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Posts Tagged ‘Families’

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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Energy Policy,Families,Fuel Poverty

Reaching fuel poor families

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.

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Energy Bill Revolution,Energy Bills,Families,Fuel Poverty

Fact-file: Families and fuel poverty

It is widely recognised that fuel poverty has severe effects on some of the most vulnerable people in society. However, while attention has focussed on older people in fuel poverty, families and children have been relatively neglected.

Channel 4 © 2013

Channel 4 © 2013

Until now, the scale of the problem for families has been poorly understood. Some evidence comes from a Barnardo’s survey in which over 90 per cent of their staff said they worked with families in fuel debt. To pay their energy bills, many families were cutting back on essentials such as heating and food.

It is clear that fuel poverty can have severe and life-long effects on children. Studies show that long-term exposure to a cold home can affect weight gain in babies and young children, increase hospital admission rates for children and increase the severity and frequency of asthmatic symptoms. Children in cold homes are more than twice as likely to suffer from breathing problems, and those in damp and mouldy homes are up to three times more likely to suffer from coughing, wheezing and respiratory illness, compared to those with warm, dry homes.

What’s more, struggling with high energy bills can impact adversely on the mental health of family members. Fuel poverty may even affect children’s education, if health problems keep them off school, or a cold home means there is no warm, separate room to do their homework.

It is vital that we understand the problem of fuel poverty for parents and children, and that future policies provide the support that these vulnerable families urgently need. This fact-file, prepared with the support of the Energy Bill Revolution, Barnado’s and Save the Children, provides a snapshot of families and (dependent) children in fuel poverty at the start of this year. It provides high-level estimates for the UK, England and the Devolved Nations. It then goes on to explore the nature and composition of fuel poverty amongst families and children, specifically in England. The fact-file and other resources can be downloaded below.

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