A new report from the Energy Saving Trust reveals the number of households who are stressed over rising energy costs has more than tripled over the past three years.
The 'In From the Cold' report points out that rising fuel prices have largely undone the progress made through energy-efficiency improvements – citing analysis of contacts through the Trust’s advice service that show 11 per cent of callers saying they spend over a fifth of their income on fuel.
In 2009, only three per cent of households nationally spent such a high proportion of their income.
The government-commissioned fuel poverty study by Prof John Hills, announced last week, showed fuel poverty on the rise. The report suggested that 8.5 million people in the UK will not be able to afford their energy bills by 2016.
In England, from 2013, unlike in Scotland and Wales, there will be no direct government grant programme for fuel-poor households. Instead, the government predicts that, by 2023, the energy supplied funded ECO programme will have alleviated fuel poverty in between 350,000 and 550,000 households. That’s around ten per cent of those currently affected in the UK.
The Trust - who were recently awarded the contract to deliver the government’s new advice line which will refer customers at risk of fuel poverty for support under the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) – is announcing its own refocusing of effort in tackling fuel poverty.
Philip Sellwood, chief executive of the Energy Saving Trust said: “There is a pressing need to tackle cold, unhealthy homes. Looking at information from the thousands of calls we receive, it’s clear that this is both a deeply personal concern for many people and a wider social issue. Over a quarter of people can’t heat their home properly, and for a fifth it’s a cause of serious stress.
“Our remit historically has been to reduce carbon emissions from people’s homes. We’re now a social enterprise – and fuel poverty is a great social issue of our age. This is something that needs to be tackled in partnership and viewed from both a national and local perspective – and we want to make sure our experiences helping people in fuel poverty are used to best effect.”
The report calls for a more active role for local authorities, guided by the government through the reinvigorated Home Energy Conservation Act, in developing financing strategies for large-scale energy efficiency retrofit, targeting action to hit the most in need, and working proactively with landlords in their area - particularly those who have F and G rated homes.
It also calls on energy suppliers, government and Green Deal providers to collaborate to make the best use of data to reach customers who can benefit from Green Deal and ECO e.g. through Energy Performance Certificate data, and ensure vulnerable customers are given effective advice and support alongside the smart meter roll out.
Looking at the potential of smart home energy management in tackling fuel poverty, the report also highlights SHIMMER, a pilot scheme by the Energy Saving Trust, London Rebuilding Society, and HomeZone that saw energy efficiency incorporated as part a package of household financial management tools provided through a home’s internet connection. Participants saved between £200 and £3,500 a year.
Sellwood added: “It’s important that energy efficiency is seen as an essential part of having a financially-manageable home. The roll-out of smart meters could potentially be a great starting point in achieving this, so we’re also urging those funding research and development into smart technologies consider how they can support energy bill management and financial inclusion for poorer households.”
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