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Local stories – Energy Efficiency in Wells constituency

A new report by the Association for the Conservation of Energy has shone a spotlight on the energy performance of homes in the Wells constituency.  The report, which has been welcomed by local MP James Heappey and by Warmer Improved Somerset Homes (WISH), a local front-line scheme delivering warmer homes, shows how tens of thousands of local residents have benefited in recent years from proper insulation and efficient boilers, making their homes more affordable to heat and safer to live in. But the report also highlights that residents in Mid-Somerset have seen half as many improvements per household from recent schemes when compared to the national average. It goes on to identify the huge untapped potential for delivering to the remaining residents the benefits their neighbours have seen.

Residents in the Wells constituency have to spend a staggering £72 million on their fuel bills each year. Over recent years national schemes – working hand in hand with dedicated local businesses and charities – have helped offset this by insulating 9,000 lofts and 7,000 cavity walls, while 11,000 efficient boilers have been installed. This has benefited local people in a whole range of ways – combating the health problems associated with cold homes, creating skilled local jobs and diverting money previously spent on fuel bills into local shops and businesses.

But much more remains to be done, the report says.  Around 4,000 homes in the area are so poorly insulated they are in urgent need of upgrades. Some of those will belong to poorer households who struggle to meet the cost of their bills. The Government recently wound down some of the energy efficiency schemes introduced in the last Parliament meaning that public funding for these measures is harder to access.

Article in Weston, Worle & Somerset Mercury, February 4, 2016

Lisa Evans, Programme Manager of Warmer Improved Somerset Homes (WISH), said: “Our scheme is a one-stop shop for energy efficiency advice and we’ve helped over 1,000 households in the two years the scheme has been running. But reductions in funding mean we now struggle to take on more cases. I welcome this report, which highlights the massive benefits to local residents of home upgrades and shows how more of the same could cut bills and improve residents’ health and well-being.”

Wells MP and Energy Select Committee member James Heappey added:

“This report is a very welcome and useful snapshot of the energy efficiency of housing stock in the constituency. I commend local installers and scheme managers who’ve done so much over recent years to help my constituents live in warmer, healthier homes. There are clear benefits in making your home more energy efficient and these benefits extend well beyond simply saving money from your bills.”

“The Government is right to review energy efficiency policy as too much of the money was going in to the insulation of homes whose owners could have afforded to do it themselves and too little was going towards the homes of those who were in fuel poverty. The Energy Select Committee has had a good look at this area of policy and I look forward to working with the Government, the Association for the Conservation of Energy and local practitioners to ensure that new policy targets the fuel poor and allows many more of them to benefit.”

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Energy Bill Revolution,Energy Efficiency,Europe,Fuel Poverty

Still the Cold Man of Europe – briefing

This briefing compares the state of the UK housing stock and fuel poverty levels with 15 other European countries. It concludes that no other country of the 16 assessed performed as poorly overall as the UK across the range of indicators. The UK has among the highest rates of fuel poverty and one of the most energy inefficient housing stocks in Europe.

  • Despite the fact that it has amongst the lowest energy prices, the UK ranks very poorly in terms of the affordability of space heating and fuel poverty, ranking 14th out of 16 on both indicators.
  • It is the poor state of our housing stock that is the main cause of these problems. In terms of households reporting that their home is in a poor state of repair, the UK ranks 12th out of 16.
  • In terms of energy efficiency, out of 11 countries for which data is available, the UK’s walls are ranked 7th, roofs are ranked 8th, floors are ranked 10th and windows are ranked 11th.

The key results are shown in the table below. The latest official European data are used for this briefing, and the UK’s performance compared to our previous assessment two years ago.
Added to this year’s update is an analysis of the homes that seem to be dragging the UK’s rankings down. There are 26 million households in the UK and 21 million with a poor level of energy efficiency (Band D, E, F and G on an Energy Performance Certificate). The energy efficiency of all these homes has to be raised. The average energy efficiency of a UK home is Band D which is not high enough to protect households from fuel poverty.

Indicator 2011 (previous assessment) 2013 (this briefing)
Affordability of space heating 14/15 16/16
Arrears on utility bills in the last 12 months 9/16 14/16
Level of fuel poverty 13/16 14/16
Homes in poor state of repair 12/16 12/16
Thermal performance of…
Walls 6/8 7/11
Roof n/a 8/11
Floor n/a 10/11
Windows n/a 11/11

The least energy efficient homes in England

In this report we use the latest English Housing Survey to analyse those homes in England that are least energy efficient, with a worse than average energy rating (worse than D on the A to G scale). In England, approximately one third of homes – 6.6 million – are rated E, F or G.

The average required energy expenditure across the housing stock is £1,210. In E-rated homes, it is £1,640, in F-rated homes, it is £2,140, and in G-rated homes, it is £2,670, over twice the national average. Using Energy Performance Certificate data for England up to October 2012, the English constituencies with the highest proportions of E, F and G-rated properties are shown below. A full list of English constituencies and how they perform is available in the report.

Parliamentary constituency Share of home rated E, F or G MP Party
St Ives 50.4% Derek Thomas Conservative
Southend West 47.6% David Amess Conservative
Derbyshire Dales 44.8% Patrick McLoughlin Conservative
Ludlow 42.9% Philip Dunne Conservative
West Worcestershire 42.7% Harriett Baldwin Conservative
North Cornwall 42.3% Scott Mann Conservative
Birmingham, Hall Green 42.2% Roger Godsiff Labour
Croydon South 42.1% Chris Philp Conservative
Penrith and The Border 41.9% Rory Stewart Conservative
Southport 41.8% John Pugh Liberal Democrats

Our housing is infrastructure and the UK’s is in a very poor condition, resulting in high levels of fuel poverty and unaffordable energy bills. The solution to this crisis is for the UK Government to designate home energy efficiency as an infrastructure priority and use infrastructure funds to deliver the stable, long-term investment needed to implement a locally-led infrastructure programme to upgrade all UK homes up to Band C on an Energy Performance Certificate.

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

‘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.

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

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.

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energy debt,Families,Fuel Poverty

Exposing the damaging impact of energy debt on children

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.

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Families,Fuel Poverty,local area delivery

Reaching Fuel Poor Families: Final reports published

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.

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Fuel Poverty

Comments on DECC’s draft fuel poverty strategy for England

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.

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Energy Advice Tool,Renewable Energy,Renewable Heat Incentive

Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive calculator

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.

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Carbon Emissions Reduction Target,CESP,Energy Company Obligation,Energy Efficiency Commitment,Fuel Poverty,Green Deal,Warm Front Scheme

ECO and the Green Deal – not enough is not enough

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:


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BIS,Building Regulations,Cabinet Office,DECC,Housing,supplier obligation

Review of energy efficiency policies in housing

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:


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