19 Jan 2011

One in three too cold in their home

I am currently chairing an inquiry at the District Council into Decent Homes standards - the issue is being looked at due to concerns that while aiming for Decent Homes (a national standard) we are missing our own corporate targets to cut CO2 and tenants wishes to tackle energy efficiency. Last week I had an afternoon of meetings and visiting Council houses - on Monday I had another meeting to discuss thsis further.

The Council are in fact doing lots re energy efficiency - still nothing like enough in my view but more than many. In the next couple of weeks I will be having more meetings on this issue at the District - so more of that in a while - but here a look more at the national situation...

Photo Stratford Park in the recent snow

Friends of the Earth have launched a new campaign highlighting that one in three people say they're too cold at home in this winter weather. We need a new law to stop landlords letting the coldest, health-hazard homes until they're improved.

Take action

Tell your MP here about what it is like living in a cold rented home past or present. And ask them to sign a parliamentary petition (EDM 653) backing a law to protect tenants. This should also be about landlords getting the financial support they need to make properties cheaper and easier to heat.

This is the EDM: "That this House is concerned that over half of private rented homes fail the Decent Homes standard and that a quarter of private tenants live in fuel poverty, that the proportion of private rented properties with the worst energy rating is twice that of the owner-occupied sector and that the private rented sector contains the highest proportion (65 per cent.) of hard to treat homes lacking cavity walls or mains gas; notes Government statements that additional measures beyond the GreenDeal will be needed to deliver all the necessary improvements to hard to treat homes; also notes that the Committee on Climate Change and the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group has called for mandatory energy efficiency standards for private rented properties; understands concerns that the requirements of the Housing Health and Safety Rating System are difficult for landlords to understand and costly and complex forcouncils to enforce; therefore believes that improved information, advice and financial incentives for tenants and landlords are needed; and calls on the Government to take the earliest legislative opportunity to give councils access to Energy Performance Certificate data and information about the rented properties in their area so that properties presenting the greatest health hazard, those with an energy efficiency rating of F or G, are given the highest priority for improvement, and to set a 2016 deadline after which such properties may not be let without improvement to a higher rating."

Sadly our government doesn't seem to understand this stuff.

Government exposes most vulnerable to big freeze this winter

Before Christmas the government announced that applications to the Warm Front scheme have been suspended until April 2011, due to lack of funds. The government scheme offers grants of between £3500 and £6000 to help low income households in England pay for energy efficiency measures, such as home insulation. The scheme was flawed but there are real concerns about cutting it without putting something in it's place. It also make sno sense not to tackle fuel poverty - figures from National Energy Action show that fuel poverty costs the National Health Service £1billion each year and leads to over 27,000 deaths annually.
"It is absolutely scandalous that the Government is abandoning those who live in fuel poverty. The number of households affected by fuel poverty rose to 4.5 million in 2008, around 1 in 6 of all UK households. This is a real slap in the face for people hoping to have their homes properly insulated as the cold winter months kick in." Green MP Caroline Lucas before Christmas

Pre-payment meters

An issue I have raised before is the higher fuel costs paid by customers with pre-payment meters - they basically pay more than direct debit customers despite typically being less well-off. Lobbying group Transact calculated a couple of years ago that pre-payment customers - often single parents, social housing tenants and disabled people - typically pay £215 more per year than direct debit customers. People on low incomes often prefer pre-payment meters to direct debit so they can manage their bills on a tight weekly budget without incurring overdraft charges unexpectedly.

It seems extraordinary that this has been allowed to continue. The good news is that the EU are pulling the plug on overcharging - see here.

Fuel Poverty figures

Half a million pensioners were thought to have spent Christmas in bed to keep warm, new figures have disclosed, as it emerged that more than a million are missing out on cold weather payments. See The Telegraph here. Meanwhile George Monbiot writing in The Guardian says:


The level of excess winter deaths in the UK is higher than Siberia’s. This is why.

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 28th December 2010.

Were you to list the factors that distinguish civilisation from barbarism, this would come close to the top: that the elderly are not left to die of cold. By this measure, the United Kingdom is a cruel land. Although we usually have one of the smallest differences between winter and summer temperatures at these latitudes, we also have one of the highest levels of excess winter deaths. Roughly twice as many people, per capita, die here than in Scandinavia and other parts of northern Europe, though our winters are typically milder(1). Even Siberia has lower levels of excess winter deaths than we do(2). Between 25,000 and 30,000 people a year are hastened to the grave by the cold here(3) – this winter it could be much worse.

Why? Inequality. We have an economic elite untouched and unmoved by the ills afflicting other people. It survives all changes of government. Its need for profit outweighs other people’s need for survival. Here’s how our brutal system operates.

Fuel poverty is defined as having to spend 10% or more of your income on keeping your home at a decent temperature. Between 2003 and 2008 (the latest available figures) the number of households in fuel poverty here rose from 2 to 4.5 million(4). That’s not people; that’s households: this blight now afflicts 18% of the UK’s population. Yet, since 2000, over £25bn of our money has been spent on programmes ostensibly designed to prevent it(5). Admittedly, much of this spending doesn’t really have anything to do with fuel. The winter fuel payment is, in truth, a universal pension supplement which people can spend as they wish: it helps large numbers of the elderly to get by. But most of the other spending programmes are ill-conceived, unfair and unfocussed.

Even before the coalition took office, the government’s statutory advisers estimated that 7m households would be fuel-poor by 2016(6), which happens to be the date by which New Labour pledged to eliminate fuel poverty. As the incomes of the poor fall and the Tories deregulate still further, it could get even worse.

The main reason is that the privatised, liberalised utility companies have been allowed to get away with murder. In her excellent new book Fixing Fuel Poverty, Brenda Boardman shows that fuel poverty has risen so steeply in the UK because public control over the energy companies is so weak(7). In 2002 the regulator, Ofgem, decided that it would stop regulating consumer prices. The energy companies immediately increased their profit margins: 10-fold in one case(8). When world energy prices rise, the companies raise their tariffs, often far more steeply than the wholesale price justifies. When they fall, domestic prices often stay where they are.

The price rises are exacerbated by policies which penalise the poor. People who use pre-payment meters to buy gas and electricity (who are often the poorest) are stung for an extra £120 a year(9). Those who consume the most energy (generally the rich) are subsidised by everyone else: they pay a lower tariff beyond a certain level of use. It ought to be the other way round: the first units you consume should be the cheapest. Before the election, both the Tories and the Lib Dems demanded an inquiry into competition in the energy market. They’re not demanding it any more(10).

There should be a perfect synergy between climate change and social justice policies. As the Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee points out, “improving the energy efficiency of homes is the most effective way of tackling fuel poverty.”(11) But the government’s green policies are grossly unfair and regressive: everyone pays at an equal rate for reducing energy emissions, yet those who need the most help to green their homes and reduce their costs don’t get it. Policies such as the European emissions trading system, the carbon emissions reduction target and the feed-in tariff are, according to the government’s Climate Change Committee, likely to throw another 1.7m people into fuel poverty by 2022(12). This is an outrage.

The main scheme for improving the homes of the fuel poor, Warm Front, is so leaky and badly constructed that, if it were a house, it would be condemned and demolished. Only 25% of the money it spends relieves fuel poverty(13). There’s no requirement that the worst homes are treated, or that they are brought up to an acceptable level of energy efficiency. Boardman discovered that “the proportion of expenditure going to the fuel poor is less than they contribute”(14).

Now the scheme has been suspended. The government has launched a consultation on how it could work better when it resumes, but there will be much less money(15): even if it starts to work, it will address only a fraction of the escalating problem.

Nothing will be done to reduce fuel poverty until governments discipline one of the least regulated energy markets in the rich world - controlling profits and prices - and help those who need it most. Green policies must be funded by transferring money from richer consumers to poorer ones. It’s a scandal that none of this was addressed by the Labour government. It would be little short of miraculous if it were tackled by the Tories. But until something is done, the cold will keep killing, at levels which even the Siberians don’t have to endure.

See fully referenced article here.


Anonymous said...

I'm reading this to take my mind off the extreme cold - woke at 4am as usual it's too cold to sleep - I'm at my wit's end with it and have done everything I possibly can to insulate and draughtproof the house. I simply can't afford to heat more than one room at a time. In winter, I live in 3 or 4 layers of clothes and just wish I could afford to move to a smaller place. There must be so many other older people suffering like me - where is the government help?

Jim T said...

Try Citizens Advice Bureau - there are some grants but alot have dried up. See: http://www.stroud.gov.uk/docs/environment/energy_efficiency.asp

Gloucestershire Energy Saving Trust Advice Centre on 0800 512 012

The sad truth is that with fuel prices rising things look set to only get worse.