Fuel poor left out in the cold

As latest figures show the number of households living in fuel poverty in England and Wales has increased to more than 10%, OFTEC is reigniting its calls on government to develop a heating strategy that is fair for all and will help those most in need.
Fuel poverty data released by the Office of National Statistics earlier this year shows that 2.38 million homes are currently classed as ‘fuel poor’, representing a 1.4% increase on previous figures. The statistics also underline that fuel poverty is more prevalent in rural areas where properties are typically older, poorly insulated and therefore harder to heat.
Additional figures confirmed earlier this month reveal that during winter 2014/15, there were 43,850 excess winter deaths (EWD) in England and Wales – the highest level seen in over 15 years. An important factor in these deaths each year is the high number of vulnerable people living in homes they can’t afford to adequately heat.
Although provisional EWD figures for last winter (2015/16) show a fall to 24,300 recorded deaths, this drop is largely due to the abnormal spike in deaths seen during 2014/15 which has been attributed to an ineffective flu vaccine. If this anomaly is removed, the estimated number of EWDs in 2015/16 is still 39% higher than 2013/14.
“Fuel poverty levels are higher in rural parts of the country – approximately 14% compared to around 10% in urban areas – even though the 1.4 million oil using households in the UK are enjoying by far the cheapest heating bills of all the major fuels,” said OFTEC CEO Paul Rose
“At present, the main energy efficiency scheme open to low income households is the ECO initiative but this is due to finish in April 2017. Meanwhile, the only option for rural, off-grid households that don’t qualify for ECO is the domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). However, the focus of the RHI is firmly on carbon reduction by encouraging the take up of 100% renewable heating technologies such as heat pumps, rather than energy efficiency.
“The UK desperately needs a new heating strategy which combines energy efficiency measures with carbon reduction. Also, one that is affordable and practical for the majority of consumers otherwise take up will always be limited.
“Low oil prices make now the perfect time to invest in a modern boiler to secure long term savings. We would also like to see more support to better insulate rural homes to stop them ‘leaking’ heat.
“In the longer term, industry is also assessing the viability of producing a bio-oil which will deliver substantial carbon savings for households currently on oil. Greening the fuel is a credible solution for the future which government needs to recognise in the UK’s heat policy going forward.”

OFTEC and the Bonfield Report
Whilst pleased to see the Bonfield Report – an independent review of consumer advice, protection, standards and enforcement for domestic energy efficiency and renewable energy – published before Christmas, OFTEC’s Adrian Lightwood said:
“We already have a very well-established and run heating sector with high levels of compliance so we must look carefully at any proposals for change.”
OFTEC will be discussing this report at the next Competent Persons Forum which will be hosted by the Department for Communities an Local Government on Friday 20th January.