A report recently produced by Policy Exchange presents a character profile of the 2.3m households in England living in fuel poverty.
It finds that over 1m households who cannot afford to heat their home to a comfortable level are in work, while also revealing that the households living in the least energy efficient properties would have to spend as much as £1,700 extra a year to heat their home to a suitable temperature.
It suggests that fuel poverty is a complex problem affecting a broad cross section of people, from low income working households to pensioners. The report states that there is a disconnect between government aspirations and funding available to invest in energy efficiency in fuel poor homes and recommends that government should reallocate funding to bridge the identified funding gap. The paper acknowledges that the funding gap cannot be met through increased taxation at a time of economic uncertainty and squeezed household budgets, and sets out a number of ways of meeting the funding challenge within existing budgets.
The report also highlights a trial scheme carried out by Gentoo (a social housing provider) where energy efficiency improvements were provided to people suffering from cold related illnesses. The measures cost £5,000 per home and were funded by the local clinical commissioning group. The study found that the energy efficiency improvements led to a reduction in visits to GPs and to hospital, as well as a reduction in energy bills of £30 per month and improvements in quality of life.
Can developers become part of the solution? Upgrading the energy efficiency of fuel poor homes will take time. Therefore direct energy bill support will need to continue to reduce costs in the meantime. Would a SAP-based metric for a fuel poverty target provide the strong incentive to improve the energy efficiency of fuel poor households? DECC for instance, in ‘Fuel Poverty: a Framework for Future Action’, suggests a bespoke energy efficiency measure created solely for the purposes of setting and monitoring progress against a fuel poverty target, and would not amend in any way the official SAP methodology.
The questions remain and despite current market volatility of reducing oil prices, the problems are set to continue.