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Ofgem today announced a package of measures designed to bring down fuel bills for people on pre-payment meters and on expensive out-of-date tariffs.
So what’s the deal? (more…)
Fuel poverty research presented to Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change by Mari Martiskainen
2.35 million households in England living in poor quality, energy inefficient housing have to decide each winter whether to ‘eat or heat’. They live in cold homes because they can’t afford to pay their fuel bills and then suffer from respiratory illnesses which have long-term effects on their health and wellbeing, and sometimes fatal consequences. Last year, England and Wales experienced the highest number of ‘excess winter deaths’ in fifteen years, with 43,900 dying – 27% more than during the non-winter months.
It’s an urgent issue that needs solutions. A workshop on Community Solutions to Fuel Poverty was held on 13th May in Hastings – an area badly affected by fuel poverty – and was attended by a mix of stakeholders, including local government, community groups, academics, energy utilities, as well as the local MP, RT Hon Amber Rudd, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. The aim of the workshop was to bring together a range of expertise in fuel poverty work and present concrete policy recommendations to the Secretary of State.
Dr Brenda Boardman spoke about the challenges of identifying those who live in fuel poverty at the workshop, which was organised by non-profit organisation Energise Sussex Coast. Boardman, who envisaged the concept of fuel poverty 25 years ago while doing her PhD at SPRU, said many fuel poor are ‘hidden’. They might not want to seek help due to the stigma attached to being fuel poor or don’t know how to seek help, or they are ‘chaotic’ people who face a myriad of problems, of which fuel poverty is only one.
The Secretary of State said that “addressing climate change addresses fuel poverty”. Rudd said the government was working with The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to provide guidelines on how to deal with fuel poverty and highlighted the importance of working with local GPs and local councils, especially in focusing government funding on the most cost-effective way to help those living in fuel poverty.
I later asked the Secretary of State what the government was doing in order to better identify those who might be vulnerable to fuel poverty and Rudd responded that the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) was working with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to see if data sharing between the two departments was possible, although she provided no further details on whether and how that might be done. However, as Boardman previously highlighted, with 20% of those people living in fuel poverty not claiming any benefits, identifying the fuel poor via data on those receiving benefits would mean that some people wouldn’t be identified and reached.
One of the issues discussed widely in the workshop was the private rented sector and how, despite landlords’ obligation to pay for energy efficiency measures, many tenants end up living in very poor housing conditions.
A key policy recommendation made to the Secretary of State was the need to invest in better quality, energy efficient housing across all housing tenures, including owner-occupied as well as the private and social rented sectors. An area-based, street-by-street approach was suggested to address the energy efficiency of housing.
Rudd said that the government was continuing to work with landlords on addressing the issue. The Secretary of State also stressed that any energy efficiency works undertaken in people’s homes should be to a good standard. She also said that the government’s review by Dr Peter Bonfield on consumer advice, protection, standards and enforcement for energy efficiency and renewable energy was due to report soon, with details on how these standards would potentially be enforced.
At present funding, albeit limited, is channeled to fuel poverty work via energy utilities in the form of the Energy Company Obligation. However attendees at the workshop thought that local authorities would be better placed to deal with fuel poverty. This would also help to frame fuel poverty not just as an energy, or carbon issue, but also a social and health issue. Enabling local authorities to work closer together with community groups and health authorities would provide a better targeted service to those faced with fuel poverty. This would, however, require on-going funding and data sharing between different authorities, which is a contested and difficult area to address.
Our research in this area could help. We found that community-led ‘energy shops’ could act as a triage service bringing together local authorities, community groups and the health service to assess the needs of each client and then refer them to other forms of intervention depending on needs.
It remains to be seen whether and how the final and formal policy recommendations from the workshop will be listened to. At the workshop the Secretary of State struggled to remember how many people the government had lifted out of fuel poverty. While this might have been a temporary oversight, the fact that energy efficiency does not feature prominently in Lord Adonis’ National Infrastructure Commission is not.
Much remains to be done. As Dr Mary Gillie from Energy Local pointed out, we are one of the wealthiest nations in the world and yet fuel poverty, which kills people every year, is allowed to persist.
Dr Mari Martiskainen is a Research Fellow at the Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand based at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU). Mari has worked on a range of research projects including topics such as building energy efficiency policies, innovation processes linked to community energy, influences on household energy consumption and the diffusion of small scale renewable energy technologies.
This blog was originally posted on The University of Sussex website.
National Energy Action and Energy Action Scotland recently published their Fuel Poverty Monitor, a “state of the nations” report on fuel poverty across the UK and in each individual country.
It doesn’t make for cheerful reading. Here’s a quote:
It’s National Fuel Poverty Awareness Day and in support of this SE2 have created this list of 13 interesting facts:
- Fuel poverty in England is measured by the Low Income High Costs definition, which considers a household to be in fuel poverty if ‘they have required fuel costs that are above average (the national median level) and were they to spend that amount they would be left with a residual income below the official poverty line’.
- Fuel Poverty Awareness Day is the national day of action, raising awareness of the problems faced by low-income households. The initiative, coordinated by National Energy Action (NEA), falls at the end of its winter Warm Homes Campaign. The Home Heat Helplinesupports the initiative and will be working closely with the NEA on future campaigns.
- The Committee on Climate Change’s Fifth Carbon Budgetoutlined that fuel poverty has risen to 4.5 million households (2013) from 3.3 million (2007) and suggests that even with fully funded targeted action it could take around 15 years to return to the position we were in eight years ago.
- According to a recent reportpublished by ACE, cold homes are currently a bigger killer across the UK than road and rail accidents, alcohol or drug abuse.
- There are around 4 million children living in fuel poverty in England according to a new reportpublished by the National Children’s Bureau.
- The latest Excess Winter Mortality in England and Wales statistical bulletin released by the Office for National Statistics states ‘an estimated 43,900 excess winter deaths occurred in England and Wales in 2014/15. The majority of deaths occurred among people aged 75 and over; there were an estimated 36,300 excess winter deaths in this age group in 2014/15, compared with 7,700 in people aged under 75’.
- Citizens Advice have launched a price comparison toolto help consumers compare prices from different energy suppliers. If you’re considering switching, you may find these guides useful from Birmingham Citizens Advice and Ofgem.
- New research reveals Newcastle and Glasgow are the warmest cities in the UK when it comes to being neighbourly, knowing on average five of their neighbours. Birmingham and London are the coldest, knowing an average of three people. These findings have been revealed as the Home Heat Helplinecalls on the nation to #SharetheWarmth, and think about whether a neighbour, friend or family member is at risk and could be eligible for support that will help them stay warm during Britain’s notoriously long winter.
- Fuel poverty affects residents even in more affluent areas. SE2have been working with the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea since 2008 to tackle this by promoting the Healthy Homes initiative. The Council’s Healthy Homes hotlinehelps people who are having difficulty keeping their homes warm or keeping up with their energy bills.
- On Fuel Poverty Awareness Day the Home Heat Helpline is urging people to call 0800 33 66 99 to see if they may be eligible for help with their energy bills.
- Are you a London home owner or an accredited private landlord? You could get £400 from the mayor to replace your old boiler from the London Boiler Cashback scheme.
- You could be entitled to £140 off your electricity bill with the Warm Home Discount Scheme.See our pdf here for details of which suppliers are providing the scheme.
- And finally, here are a list of some of the events taking place in support of National Fuel Poverty Awareness day:
- Do you want to make big savings on your energy bills?
- Do you have an old, inefficient boiler?
- Are you a London home owner or an accredited private landlord?
If the answer to all these questions is yes, you could receive £400 towards the cost of upgrading to a new, high efficiency boiler from the Mayor’s new London Boiler Cashback Scheme.
The scheme – which launched on 2 February 2016 – is first-come, first-served. It’s going to be very popular, so apply soon to avoid disappointment.
Liz was one of the team who set up the London Fuel Poverty Hub as a way of coordinating information, data and responses to fuel poverty across the capital. She’s worked extensively in energy efficiency, helping to inform national policy and alongside local authorities across the country to deliver local support and services.
The London Assembly Environment Committee recently published a short report full of useful information and insights for anyone working in fuel poverty or housing or supporting vulnerable people. It’s called Come Rain or Shine – London’s adaptation to the risks of severe weather and it’s well worth a read.
It looks at the potential impacts of a changing climate in relation to heat, cold, floods and drought. London already faces challenges from severe weather – many of you will remember the heatwave summers of the early 2000s (and some may remember 1976!) which had such a dramatic effect on health and wellbeing. And even an average winter presents significant health challenges to people living in cold homes, putting extra stresses in the health system.
Have a read – share the report – and feel free to tweet us @LDNFuelPoverty to let us know how you think London should respond to the challenges of a changing climate.
Our last few posts have looked at some of the bigger picture, policy-related issues around fuel poverty, but as we hit October and it starts to rain on a more regular basis, we thought it time to think about something more practical:
The Government published its Fuel Poverty Strategy Consultation on 21 July and it makes for interesting reading. There are new definitions, new targets, new demographics of those in fuel poverty – but no new programmes, yet… Our summary of the consultation document follows – peppered with things we like, things we question and a handful of things we’re really not sure about. Have a read and let us know what you think!