Closer to home – devolving delivery of energy efficiency and fuel poverty services

Written by Pedro Guertler on . Posted in ACE Research, Projects

closertohomemap

‘Closer to home’ presents the results of a study commissioned by Citizens Advice to investigate national models for locally-led delivery of energy efficiency and fuel poverty services. Led by the Association for the Conservation of Energy with support from CAG Consultants, the Centre for Sustainable Energy and Dr Joanne Wade, the research comprised in-depth interviews with 40 expert stakeholders, five workshops and a survey of 70 local authorities – to develop proposals for a framework to govern greater locally-led delivery.

Introductory blog by William Baker, Head of Fuel Poverty Policy at Citizens Advice, accompanying the publication of ‘Closer to home':

The referendum for Scottish independence has sparked debate over the devolution of central government powers to local government in England. The current government has announced plans to devolve a range of powers to Greater Manchester, other city regions and some county councils covering rural areas. It is a debate Citizens Advice is well placed to comment on. Day in, day out bureaux work with local councils, health providers, social and private landlords and many others to address the problems our clients encounter. Many of these problems could be dealt with more effectively with greater autonomy for councils and other local agencies.

There are good reasons why 79 per cent of people trust local leaders to make the right decision at a local level. Greater local control enables more innovation, an increased sense of ownership and better management. The delivery of energy efficiency and fuel poverty services is a case in point. We have long argued that the current almost complete reliance on fuel companies in England to deliver energy efficiency measures to the fuel poor is not working. It is not reaching the most vulnerable or the worst housing, not providing the major home improvements many of the fuel poor desperately need and not linking up with the other services, such as benefits or debt advice, people on low incomes also require. Furthermore, it is failing to realise local opportunities to lever in additional resources to address the problem, such as public health and regeneration funds.

In 2012, we commissioned the IPPR to explore how the delivery of energy efficiency might be improved. The report of their research, Help to heat, proposed transferring responsibility for delivering energy efficiency from fuel companies to local agencies, alongside other reforms to the current Energy Company Obligation (ECO) and Green Deal initiatives. We thought there was much merit in IPPR’s proposals. We therefore commissioned a further study by a consortium – led by ACE Research with the Centre for Sustainable Energy and CAG Consultants – to provide more detail as to how a local delivery model for fuel poverty and energy efficiency services might work.

The report of the research, Closer to home, has now been published. The extensive research programme involved interviews with local authorities, fuel companies, housing associations, academics, national and community NGOs and many others. It involved a survey of councils throughout England, Scotland and Wales and the holding of five regional/devolved nation workshops and a final policy workshop to test emerging ideas.

The central recommendation of the report is that the UK government should give local authorities in England responsibility, through a statutory duty, for overseeing the delivery of energy efficiency improvements to low income households. This is the system that essentially already exists in Scotland, although councils there face a constant challenge of trying to make fuel company ECO programmes and their own programmes work together.

Closer to home recommends funding the programme through a levy on consumers’ energy bills. Funding out of public expenditure would be fairer but is seen as unlikely given the government’s priority to reduce the national budget deficit. However, consumers should not notice any difference to their energy bills since the report proposes the levy would either partially or fully replace the ECO, estimated to add £30 per year to the average household bill.

The UK government should allocate proceeds from the levy to England, Scotland and Wales on a proportionate basis. The Scottish and Welsh governments would take responsibility for distributing their share of the funds – this should be relatively straightforward given that they already have systems in place for local delivery. In England, the UK government should allocate funds to local authorities according to need, while introducing a small competitive fund open to all local organisations to encourage innovation and improved practice. It should also set up a national support programme for households that might miss out from local schemes, as a safety net.

Finally the report proposes the UK government appoints an existing national body to oversee the new arrangements in England, check progress, monitor compliance and provide support. It should also encourage and provide guidance on how councils might lever in funds from other sources, such as public health and regeneration, and link in with other local services, such as advice.

We think the report’s proposals have many merits. There are a range of issues that still need addressing, not least local authority procurement procedures. However, we also know that some of the most innovative and far-reaching fuel poverty projects are those emerging from local initiatives. They just need a national framework and resources to realise their full potential and replication across the country. And with the current ECO programme due to end in 2017, now is the time to start looking at alternative or at least mixed supplier/local delivery arrangements.

The government sees housing as one of the key areas in which councils should have new powers under its embryonic devolution proposals. Matching supply and demand and addressing affordability are likely to be central concerns. However, the affordability of fuel, the urgent need to address the ‘cold homes’ crisis and the central role of energy efficiency in tackling the crisis should also form part of these concerns. We urge the government to work with us, councils and other stakeholders to come up with workable solutions.

‘Chilled to death': the human cost of cold homes

Written by Sarah Royston on . Posted in ACE Research, Energy Efficiency as Infrastructure, Projects

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New research by ACE for the Energy Bill Revolution campaign has found that in the last five years, 46,700 people in the UK have died due to living in a cold home.

Our research used official data on Excess Winter Deaths.  This is an assessment of how many more people die in the winter than at other times of year. These deaths are primarily due to illnesses brought on by the cold.  It is estimated by the World Health Organisation that 30% of Excess Winter Deaths are due to people living in cold homes.

We found that since the coalition Government came to power in 2010:

  • 155,720 Excess Winter Deaths have occurred in the UK over the last five winters
  • Around 46,700 of these deaths in the last five winters are due to people living in cold homes
  • This winter will have seen the highest rate of Excess Winter Deaths and cold home deaths in the last five years. We estimate that there will have been 46,100 Excess Winter Deaths this winter, of which around 13,800 are due to people living in cold homes.
  • The average number of Excess Winter Deaths over the previous five years is 27,830, of which around 8,350 are due to cold homes. So this winter has seen an increase in Excess Winter Deaths of 66% above the average.

In 2013, in England and Wales, cold homes killed over four times as many people as road and rail accidents; nearly four times as many people as drug misuse; and about as many people as alcohol.

Cold housing is one of a number of important issues for public health and safety.  Focusing more resources on tackling this crisis does not mean taking resources away from tackling other health problems, such as those mentioned here.  In fact it may free up resources to address them.

Cold home deaths can be prevented by improving the energy efficiency of the UK’s draughty, leaky housing stock.  The UK Treasury has plans to spend £100 billion of public money on infrastructure over the course of the next Parliament.  Investing just 3% of this budget in making homes highly energy efficient, alongside existing energy efficiency budgets, can bring two million UK low income homes up to a high standard of energy efficiency (EPC Band C) by 2020. The Energy Bill Revolution is calling for all six million low income homes to be brought up to this standard by 2025.

Exposing the damaging impact of energy debt on children

Written by Sarah Royston on . Posted in ACE Research, Energy Efficiency as Infrastructure, Projects

childrens-society_show-some-warmth

ACE Research have been working with The Children’s Society to investigate the problem of energy debt for families.  Our research found that almost a million children are living in families in energy debt in the UK, and too often energy companies are not following their legal obligations to help these families.

Our new report, ‘Show Some Warmth: Exposing the damaging impact of energy debt on children’  reveals that four in 10 UK families with dependent children who faced energy debts felt intimidated by their energy company.  Nearly half (48%) of these families reported that they were not treated with respect or given the support they needed.  The impacts of energy debt can be severe; children in families that have faced this type of debt are significantly more likely to become ill in winter. Four in ten children in these families said they had trouble sleeping because their bedroom was too cold, while over half of parents in debt on their energy bills suffer from stress, anxiety or depression.

Energy companies are legally required to make sure they assess how much families can realistically afford to repay. They are also required to make it easy for customers to raise concerns, but too often this is not happening. The report highlights how all companies have good and bad energy debt practices, but no energy company is taking all the steps they should to protect children from the damaging effects of debt. The report calls on the Government to change the law so energy companies treat families with children as vulnerable customers, and to invest in energy efficiency improvements for low-income families.

Energy companies need to negotiate affordable debt repayment plans, including lowering or suspending debt repayments over the winter, when children’s health is most at risk. They also need to review staff training procedures, targets and call scripts so a flexible approach is taken with families. Energy companies should also offer a free helpline that customers can call from a mobile phone to raise concerns.

The report coincides with the launch of The Children’s Society’s Show Some Warmth campaign, which is part of its ongoing Debt Trap campaign.

Update: In spring 2015 we have been liaising closely with Ofgem, who are keen to take on board these findings and ensure vulnerable families get the support they need.  Among other ongoing changes, Ofgem have published an open letter regarding the Priority Services Register.  Drawing on our research, this states “We propose to add ‘families with children under 5’ as a “core” group eligible for the provision of safety services provided by network companies and are seeking views on this proposal.”  Comments can be submitted until 14 May 2015 to Bhavika Mithani: Bhavika.Mithani@ofgem.gov.uk.

Reaching Fuel Poor Families: Final reports published

Written by Sarah Royston on . Posted in ACE Research, Projects

Reaching Fuel Poor Families

ACE Research has completed the project “Reaching Fuel Poor Families”, which was conducted in partnership with The Children’s Society and funded by Eaga Charitable Trust.

There are currently around 2.23 million children, in 1.08 million families, in fuel poverty (close to half the total number of households, as newly defined) in England. Fuel poverty has severe and long-lasting effects, including on children’s respiratory problems, mental health, hospital admission rates, developmental status, educational attainment and emotional well-being, among other impacts.  For these reasons, take-up of fuel poverty assistance among families is a key concern for policy-makers, service providers and energy companies.

Community-based approaches using trusted intermediaries can be a cost-effective way to engage vulnerable households. One group of local intermediaries is Sure Start Children’s Centres. There are around 3,116 Children’s Centres in England, often located in low-income areas. Our analysis has shown that an estimated 77% of fuel poor families live within one mile of a Children’s Centre. This means these centres offer a potentially valuable opportunity for engaging families with fuel poverty support.

This research project reviewed a range of fuel poverty schemes aimed at families, especially those run through Children’s Centres.  It also involved an in-depth evaluation of one specific scheme based in Mortimer House Children’s Centre, a centre in Bradford run by The Children’s Society.  Findings show that Children’s Centres can play a significant role in engaging fuel poor families, especially if schemes are long-term and work in partnership with other local organisations.  Based on this research, we make recommendations for how local authorities, government, energy companies and the third sector can support engagement with fuel poor families through Children’s Centres.

Further details can be found in the Reaching Fuel Poor Families Research Report or the executive summary.  A separate report provides recommendations for the Mortimer House scheme, and aims to inform the development of this work and a potential roll-out to other centres.

We have also produced a short policy briefing, and a delivery guide aimed at those in Local Authorities and other organisations who wish to provide fuel poverty assistance to families.

Comments on DECC’s draft fuel poverty strategy for England

Written by Pedro Guertler on . Posted in ACE Research, Energy Efficiency as Infrastructure, Projects

fuelpoverty

In the summer of 2014, DECC published a draft fuel poverty strategy for England. This draft strategy states that to effectively combat fuel poverty, fuel poor homes should be brought up to an energy efficiency standard of EPC Band C and a target set accordingly. Setting a high standard for energy efficiency is the correct approach because although it is vital that fuel poor households receive immediate financial support to help them pay their energy bills, it is widely recognised by fuel poverty experts that the only long term solution to fuel poverty is to make homes highly energy efficient.

However, the draft strategy has some very serious flaws. We have prepared a briefing outlining these flaws and setting out what the objectives of the fuel poverty strategy should be. If you are responding to DECC’s consultation on this, feel free to use the briefing to inform your response.

Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive calculator

Written by Jack Carrington on . Posted in ACE Research, Home Energy Advice Tool, Projects

System selectrion screen

ACE Research, in partnership with the Energy Saving Trust and Solstice Associates developed a Renewable Heat Incentive calculator for DECC and the Scottish Government. The tool was designed to provide a reliable estimate of the domestic RHI payments for biomass systems, ground and air source heat pumps and solar thermal systems.

ECO and the Green Deal – not enough is not enough

Written by Pedro Guertler on . Posted in ACE Research, Projects

Historical insulation

Today ACE and the Energy Bill Revolution publish a set of slides and a briefing which assess the impact of the Government’s current energy efficiency policies and compare them against past performance and what needs to happen to effectively tackle fuel poverty and meet the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change.

We find that the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) and the Green Deal represent a significant loss of momentum in the deployment of energy efficiency measures compared to previous energy efficiency programmes, especially when considering the large energy efficiency potential still available in the housing stock.

The recent cuts proposed to the ECO are exacerbating this loss of momentum, and the introduction of the Green Deal Home Improvement Fund is not enough to turn it around. This means that carbon targets recommended by the Committee on Climate Change will be missed and that fuel poverty will worsen.

We are calling for:

 

Review of energy efficiency policies in housing

Written by Pedro Guertler on . Posted in ACE Research, Projects

GCB620 dashboard

Commissioned by the Green Construction Board’s Valuation & Demand Group, ACE Research, in partnership with Sweett Group, has delivered a comprehensive but high level qualitative and quantitative review of energy policies targeted at residential buildings over the last 20 years. Throughout, the work was informed and guided by stakeholders in government, industry and the NGO sector.

The main purpose of the work is to support the civil service to maintain a long view on ‘what works’ in residential energy efficiency programmes as staff are turned over. The outputs have been brought together in an interactive dashboard designed as a tool to bring officials up to speed on residential energy efficiency programmes quickly. This is accompanied by a full report and an executive summary. To date, the tool has been presented to, and tested with, DECC, BIS, the Cabinet Office.

Download the project’s resources below, and let us know what you think:

 

Reaching fuel poor families

Written by Sarah Royston on . Posted in ACE Research, Projects

TCS

TCSFamilies in fuel poverty are an important policy issue.  ACE research has shown that there are currently 2.23 million children, in 1.08 million families, in fuel poverty (close to half the total number of households, as newly defined) in England. Fuel poverty has severe and long-lasting effects, including on children’s respiratory problems, mental health, hospital admission rates, developmental status, educational attainment and emotional well-being, among other impacts.

Last year, ACE estimated that only 2.9% of energy assistance budgets would reach fuel poor families.  The recent “Behind Cold Doors” report by The Children’s Society showed that 1.9 million children living in poverty in the UK were in families that missed out on a Warm Home Discount (a key form of fuel poverty assistance) in 2013/14. For these reasons, take-up of fuel poverty assistance among families is a key concern for policy-makers, service providers and energy companies.

In this context, Eaga Charitable Trust is funding The Children’s Society and the Association for the Conservation of Energy to carry out the project “Reaching fuel poor families: Informing new approaches to promoting take-up of fuel poverty assistance among families with children”.  This research will review a range of fuel poverty schemes aimed at families, especially those run through Children’s Centres.  It will also involve an in-depth evaluation of one specific scheme based in Mortimer House Children’s Centre, a centre in Bradford run by The Children’s Society.

The project will provide recommendations for this specific scheme, and inform a potential roll-out to other centres.  It will also draw lessons of broader relevance to fuel poverty schemes aimed at families, to help in the design and delivery of effective programmes in future.

“Dragon-breath and snow-melt”: New article on know-how for keeping warm

Written by Sarah Royston on . Posted in Projects

ERSS

What skills and know-how do people use to keep warm at home?  Where does this knowledge come from?  These questions are addressed in a new article by ACE researcher Sarah Royston, published in the journal Energy Research and Social Science.

Keeping warm at home means managing heat flows – making sure that heat is where it is needed, when it is needed.  In doing this, we interact with a wide range of objects, appliances and building features, from long-johns to loft insulation, and from hair-dryers to heat pumps.

Managing heat flows is something we do almost all the time, often without thinking much about it (by opening a window, or putting on a jumper, for example).  But many of the things we do to keep warm involve some kind of practical knowledge or know-how.  For example, we might know how to adjust the settings on a storage heater, programme the central heating,  or light a fire.  Equally we might know how to find and block draughts, or fashion an improvised bed-warmer from an old sock filled with rice.

This article explores the many kinds of know-how involved in keeping homes warm, and how these are learned through experience.  The senses are important here – for example, we might use visible “dragon breath” as an indicator of cold.  The article also looks at how changes such as moving house or having children can affect know-how, and reflects on what these ideas might mean for research, policy and practice on sustainable energy use.

You can read the full article (currently free) here.

ACE's Seven Energy Efficiency Asks for the 2015-2020 Parliament
  1. A new Energy White Paper (#energywhitepaper)newlogo (large)
  2. Buildings energy efficiency as infrastructure investment (#infrastructureinvestment)
  3. The public sector must take a leadership role (#leadbyexample)
  4. Zero Carbon standard for new homes and commercial buildings (#zerocarbon)
  5. Minimum energy efficiency standards for existing buildings (#minimumstandards)
  6. Incentives for energy efficiency retrofits (#retrofitincentives)
  7. Improving access to finance for energy efficiency measures (#accesstofinance)

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