HVP’s Tom Hogarth examines the EUA’s new Fuel Poverty Report, which hopes to offer solutions for tackling fuel poverty in the UK.
Fuel poverty is simultaneously one of the UK’s most severe and distressing issues, and one of its most overlooked. If you were to tell a member of the public that it is estimated that an elderly person dies every seven minutes in the UK during the winter months (according to ONS figures), many due to lack of heating, there is little doubt they would be surprised.
In fact, despite many measures introduced by the government to combat fuel poverty over the years, such as the Energy Company Obligation (ECO), the problem only seems to be getting worse. England currently has one of the highest rates of fuel poverty in Europe, which demonstrates that this is an issue that needs to be addressed urgently.
The Energy & Utilities Alliance (EUA) has released a report, titled Fuel Poverty: Ending the vicious cycle of vulnerability, which it hopes can drive home just how critical this issue is to those able to make the necessary changes, as well as offer some practical solutions.
Launching the report, Mike Foster, Chief Executive of the Energy and Utilities Alliance, said: “It is clear that, despite policies being introduced and mechanisms put in place, fuel poverty remains a devastating reality for around four million households living in the United Kingdom who find themselves struggling to heat their homes.
“We have heard shocking anecdotes of people self-disconnecting, facing the ‘heat or eat’ dilemma, or experiencing mental health problems or severe isolation as a result of their fuel poor status from organisations working on the ground.”
The EUA’s report boils down to five key suggestions: legislating the private rented sector to ensure landlords are not contributing to the problem; ‘refocusing’ the ECO to allow for increased and easier boiler replacements; encouraging of data sharing between industry and government organisations, and the formation of a ‘joint task force’ on fuel poverty within government; facilitating connections to the gas grid for off-grid households; and prioritising and investing in energy efficiency of housing in the UK.
The ECO, alongside a budget reduction in March 2016 by 40%, has had a significant shift in focus away from boiler replacements, which the EUA says is a terrible mistake.
While many homeowners suffering from fuel poverty are unable to afford a boiler replacement if their current heating system is out of operation, those with functioning but extremely inefficient boilers are also in a terrible position, where heating costs far too much to be affordable.
The EUA recommends that the government not only restore the ECO to focus on boiler replacements, but also introduce a new boiler scrappage scheme nationally. The association also urges a focus on replacing non-condensing boilers, as well as encouraging domestic energy efficiency in the UK to be prioritised.
The private rented sector presents a particular problem for fuel poverty, due to lack of regulation, or onus placed on landlords to be responsible for tenants’ wellbeing. The EUA says that landlords should be mandated to improve the energy efficiency of their properties, and take sufficient steps to minimise the risk of fuel poverty to their tenants, as well as safeguarding tenants against further risk through inflated rent.
Falling in line with current recommendations to extend connections to the gas grid ahead of, or in-line with, a decarbonisation of the grid, the EUA recommends that rural off-grid homes could benefit in a big way from being connected. Off-grid homes are currently much more likely to suffer from fuel poverty, and the report estimates that this could save houses an average of £922 per year on bills.
With recommendations and policies that cover a wide range of areas, the EUA says it makes sense to form a joint unit for fuel poverty, to combine resources and expertise from government departments and industry organisations, including the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Department for Health, the EUA, and more.
This would ideally lead to greater clarity on the issues at hand with shared data, as well as a faster-acting and more focused change to existing policy.
Mike added: “Fuel poverty is a complex issue, and our report suggests a range of proposals that can combat it. There needs to be an urgency among policy makers, in order to tackle endemic fuel poverty; this really is a life or death scenario.”
To view the full report, head to goo.gl/PcXavv.