The Government’s latest proposals to tackle the UK’s catastrophic fuel poverty problem were published with a fanfare today. But critics were quick to accuse the Coalition of “setting meaningless targets” and ignoring the plight of pensioners.
Under the plans, future Governments will be held legally responsible for fighting fuel poverty by making the coldest, leakiest homes in England more energy efficient.
The term fuel poverty now describes households on low incomes with high energy costs, often caused by poorly insulated homes. It used to refer to households which were forced to spend a tenth of their available income on heating and lighting their home, but the Government changed the definition last year and, at a stroke, slashed the number of homes officially in fuel poverty.
There is an energy rating system for properties, with the top-rated being most energy efficient and consequently having much lower fuel bills.
In future there will be a legal obligation for as many fuel poor homes as “reasonably” practicable to be raised to Energy Performance Band C rating by 2030.
Currently only one in 20 of England’s 2.3 million fuel poor homes reach the Band C standard, the Government said.
Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey said: “These proposals mark a radical shift away from old policies of tinkering at the edges without tackling the root causes of fuel poverty – homes that need too much energy and leak too much heat to be able to keep warm.”
He promised the Government would target the worst properties first, where people in the most extreme cases pay £1,500 more than they need to for their home energy.
The plans are estimated to save the poorest households £1 billion a year on their fuel bills.
But fuel poverty campaigners united in criticising the delays in helping those in fuel poverty. Jenny Saunders, of fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA) said: “There is a significant risk that over a million fuel poor households will continue to live in hard-to-heat homes by 2025 and the £1 billion savings on bills will not be achieved.
“This could leave the poorest households continuing to ration their heating over the next 10 years and spending far more of their limited budgets on energy than is necessary.”
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK was more forthright, branding the strategy “unambitious” and the targets “inadequate”.
“We are worried about the plight of nearly a million pensioners who cannot afford to heat their homes. Cold homes are a huge factor when it comes to the shocking numbers of excess winter deaths each year,” she said.
Ed Matthew, director of the Energy Bill Revolution said: “This strategy is so full of holes they will never plug the UK’s fuel poor homes. The target is too far away and they have not committed to bringing homes up to the standard in one go.
“That’s killed off the prospect of whole house retrofits and condemning millions of people to suffer the scourge of fuel poverty for yet another generation.”
Jenny Holland, of the Association the Conservation of Energy said the plans ignore the most vulnerable people. “By setting a target only for the 2.3 million deemed to be in fuel poverty, the Government is ignoring more than two million households who are still far too poor to afford a green Deal loan to upgrade their home.”
The government’s fuel poverty proposals will be up for consultation until 7 October. Jenny Saunders of NEA said: “We will work in coming weeks to ensure the voices of the fuel poor are heard through the consultation period.”