Fuel poverty experts have welcomed Westminster’s new strategy to help people on low incomes heat their homes, but warn that people will still struggle to stay warm without a stronger benefit system and help getting out of problem debt.
The proposals will extend the £140 Warm Home Discount to an extra 750,000 households, including working-age households earning less than £16,190. This would mean a total 2.7 million people paying £140 less on their fuel bills every winter.
“This is overdue, but it’s still very welcome,” said Adam Scorer, chief executive of National Energy Action. The discount currently goes to pensioners on low incomes automatically while younger people who qualify must apply and receive the limited discount on a first-come, first-served basis.
Ministers also committed to improving the energy efficiency of “as many fuel poor homes as is reasonably practicable” by 2030, a measure which will lower fuel bills for households and reduce greenhouse emissions across the country.
The Government wants to upgrade these homes to band C. This means installing insulation in walls and lofts, central heating systems for those who don’t already have one, and new heat sources including planet-friendly heat pumps.
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People in a band E home using mains gas could see their annual energy bills cut from £2,300 to £1,500 after installations to boost its energy efficiency, the Government paper stated.
“We needed vital clarity about how Government intends to meet its legal targets,” said Scorer, as progress had been “flatlining”.
“This strategy helps and will support a range of public and private organisations to plan effectively and collaborate to help end fuel poverty.
“Critically, the strategy confirms that Government is committed to the scale of resources we need to start to meet the challenge of ending fuel poverty.”
Efforts to tackle fuel poverty are closely linked to the UK’s work to reach net-zero on greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the Government said, to ensure low income communities are not left behind as the energy industry transitions to sustainable sources.
“To make urgent progress we also need affordable, warm homes to become a real public health priority,” Scorer said, as well as “greater price protection for low income energy consumers, continuation of the universal credit uplift and urgent provision to help households move out of problem debt.”
Straight up in the lead in, it is couched in terms of its importance to net zero. This fixes action to end cold homes to one of our greatest challenges – reducing our net carbon emissions to nil.
This is a good move, and is another step towards achieving a just energy transition
— Matt Copeland (@Matt_Copeland1) February 11, 2021
There are 1.2 million fewer low-income households living in the least energy efficient homes than there were in 2010, Government figures showed.
Ministers also pledged to extend the Energy Company Obligation, the government scheme in which medium and larger energy suppliers fund and coordinate the installation of efficiency-boosting measures in homes across the UK. Now set to run until 2026, its value has been increased from £640 million to £1 billion per year.
“There is much to be applauded in the new strategy and we welcome many of the measures that are being introduced and the announcement of additional funding,” Simon Francis, coordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, told The Big Issue.
“The updated strategy will ensure progress is made towards meeting previously missed milestones,” he added, while it “takes another step in revealing the true extent of fuel poverty in the country”.