Winter energy crisis inevitable warn MPs

MPs on the House of Commons Energy Security Committee have warned that another winter energy crisis is “inevitable” without further Government support for households.

The cross-party Committee took evidence from organisations, including the End Fuel Poverty Coalition members, energy firms and regulators. The final report acknowledges that more support for energy bills will be needed this winter.

End Fuel Poverty Coalition members put forward examples of dangerous behaviour that households resorted to in order to try and keep bills down last winter. But despite the Government help for households last winter, almost 5,000 excess winter deaths were caused by living in cold damp homes.

In its final report, the Committee recommended that the energy firms improve the customer service and the empathy shown to households this winter – as well as providing a priority crisis line for charities working with the most vulnerable.

MPs also suggested that the Government must take steps to get 2022 Energy Bills Support Scheme cash to households who missed out, extend the Warm Home Discount and reform cold weather payments. It also recommends radical overhaul of standing charges and the introduction of a social tariff for vulnerable households.

The coordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition was one of the experts called to give evidence to the Committee. They commented:

“This is a welcome report full of practical recommendations that could help avert the looming cold homes crisis this winter.

“We’re disappointed there is nothing specific in the report to help the millions of households in debt to their energy firms and who are running just to stand still with their payments. Frontline charities have recently backed proposals sent to ministers to introduce a “Help to Repay” scheme to tackle the growing mountain of energy debt.

“But the big elephant in the room is if the Government will listen to the eminently sensible suggestions from MPs and take urgent action to keep people warm this winter.”

Recently the End Fuel Poverty Coalition wrote to the new Secretary of State to issue a warning about the risks of the winter ahead and to offer additional suggestions to help tackle fuel poverty in the short and long term.

This week the Coalition, which is part of the Warm This Winter campaign, also joined more than 400 organisations to write to the Prime Minister asking the Government to think again about weakening of net zero policies which could cause lasting damage to the UK economy.

For poverty campaigners, the PM’s decision to rule out increased energy efficiency standards comes with serious implications. New Citizens Advice figures revealed that private renters wasted £1.1bn this year on energy that leaks out of their homes, with this figure now set to continue.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition said:

“There is a real-life cost to the PM’s posturing – especially for the millions of households who rent from a private landlord. Many will now face high bills and cold damp homes forever after being abandoned by the Government.

“Last winter, the health problems caused by living in cold homes mounted up. The Prime Minister and Energy Secretary should be focussed on providing help for households to survive this winter and improve their living conditions in the long run.

“We need the Government to double down on support for households, including improving energy efficiency and reforming electricity pricing markets to ensure customers can enjoy the advantages of more affordable renewable electricity.”

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