ARCHIVE: Report chapter 1: Fuel poverty and energy efficiency
Using energy more efficiently is the fastest and most cost-effective way of cutting carbon dioxide emissions and contributes to the global effort to avoid dangerous climate change. Energy efficiency can also help improve productivity and can help secure energy supplies by reducing our reliance on imported energy. In this way we make the most efficient use of our own and global energy resources.
Improving energy efficiency is one of the best ways to reduce fuel bills and can help people to afford to heat their homes.
Addressing fuel poverty (defined as needing to spend more than 10% of household income on energy bills to maintain an adequate standard of warmth) through improvements in energy efficiency contributes not only to the Climate Change Public Service Agreement (PSA) but also contributes towards a number of other PSAs focussed on addressing child poverty, well-being in later-life, social exclusion and promoting health and well-being for all.
Improving energy efficiency is at the heart of the Government's Climate Change Programme. More than half of the projected emission reductions will be achieved through energy efficiency policies and measures, some of which are used to install energy efficiency measures in homes.
As fuel poverty is a result of a number of different variables, including: income levels, the condition of homes and the price of fuel, tackling the issue cuts across many government departments and the devolved administrations. The newly created Department of Energy and Climate Change is responsible for the fuel poverty targets for England . This was previously the joint responsibility of Defra and the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR).
There is a comprehensive programme of activity with structures in place to effectively co-ordinate all the key players. The Department for Work and Pensions, Communities and Local Government and Department of Health are some of the departments which have an important role to play.
Action to bring about improvements in disability equality
There are a range of initiatives intended to bring about better energy efficiency in the home and to encourage energy efficient behaviour, full details of which can be found in the UK Energy Efficiency Action Plan 2007.
Winter Fuel payments administered by the Department for Work and Pensions have contributed to a significant reduction in pensioner poverty which is a key contributing factor in reducing fuel poverty. Many elderly people are disabled and therefore this indicates improvements for disabled people.
Communities and Local Government is continuing to raise energy performance standards for new homes through Part L of the Building Regulations, aiming for zero-carbon homes by 2016. Higher standards are aimed at reducing CO2 emissions but they also mean that householders will have a choice between lower costs and (at some loss of CO2 savings) more affordable warmth.
Changes to energy efficiency standards always take account of wider health and safety considerations. One of the main aims is to make buildings more airtight so that less energy is used to heat or cool them. It is recognised that adequate ventilation is of crucial importance for disabled people suffering from respiratory complaints and in order to address this Part F of the Building Regulations covering ventilation is reviewed at the same time as Part L to ensure satisfactory ventilation is obtained. Guidance has been developed on achieving good quality construction, to reduce risk of rain penetration and condensation problems which can lead to ill-health caused by mould.
BERR and Defra have monitored the number of households in fuel poverty annually through the English House Condition Survey (from April 2008, the English Housing Survey). The most recent figures are set out in the "UK Fuel Poverty Strategy: 6th Annual Progress Report, 2008", which estimates that at least 2.4 million households are in fuel poverty in England of which 1.9 million include children, the elderly or a person who is disabled or long term sick.
As fuel prices continue to rise faster than incomes, the proportion of households in fuel poverty will continue to increase, as has been the case since 2005. Projections by Defra indicate a further 1.2 million households might be in fuel poverty in England in 2008.
In September 2008 the Prime Minister announced new help in the form of energy efficiency improvements for homes. Energy efficiency improvements, such as loft and cavity wall insulation, offer a long term solution to help deal with rising fuel prices and climate change by helping people to save money and save energy. Through the Home Energy Saving Programme a 1billion package will help families on middle and modest incomes to permanently reduce their energy consumption, with a further 910 million being provided by energy companies.
Carbon Emissions Reduction Target
The Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (CERT) is the main tool for improving the efficiency of existing homes. It builds on the success of the Energy Efficiency Commitment programme (2002 - 2008) in delivering cost-effective CO2 savings and wider social benefits.
To meet energy savings targets under CERT, energy suppliers must promote improved energy efficiency in the home. Suppliers meet their targets by encouraging and helping consumers to take up measures such as cavity wall insulation and energy efficient lights and appliances. There is also some scope for generating energy in the home, for example by using the sun to heat water, or by generating electricity using solar cells or wind turbines.
Energy suppliers can choose which measures they use to meet their targets, but since they are responsible for the costs of doing so, they are likely to promote the most cost-effective types of insulation.
Suppliers must direct 40% of carbon savings to a "priority group" of low income householders that are aged 70 or over, or are in receipt of a qualifying benefit. This is to ensure these groups have at least as much opportunity to benefit from energy savings as other energy users. Overall around 1.8bn is expected to be directed at the priority group - more than half the overall investment of 3.4bn suppliers are expected to make under CERT.
Action to bring about improvements in disability equality
Defra has made a commitment to maintain this obligation on suppliers, requiring them to match or exceed CERT targets until at least 2020 (now the responsibility of the Department of Energy and Climate Change).
The CERT priority group is defined as householders in receipt of the following benefits or tax credits:
- council tax benefit
- housing benefit
- income support or income based jobseekers allowance
- attendance allowance
- disability living allowance
- disablement pension which includes a constant attendance allowance
- war disablement pension which includes a mobility supplement or a constant attendance allowance
- child tax credit (where the consumer's relevant income is 15,592 or less)
- working tax credit (where the consumer's relevant income is 15,592 or less)
- state pension credit
- all householders with one or more members aged 70 or over
Energy suppliers can focus specific measures, such as solid wall insulation or ground source heat pumps on low-income households that are more likely to be in fuel poverty.
Ofgem is the organisation that regulates the electricity and gas markets in Great Britain . As part of their role, they make sure that suppliers meet their targets, including those for the priority group. For the 2002-2005 and 2005-2008 phases of the Energy Efficiency Commitment suppliers exceeded both their overall target and the priority group target by about 50
There is an aspiration to end fuel poverty in for households in the priority groups by 2010 and in all other households by 2016. Therefore, in addition to the help available under CERT, Defra also funded the Warm Front Scheme (now the responsibility of the Department of Energy and Climate Change).
The Warm Front Scheme offers financial support for a range of energy efficiency and heating measures for private sector households in receipt of certain income or disability related benefits. The following details highlight activity under the Warm Front Scheme in the period 2005 - 2008.
Energy efficiency assistance
Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Attendance Allowance (AA) are two benefits administered by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that can make households eligible for support from the Warm Front scheme. The table below, covering 2005-2008, show the number and proportions of households helped where eligible individuals claim DLA or AA [Footnote].
|scheme year||All recipients||DLA or AA recipients||DLA/AA recipients as a percentage of all supported|
The numbers of disabled people in this group to receive support has increased considerably since 2005. There will be other disabled people who do not receive DLA or AA who are eligible for grants but are not counted in these figures.
Benefit entitlement advice
Since 2005 the Warm Front Benefit entitlement check service has helped around 4,500 disabled people by identifying that they are likely to be entitled to previously unclaimed DLA or AA benefits.
The service invites callers to discuss their circumstances in detail with a dedicated adviser on the telephone, or through a postal questionnaire. Advice on how to go about making a claim for any unclaimed benefit is given and the advisor will liaise with DWP to arrange for claim forms to be issued as necessary. The table below show the numbers of people to have benefited from the service in this way.
|scheme year||total number identified as having unclaimed entitlement to DLA and AA|
Action to bring about improvements in disability equality
It is currently not possible to show the number of homes benefiting in the different priority groups but there is a need for government departments and other organisations to explore how better information can be gathered and used to bring about further benefits for disabled people. (The Department of Energy and Climate Change will consider how this can be taken forward).
The Warm Front entitlement check service is currently discussing the introduction of a customer satisfaction survey so that they can make improvements to their services. The survey will, for example, find out:
- how many of the people advised to claim benefits do so, and
- the reasons why others do not claim
Warm Front marketing material is available in accessible formats and promotes their message through local radio stations and community events. It also engages with forums and associations targeting disabled and elderly people.
Some examples of targeted Warm Front marketing are:
There has been an annual promotional mailing to all the members of Motability, the charity that has overall responsibility for the transport scheme that supports disabled people requiring a car, powered wheelchair or scooter to get around. By working in partnership with Motability, around 200,000 of their members are contacted each year.
In Leeds a specially designed leaflet was sent to people with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
By working with the East Sussex Association for the Blind, Warm Front is promoted through members of the association, local radio, newspapers and in accessible versions the Warm Front newsletter. This began as a pilot in January 2007 and funding has been secured to continue this activity throughout 2008-2009.
The Warm Front Scheme has brought improvements to the controls of the heating systems fitted through the scheme, making them more suitable for disabled people. Examples include;
- central heating system controls and displays
- that are larger and brighter
- with large font size
- with tactile identification markers
- thermostatic radiator valves that can be fitted at radiator tops, making them easier to reach
Warm Front can supply radio controlled thermostats on central heating systems. These were not introduced specifically for disabled people, but they have been fitted to wheelchairs at the request of disabled people so they may maintain a comfortable temperature wherever they are in the home.
Behavioural change is encouraged by providing advice and information to help people make informed choices about the energy they use. It is important that this information and advice is accessible to all.
The Energy Saving Trust is a non-profit organisation that provides free impartial advice tailored to individuals. Government (Defra prior to October 2008, and now Department of Energy and Climate Change) sponsors the Energy Saving Trust to be the main source of information and advice to bring about this behavioural change. Advice is mainly provided through the website, by telephone and through leaflets and posters, but they also conduct outreach work, give community talks, display exhibition stands and advertise.
The Energy Saving Trust website is designed to meet good accessibility standards, they offer a text phone service in their centralised call centre, and provide publications in a range of formats on demand. Advice centres work on affordable warmth strategies with their local authorities which are aimed at vulnerable groups in their areas.
Government departments also encourage people to think about energy efficiency when they make purchasing decisions. An example is the recent changes to Vehicle Excise Duty (also known as Road Tax) developed by HM Treasury and announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his 2008 Budget. By reducing the cost for the lowest emission vehicles and increasing the cost for those with the highest emissions, people may be encouraged to buy less polluting cars. However it has been recognised that disabled people may need larger cars and therefore those receiving the higher rate mobility component of the Disability Living Allowance or the War Pensioner's Mobility Supplement, do not have to pay Road Tax.
Another way to become more energy efficient is for manufacturers to stop making the least energy efficient products. This is done by setting minimum performance standards. These standards are being negotiated in the European Union.
A voluntary agreement has been reached with manufacturers and retailers that would see most inefficient standard incandescent light bulbs phased out and replaced by efficient alternatives by 2011. This could save up to 5 million tonnes of CO2 emissions each year from homes, and save people money on their energy bills.
However, a number of patient support groups have told the Government that the energy efficient compact florescent lamps (CFL) can aggravate a number of light sensitive conditions, including lupus, certain forms of eczema and dermatitis, as well as Aspergers syndrome. It is now understood that the ultra violet light given off by CFLs, and also some halogen lamps, can affect these conditions. Defra has worked closely with the Department for Health, the Health Protection Agency and the lighting industry to assess the scale of the issues, as well as engaging specialist dermatologists.
The voluntary phase-out will no longer result in all incandescent lamps being replaced and access to incandescent lamps will not be restricted. The UK was the only European country to raise this issue with the European Commission and has been pro-active in assisting a study by the Commission's Scientific Committee on Newly Identified Health Risks which will inform the Commission's proposals for mandatory minimum standards later in 2008.
Page last modified: 1 December 2008
Page published: 1 December 2008