Tackling fuel poverty: Thinking big to solve a growing problem for the short and long-term

UK electricity and gas bills have soared this spring after energy regulator Ofgem revised its energy price cap, increasing it dramatically by 54% from £1,277 to as much as £1,971. In 2019, 3.16 million households were officially in fuel poverty in the UK, according to Office for National Statistics data. The estimated total number of households now predicted to be in fuel poverty due to the latest price cap rise from 1 April 2022 is 6.32 million. According to the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, there are 2.5 million households with children expected to be in fuel poverty as of 1 April 2022, including 55.7% of lone-parent households, and the total number of households in fuel poverty could rise to 8.5 million by the end of 2022. According to the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence, there were over 28,000 winter deaths caused by living in cold homes (2020).

In a 2015 report by the Association for the Conservation of Energy, the UK ranked last out of 16 European countries for the proportion of households that are unable to afford to adequately heat their homes, and it ranked 14th on fuel poverty, with only Slovenia and Ireland having a higher proportion of people struggling to pay their energy bills. According to ACE spokeswoman Jenny Holland: “Of the 26 million households in the UK, four out of five have poor levels of energy efficiency, rated band D or below.”

The government announced in May a £15 billion package to help struggling households with their energy bills, partly funded by a 25% windfall tax on the profits of oil and gas producers. All households are expected to see a £400 discount on energy bills, with the lowest income families getting an additional, one-off £650 pound payment and pensioner households will receive an extra winter fuel payment of £300.

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition point out that the UK’s high levels of fuel poverty are caused by a combination of “low income, high fuel prices, poor energy efficiency, unaffordable housing prices and poor quality private rental housing.” Speaking back in 2020 following the publication of the latest data on deaths due to cold homes, Adam Scorer, Chief Executive of NEA, insisted that “Ultimately, the best solution is a strategic one. To turn cold and dangerous properties into warm and safe homes, easy and cheap to heat. It is well understood that delivering good, warm homes creates jobs, reduces carbon emissions, eases pressures on the NHS as well as allowing people to live better lives.”

Responding to the government’s recent support package for energy bill payers, Ian Preston, director of household energy at the Centre for Sustainable Energy, described the package as “only short-term sticking plasters” which “doesn’t go far enough”, insisting on the need for “a longer-term large scale home retrofit programme to help tackle the problem of soaring energy bills and cold homes.”  With millions of households already having to choose between heating and eating, however, Ofgem chief executive, Jonathan Brearley, told the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee in May that he expects the UK’s energy price cap to rise again in October, up to “in the region of £2,800”.

This special symposium will provide an opportunity for local authorities, fuel poverty campaigners, the NHS, the social care sector, local community groups, voluntary organisations, energy regulators and energy industry representatives and other key stakeholders to discuss the escalating energy crisis and ideas for how to tackle spiralling fuel poverty in the UK now and for the longer-term.

Programme:

  • Examine government measures to tackle the current problem of spiralling energy bills and what more can be done to assist customers in the short-term
  • Assess the UK’s energy price cap and the regulation of energy prices in the UK
  • Discuss how fuel poverty can be tackled and what steps government, local authorities and other stakeholders should take to do so
  • Assess structural problems in the UK energy market that leads to the UK having particularly high levels of fuel poverty among European countries
  • Explore the impact of Covid-19 on cold weather planning and levels of fuel poverty in the UK
  • Develop effective strategies for protecting and supporting the most vulnerable energy customers at both a national and regional level
  • Analyse the regional and socio-economic inequalities which are present in the UK and complicate current efforts to address fuel poverty
  • Highlight the significance of strong local leadership and partnership working across the public, private, voluntary and community sectors to tackle fuel poverty
  • Share best practice on strengthening responses to reduce excess winter illness and death
  • Identify how key indicators can be used to help the most vulnerable at the earliest opportunity
  • Examine what can be learnt from energy market regulation and structures in other European countries
  • Discuss how the cost of UK energy bills can be decoupled from international energy markets

For more information click here.

23 August 2022