Experts launch fuel poverty charter
The Government can stop the suffering caused by rocketing energy bills if it follows a ten-point Fuel Poverty Charter launched by fuel poverty experts from a range of charities and consumer bodies today.
The Charter criticises the Government for failing to do enough to help people struggling to pay their fuel bills. The experts are calling on Ministers to ramp up energy efficiency and renewable energy measures for homes, make the energy market fairer for consumers, reform the Fuel Poverty Strategy and take action to increase the incomes of those who can’t afford to heat and power their homes.
Fuel poverty has become a national disaster - five million households in the UK won’t be able to afford to heat and power their homes this winter. Over 20,000 deaths - mostly older people - are recorded each year in England alone due to the cold, and the rise in the number of fuel poor is likely to put more lives at risk this winter. Many families with young children are forced to choose between heating their homes and cooking a hot meal.
The Government has a legal obligation to eradicate fuel poverty - in 2000, The Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act committed the Government to eradicate all fuel poverty in England by 2016 and for vulnerable groups by 2010. Despite this commitment, fuel poverty is increasing - the Government’s own advisory group, the Fuel Poverty Action Group, has reported that the Government appears to have given up on its 2010 target altogether. Friends of the Earth and Help the Aged are taking the Government to court on 6 and 7 October 2008 because they believe it has failed to comply with its legal commitment.
Ed Matthew, Head of UK Climate at Friends of the Earth, said on behalf of the coalition :
"The Government’s fuel poverty strategy is hopelessly off course and millions of households are suffering as a consequence - it is literally a life and death situation.
"We have set out exactly what needs to be done to sort out this national disaster - Ministers must now listen and take action now to fulfil all our recommendations."
Notes to Editors
1. The Fuel Poverty Charter is set out below. It is supported by a coalition of Age Concern ; Association for Conservation of Energy ; Barnado’s ; Centre for Sustainable Energy ; Child Poverty Action Group ; Disability Alliance ; energywatch ; Friends of the Earth ; Help the Aged ; National Energy Action ; National Right To Fuel Campaign ; WWF Fuel Poverty Charter
This winter more than five million households in the UK will not be able to afford to heat and power their homes. They will be in fuel poverty, needing to spend ten per cent or more of their income on energy.
The average household now faces an annual energy bill of more than £1300 - 30 per cent higher than a year ago and more than double the average bill of five years ago.
Already more than 20,000 people die from the cold during the winter and many more become ill and go into debt. The additional impact of these rocketing fuel bills will be disastrous.
Fuel povertyhas reached crisis levels.
The Government has a legal duty under the 2000 Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act to do everything reasonably practicable to eliminate fuel poverty in England for the vulnerable by 2010 and for all others by 2016. However, it is set to fail its legal targets by a huge margin.
It must provide further financial support to the most vulnerable in society and, in addition, take action on the key solution - the installation of super energy efficiency measures coupled with the widespread adoption of household or community level renewable energy.
Households often waste a huge amount of energy and money trying to heat and power their leaky homes. Cutting energy waste and achieving high levels of energy efficiency not only prevents suffering from fuel poverty, it can tackle climate change by slashing carbon emissions. It will help achieve energy security and help to create a new, vibrant low carbon economy, generating hundreds of thousands of jobs.
At least 27% of carbon emissions come from homes so action to reduce residential energy use and emissions is vital. The Government also has committed under the Climate Change Bill to reducing the UK’s carbon emissions by at least 26% by 2020.
Fuel poverty and climate change are both huge challenges for Government, but both can be tackled together. Super energy efficiency and renewable energy must be the Government’s number one solution to solving runaway fuel poverty and climate change emissions from homes.
We call on the Government to implement the ten priority actions below to get them back on track to meet their targets on fuel poverty. The Government must implement these policies together as a comprehensive package.
Delivering a renewed Fuel Poverty Strategy
The Government de-prioritised fuel poverty when it decided not to include fuel poverty within its new Public Service Agreement (PSA) targets. It has also failed to identify all the households in fuel poverty. As a result many people in fuel poverty receive little or no assistance.
We urge the Government to drive forward a renewed Fuel Poverty Strategy. This must include :
1. A fully-costed Fuel Poverty Plan that spells out exactly what measures the Government needs to take to meet its fuel poverty targets, how much these measures will cost and how they will be delivered.
2. Re-establish fuel poverty as a Public Service Agreement (PSA) target. Set up a Government Cross Departmental Ministerial Fuel Poverty Task Force with a duty to fulfil the PSA target and meet the Government’s legal duties on fuel poverty. The Task Force should be led by a senior Fuel Poverty Minister who sits in the Cabinet and reports directly to the Prime Minister.
3. Set up a public database of the energy efficiency of the entire housing stock, based on the Energy Performance Certificates already being rolled out by Government, to be completed by 2012. This will play a crucial part in ensuring all fuel poor households can be identified and then given help.
Super energy efficiency and renewable energy
We have one of the least energy efficient housing stocks in the developed world. In the face of ever rising energy costs, energy efficiency measures combined with household and community renewable energy is the most sustainable, long-term solution to fuel poverty. Every household must be given the option and financial support to make their home super energy efficient. This is particularly important for households in hard to treat properties, such as those off the gas network. Measures must be free for all low income and vulnerable households.
This includes installing vital, conventional measures such as 270 mm loft insulation, cavity wall insulation, super-efficient boilers and thermostats, hot water tank insulation, draught-proofing and double / triple glazing. However it must also include more ambitious energy efficiency and renewable energy measures, for example, solid wall and under-floor insulation ; home or community level renewable energy measures such as heat pumps, solar thermal, solar photovoltaics, community wind and biomass boilers ; and micro and community level combined heat and power systems. Different measures will be appropriate for different homes.
The combination of super energy efficiency, low carbon and renewable energy systems for homes and communities has the potential to bring down energy costs and carbon emissions for households by two-thirds.
We call upon the Government to :
4. Invest in a major national programme to bring all properties up to a minimum energy efficiency standard of SAP 81 starting with the homes of the fuel poor. The SAP standard is an energy efficiency rating out of 100. SAP 81 would on average cut demand for heat by half, lifting the vast majority of households out of fuel poverty. Achieving this standard requires a massive step change in the current installation rates for super energy efficiency and other low carbon and renewables technologies. At the moment the Government sets no such standard. The average home in the UK today has a SAP rating of 48 and the average home in fuel poverty has a SAP rating of 33.
The Government must ensure every local authority sets up Low-Carbon Zones and brings homes up to SAP 81 on a house by house, street by street basis. Fuel poor households must be targeted first. The work must be carried out for free for the vulnerable and those on low incomes. The Government must take action to ensure the highest standards of work are carried out with the least disruption.
5. Set a legal minimum energy efficiency standard for homes and buildings with future increases in this standard mapped out from the beginning. Households, particularly those on low incomes, must be given all the help they need to meet and surpass the standard and should be protected from landlords passing on costs directly to tenants.
Raise the incomes of the fuel poor
Fuel poor households simply do not have enough income to afford to heat and power their homes adequately. The consequences are multiple debts, the forgoing of other essential needs, ill health and mental stress due to the difficulty of paying bills. Crisis payments are required to help those facing unaffordable energy bills.
We call upon the Government to :
6. Provide crisis payments to low income and vulnerable households. It must be recognised that this is needed to relieve immediate suffering and is not a long term solution to fuel poverty. Winter fuel payments should be re-named winter payments in recognition that they are an income maintenance measure.
7. Make sure that people eligible for existing benefits are taking them up. The Government must work with local authorities and fund local voluntary and community organisations to ensure that all fuel poverty programmes provide a one-stop shop for recipients. This must include advice on claiming benefits and advice on grants available for energy efficiency and renewable energy measures.
A fairer energy market
The energy market is not working for many, especially low income consumers. Prices are higher than necessary and profits are not being shared equitably between companies and customers. Prepayment meter and quarterly bill (standard credit) consumers pay much higher tariffs than on-line direct debit consumers.
8. To help fund crisis payments and kick-start a massive national programme of home energy efficiency and renewable energy, a windfall tax on the £9 billion of unearned profits the energy companies gathered under the European Emissions Trading Scheme (EUETS) may well be justified. A longer term funding solution is required however and the auctioning of carbon permits under the EUETS should be used to help sustain this fuel poverty programme.
9. Take all possible steps to keep prices down and require all energy companies to offer social tariffs to their poorest and most vulnerable consumers. Social tariffs should offer a better deal than the cheapest market price available from the supplier and should not depend on how consumers pay their bill. Eligibility standards should be set to ensure equal access for all vulnerable and low income households. Ensure OFGEM stops energy companies discriminating against prepayment and standard credit consumers. Require OFGEM to make sure energy suppliers introduce tariffs that encourage investment in energy efficiency and renewable technologies by rewarding low consumption, whilst protecting vulnerable consumers such as older and disabled people from high fuel costs.
10. Introduce a renewable energy tariff within one year, to financially reward households and communities that produce their own renewable energy and make sure low income consumers can benefit by installing renewable energy systems in their homes for free. Renewable energy systems will bring down fuel costs for households and cut carbon emissions.
Source : friends of the earth