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New fuel poverty strategy for England doesn’t really cut it

The Government has today published its new fuel poverty strategy for England. While welcoming the intention to bring the homes of the fuel poor up to a high energy efficiency standard, we believe the target date of 2030 is far too long to wait. We also believe that all low income households – not just those that are fuel poor today – should be improved.

It is cost-effective and practicable to improve the homes of all 6 million low income households to a C energy rating by 2025 – with 2m improved to this level by 2020. If we just focus on fuel poor households, other low income households will simply drop into fuel poverty if their circumstances change negatively or fuel prices rise.

Finally, we are worried about the caveat that households will only be improved ‘as far as reasonably practicable’. This should be removed or at the very least tightly defined to ensure that it cannot be used by future Governments as an excuse for failing to implement the strategy. While there may occasionally be circumstances in which reaching the target is impossible or prohibitively expensive, a blanket caveat is simply a recipe for delay and inaction.

We raised all of these concerns when the Government published and consulted on its draft strategy last year. We are disappointed that our concerns, shared by countless others in the NGO and academic communities, have been ignored.

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Energy Bill Revolution,Energy Company Obligation,Fuel Poverty

Government betrays Britain’s fuel poor

  • Political spin a ‘cover up’ for 80% decrease in help to make  cold homes more energy efficient
  • 4 million poor families left out in the cold with no support in next decade
  • Energy Bill Revolution demands that the next Government makes home energy efficiency the UK’s priority infrastructure spending priority

February 3, 2015 (London): Inefficient and unambitious Government programmes have resulted in a dramatic 80% decrease in help available for those with freezing homes.

Fuel poor households will  be some of the worst hit, with the number of major energy efficiency delivered dropping from 112,000 in the winter of 2011/12 to a mere 22,000 this winter, a new report has revealed.  The big drop occurred after the introduction of two new energy efficiency programmes, the Green Deal and the Energy Company Obligation.

The research by the Association for the Conservation of Energy, commissioned by The Energy Bill Revolution, the world’s largest anti-fuel poverty campaign group found that, at current rates, less that 30% of 6 million poorly insulated low income homes will receive energy efficiency support in the next decade.

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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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excess winter deaths,Fuel Poverty

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ACE joins call on Chancellor for emergency fuel poverty funding

ACE has today joined other charities, fuel poverty groups and industry in calling on the Chancellor to take immediate action by announcing additional ‘emergency’ funding for heating and insulation measures in the Autumn Statement on 3rd December. The funds would help reduce the thousands of vulnerable people who would otherwise die of cold related illnesses this winter.

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Infrastructure

‘Building the Future’ hits the nail on the head

ACE today welcomed the publication of ‘Building the Future: the economic and fiscal impacts of making homes energy efficient‘.  This report, by Verco and Cambridge Econometrics for the Energy Bill Revolution, sets out clearly how making our homes more energy efficient is an infrastructure investment that delivers high Value for Money through reduced energy bills and NHS costs, increased tax revenue for the Government, higher employment, increases in company profits and carbon emissions reductions.

When the Prime Minister tried to justify the government’s decision to block a binding European energy efficiency target last week, he focused on the need to reduce carbon emissions ‘at the lowest possible cost for businesses and consumers‘ As demonstrated by the report, energy efficiency investment goes beyond the Prime Minister’s requirement and actually delivers net benefits for businesses (£15bn in cumulative, additional (discounted) profits to 2035, consumers (£8.6 billion per year) and the Government itself (£1.27 in tax revenue for every £1 invested).

Achieving the level of energy efficiency improvement modelled in the report will require policy action to invest on behalf of low income households and to support investment by able-to-pay households, and we urge Mr Cameron to honour his commitment to energy efficiency, and back up his commitment to carbon emissions reduction with the action needed to deliver it at net benefit to the UK.

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DECC,Fuel Poverty

ACE response to DECC consultation on a new fuel poverty ‘strategy’ for England

ACE has submitted a written response to the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s consultation on a new fuel poverty strategy for England. A strategy is widely held to encompass the following elements, elements which we would have hoped to see after four years of deliberation: identifying the nature and scale of the challenge at hand; setting goals to meet that challenge; laying out policies, programmes and actions to achieve those goals; and earmarking resources to execute the policies, programmes and actions. Instead, the consultation contained a series of important but ultimately small picture questions. In our response, we focused on answering big picture questions not posed in it.

In summary, the draft fuel poverty strategy proposes to set a target to ensure that as many fuel poor homes as is ‘reasonably practicable’ achieve a minimum standard of EPC Band C by 2030. ACE welcomes the Government’s recognition that setting a high standard for energy efficiency is the best long-term solution to tackling fuel poverty. However, we believe that all low income households – not just those that are fuel poor – should be targeted and that the Band C standard should be reached by 2025, not 2030. We also believe that the ‘reasonably practicable’ caveat should be removed or, at the very least, tightly defined so as to ensure that it cannot be used by future Governments as an excuse for failing to implement the Fuel Poverty Strategy. Finally, the interim targets of EPC Band E by 2020 and EPC Band D by 2025 should be removed, as it is far more efficient and effective to improve homes in one go straight to Band C, thus ‘fuel poverty proofing’ them and removing the necessity for expensive repeat visits.

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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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Fuel Poverty,Infrastructure,Investment,Labour,Private Rented Sector

Labour conference puts energy efficiency centre stage

ACE welcomes Shadow Secretary for Energy and Climate, Caroline Flint’s pledge at the Labour party conference today to ‘make energy saving a national infrastructure priority’.

We also welcome the commitment to require private rented accommodation to meet a decency standard by 2027: we urge the Labour party to ensure that this standard is set high enough (EPC band C) to deliver homes that are fit for purpose in a low energy, low carbon economy.

Delivering on the infrastructure priority promise requires investment: why then are Labour confining themselves only to a level of action that can be achieved ‘without spending any more money’?

A promise to make 200,000 homes warm every year is good – but not good enough: it could leave families living in dangerously cold homes for a further 30 years. The six million low income families living in homes that are too expensive to heat need real priority to be given to this investment. Using only a very small portion of the £45 billion invested in infrastructure each year would enable the level of action to be increased enormously. We therefore urge Labour to increase the ambition of their implementation plans to match the strength of their pledge.

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Carbon Budgets,Climate Change Targets,Employment,Energy Policy,Fuel Poverty

Energy efficiency investment will strengthen the UK economy

WWF today published a report from Cambridge Econometrics that sets out the value that reducing carbon emissions will bring to the UK economy. The action needed to meet the UK’s 4th carbon budget, which will include significant investment in energy efficiency, will deliver 190,000 additional jobs, make households better off financially, provide new business opportunities and result in a net increase in annual Government revenue of £5.7bn by 2030.

 
Average net benefits to households will come close to offsetting the impact of increasing energy prices. These benefits will not be felt equally however, and the report notes that government needs therefore to target support at exposed or vulnerable groups. That is why we – and our allies in the End Fuel Poverty Coalition – are calling for the homes of all low income households to be improved to Energy Performance Certificate Band C by 2025. Improving homes to this standard will result in dramatic improvements to both the energy bill affordability and quality of life of their occupants.

 
The energy efficiency benefits set out in the WWF report can only be realised, however, if investors are confident in the market for energy efficiency goods and services: a government commitment to making energy efficiency a top infrastructure priority is key to this, together with long-term, rigorously enforced regulation of the energy efficiency of buildings.

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Government’s fuel poverty plans are too little, too late

Today the Government published its long-awaited target for tackling fuel poverty1. The Association for the Conservation of Energy welcomes the recognition that upgrading the energy efficiency of our homes is the only long-term solution to fuel poverty. However, the Government’s target to bring all fuel poor homes up to Energy Performance Band C by 2030 leaves far too many vulnerable households waiting far too long for the help they need to bring their fuel bills down.
Jenny Holland, Head of ACE’s Parliamentary Team, said:

“We have long said that the only way to tackle fuel poverty at the scale required is to start by bringing all low income households up to EPC Band C by 2025. There should also be a longer term target to bring all low income households up to the standard of homes built today2 by 2030. But today the Government has said that it will wait till 2030 to enforce the Band C target, condemning our most vulnerable households to live in cold, unhealthy homes for much longer than necessary.

“In England today there are around 4.5 million households on low incomes who live in homes below Band C. By setting a target only for the 2.3 million deemed to be in fuel poverty, the Government is ignoring over 2 million households who are still far too poor to afford a Green Deal loan to upgrade their home.

“We are also concerned that having an interim target of Band E by 2020 means that action to retrofit homes to a high level of energy efficiency will not happen till well into the 2020s. We shouldn’t be installing single measures when we could be doing major upgrades all in one visit.

“Finally, we are very worried to read that the Government are only committing themselves to these targets ‘as far as reasonably practicable’. This is the get-out they used to wriggle out of their original legal duty to eradicate fuel poverty by 2016. Effectively it means that they only have to make a case that Government finances are tight to be able to wriggle out of their new target too.

“In responding to the consultation on the target, we will be urging the Government to go further, sooner and to make it clear that tackling the cold, leaky homes of our most vulnerable households is a top priority both now and in the future.”

For more information, contact: Jenny Holland, jenny@ukace.org, 07875 629781

Notes for editors:

  1. The link to the Government’s announcement is here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/cutting-the-cost-of-keeping-warm-to-tackle-fuel-poverty
  2. The standard of a new home built today is Energy Performance Certificate Band B.

 

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