty Debt Relief to ensure fewer people will have to choose between heating and eating this winter

The full submission can be read online: https://www.endfuelpoverty.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/End-Fuel-Poverty-Coalition-CSR-Submission-FINAL.pdf

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/

Coalition responds to Committee on Fuel Poverty Interim Report

The Committee on Fuel Poverty has announced its decision to delay its annual report until after the Government has completed its review of the Fuel Poverty Strategy.

It has issued an interim report given that the Government’s first strategic fuel poverty milestone is due in 2020 and recent commitments to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

Commenting on the report, a spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition commented:

The Committee on Fuel Poverty interim report is clear that without more investment, the government will miss its targets for both fuel poverty and net zero.
The Chancellor needs to take bold and decisive action in the planned Budget on 6 November to ensure that tackling fuel poverty is set out as a national infrastructure priority with the funding to match.
Vital funding will include £1.1bn to fund a nationwide Fuel Poverty Clean Growth Challenge Fund.

The Coalition previously set out the steps Government needs to take to end fuel poverty in its response to the Fuel Poverty Strategy review.

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.