A new fuel poverty strategy

A thermal image of a house

The fuel poverty strategy of 2001 (‘to eradicate fuel poverty by 2016’) has patently failed. A new one is promised in the current Energy Bill, which is completing its Parliamentary stages.

Within six months of the date of the Act receiving Royal Assent (in December or January), the Government is bound to propose a new strategy, after which there will be a public consultation, a Government response, and the tabling of the necessary secondary legislation. This ponderous process means we might not have a new strategy in place till early 2015 (though ministers hope to move faster), but clearly the thinking time has already started.

Age UK, with others, is in constant conversation with the Department of Energy & Climate Change. A key bone of contention is the targets to be set in the strategy, since these will only be real if there is funding to underpin them, and there is considerable uncertainty about the available funds. Continue reading “A new fuel poverty strategy”

Green Deal performing poorly

At the heart of Age UK’s Warm Homes Campaign lies the conviction that the best way to insulate people from remorseless increases in energy costs and the health risks posed by cold homes is a major house refurbishment programme. The Green Deal was intended to drive that work – and upgrade 4m homes by 2020 – but the six month figures for the scheme are hapless, and we see no room for optimism any time soon.

As of mid-October, there are 219 Green Deal schemes in operation. True, there is a upstream pipeline of house surveys completed and Green Deal plans in preparation, but older householders seem rather underwhelmed. Whilst one in ten say their homes were not warm enough last winter and they would benefit from improved energy efficiency measures, 70% said they would not want a550x280_thermostat_lady Green Deal. The most frequently cited reasons were aversion to debt, and seeing the ‘loan’ repayment scheme as too expensive.   Continue reading “Green Deal performing poorly”

What on earth are carbon taxes?

Energy is a huge political and household issue. The dual fuel bill for an average household is £1315 per year, and that’s before the current round of price increases.

What we’ve learned this week is that Secretary of State Ed Davey wears a jumper to keep warm at home, and that British Gas is increasing its prices by 9.2%. We also learned from the Scottish Nationalists that if Scotland voted for independence and if they were to be in Government, they would cut prices by removing the social and environmental obligations on energy suppliers, and instead pay for fuel poverty programmes with the proceeds from carbon taxes.200x160_gas_hob_g_main

These carbon taxes come in two forms, and are levied on the industries emitting the largest amount of greenhouse gasses, principally carbon dioxide. The idea is to push these industries into using non-polluting energy – energy generated from wind and tides and other renewables, and from nuclear sources. The EU Emissions Trading Scheme is one of the carbon taxes and applies to all members of the EU, though the revenues go to the national governments.   Continue reading “What on earth are carbon taxes?”

Disarray in fuel poverty policy

In their consideration of the Energy Select Committee report on Energy Prices, Profits and Fuel Poverty (published 29 July), the media focused on the opacity of the energy companies’ accounts, the lack of transparency, and the apparent weakness of the Regulator, Ofgem, in looking after consumers’ interests.

Elderly woman trying to keep warm by the firesideBut the media failed to comment on the trenchant observations made by the Committee on fuel poverty. Here, the Government came in for a lot of flak. The Committee found it disappointing that so much of Government fuel poverty policy centres on short term help with bills when improving the thermal efficiency of the UK housing stock should be the priority. It commented on the hiatus in fuel poverty policy whilst thrashing out a new definition and a new approach, and observed that policy has effectively been frozen at a time when energy price rises have made energy costs increasingly unaffordable for vulnerable and low income households. Continue reading “Disarray in fuel poverty policy”

Green Deal performance data

Ahead of publishing the June Green Deal statistics, which the Department obviously knew were woefully disappointing, it went into overdrive to set out positive aspects of the scheme. It published data showing that energy efficient housing commanded a premium price over unimproved homes.  It released opinion survey data reporting rising awareness and rising interest in the Green Deal. But the tangible performance record is desperately poor. Age UK is not finger-pointing and dancing for joy:  the Green Deal and associated ECO (Energy Company Obligation) is the only show currently in town, and thus in the drive to address fuel poverty, and it needs to work – dramatically.

The ECO part, where energy companies install free or subsidised measures, is440x210_handyvan1 the closest we get to a silver lining. There were nearly 82,000 measures installed in the four months to April. The percentage of these going to low income households (those qualifying for the Affordable Warmth or Carbon Saving Communities) was nearly 70% (or about 170,000 per year if aggregated upwards), and most of the measures were loft insulation (56%), hard-to-treat cavity wall insulation (33%) and replacement boilers (10%). This installation performance suggests that households were not getting the comprehensive makeover which would make them ‘fuel-poverty-proof’, and barely dents the fuel poverty headcount of about 6m households in the UK. Continue reading “Green Deal performance data”

Budget 2013: did the Chancellor deliver for older people?

Following statements from the Chancellor prior to the budget, it seemed that older people were due to benefit from significant changes to the future funding structures of social care and pensions. However, following the Chancellor’s statement there is little new to celebrate.

The main point of interest for pensioners was confirmation that the implementation of the cap on social care costs (the ‘Dilnot’ reforms) and the introduction of the single-tier state pension will both be brought forward to 2016-17. From April 2016, there will be a cap of £72,000 on the costs of care, and the upper threshold limit for the residential care means test will be increased to £118,000.

440x210_pound-coinsWhilst we welcome the earlier implementation of the care costs cap and the higher upper means test threshold from April 2016, this will do nothing to help the 800,000 older people who need help with everyday tasks but receive no formal state support. Since 2010/11, in real terms £700 million has been cut from local authority spending on social care. Although the Government has provided additional investment for social care over the course of this parliament, it has not been enough to halt the downwards spiral in care funding. As a result, 85 per cent of local authorities now provide care only to people with substantial or critical needs.
Continue reading “Budget 2013: did the Chancellor deliver for older people?”

Guest blog – Energy Bill Revolution

This blog was contributed by Ed Matthew, Director of the Energy Bill Revolution. 

The recent prediction from the energy regulator OFGEM that energy bills are likely to rise as the UK becomes more dependent on gas is more bad news for British households facing ever mounting financial pressure.

The average dual fuel energy bill now costs a household over £1,400 each year. As the energy bills bite, fuel poverty is now rocketing out of control, affecting 1 in 4 families in the UK. A fuel poverty crisis is unfolding before our eyes.

Behind these figures lies a real human tragedy. Thousands of older people die from the cold every year and in extreme cases people are left with the stark 220x220_woman_adjusting_thermostatchoice of whether to feed their family or heat their home. Many of those most affected are the most vulnerable, older people, the disabled and young children.

The reaction of the Government to this crisis is lamentable. Despite their protestations that they are doing all they can to help the figures speak for themselves. They have cut spending on the fuel poor by 26% and slashed funding for energy efficiency measures for the fuel poor by 44%.  This is despite the fact that experts recognise by far the best long term solution to fuel poverty is to super insulate the UK housing stock.  The result is that fuel poverty is getting worse and by 2016 there could be up to 9 million households in fuel poverty. Continue reading “Guest blog – Energy Bill Revolution”