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Author: Age UK
Published on 14 March 2011 03:30 PM

Age UK comment on appointment of new fuel poverty czar

Commenting on the appointment of Professor John Hills as the new fuel poverty czar, Age UK fuel poverty spokesman Mervyn Kohler said:

'John Hills is justifiably regarded as an authoritative and respected expert on fuel poverty. He has accepted a challenge from the Government to fill the void in policy on fuel poverty, and help shape a new strategy which addresses the causes of fuel poverty and the costs involved.
'The number of people pitched into fuel poverty grows with every rise in energy prices and John Hills will need all his forensic and persuasive skills to develop answers which meet the scale and urgency of the problem.'

On fuel poverty, Mervyn Kohler added:

'Parliament passed an Act in 2000 on the eradication of fuel poverty in vulnerable households by 2010. A year on from that deadline and after we’ve just come through one of the coldest winters in recent memory, the Government's fuel poverty strategy is a dismal failure.

'Successive governments have watched fuel prices rise and the number of households in fuel poverty soar since 2004. Over 5 million households – half of whom are older households – need to spend more than 10 per cent of their available income to keep adequately warm. They are under-heating their homes today, rationing their consumption of fuel – and increasing their exposure to ill-health and misery and depression. '

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Background statements on the Government’s fuel poverty initiatives

  • Warm Front, the one scheme in England using public money to upgrade heating systems, is being slashed by two-thirds, and is currently closed to new applications because all the money for 2010-2011 has been committed.   When it re-opens, it will have funds to improve merely 100,000 homes in the following two years.   It will also have new eligibility criteria, which will restrict potential access to 1.5m households rather than the 4.3m who have been hitherto eligible.
  • The Carbon Energy Reduction Target scheme is designed to reduce energy consumption and so focuses on loft and cavity wall insulation.   It is not expressly about reducing fuel poverty.   Now the Government has gone back to the energy companies with a further demand, that they fund a Warm Homes Discount – a programme that will discount energy bills by £120 for households (primarily pensioners) on specified benefits.   The problem is that energy suppliers recover the cost of their spending on these measures by raising their tariffs, so pitching more people into fuel poverty.
  • The Winter Fuel Payment to households headed by a person over 60 or 80 has been £250 and £400 in the last two years – on an exceptional basis.   Next winter it will drop to £200 and £300.   This benefit attained its present significance when the state pension up-rating was announced at 75p, and when the 2001 General Election was approaching.   At least the new Government has improved the Cold Weather Payment, but this goes only to families on selected means-tested benefits, and only when the temperature is less than zero for seven consecutive days.
  • The great bulk of the spending in all of these schemes is providing funding to support the cost of buying energy, rather than addressing the underlying problem of cold, thermally inefficient homes.   When confronting climate change, we also have challenging targets to reduce domestic carbon emissions, it seems madness to be subsidising inefficient fuel usage.
  • This patchwork of policies is designed to stagger on for two more years, until the Green Deal is ready to be launched.   In principle, the Green Deal seems sensible, with households offered energy improvements which can be paid for by the savings they see in their energy bills, but it is hard to use this concept to work for people in fuel poverty.   Many would prefer to heat their homes properly as a result of energy efficiency improvements, not struggle on as before, using their energy cost savings to repay their Green Deal ‘loan’.

Notes to editors

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