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The stark challenge of fuel poverty

•   Official government advisory group identifies funding shortfall on quest to improve homes – report 
•   Energy efficiency as infrastructure priority acknowledged
•   More resource and better targeting needed

The Committee on Fuel Poverty has published its first report – spelling out what needs to be done to help England's 2.38 million households struggling to pay their energy bills. 

The government advisory group has laid out some stark points. Possibly the most significant among them is its estimate that the shortfall in funding if we're to hit the 2030 target of getting as many homes as possible up to Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) band C is around the £20 billion mark. 

The resource issue

It's a statement, if it were needed, that the current Energy Company Obligation (ECO) scheme falls short as an instrument to achieve this big change. The hard truth is that if we want to tackle fuel poverty properly and get to the 2030 target, we need to ramp up activity and spend more. 

Funding for fuel poverty has to reach the fuel poor. This may seem an obvious thing to point out, but without proper targeting, schemes can fail to achieve this most fundamental factor in success. 

Knowing what's needed, where

Data, right down to home level, is going to be pivotal to getting the most out of what comes next – so it is a positive that the report goes to some length about the importance of targeting, both in existing schemes, and what, potentially, might be to come. 

But nearly 40 mentions of targeting in a report is not action on the ground, so it's also pleasing that the authors point out that there are encouraging steps to this end already under way within the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

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An infrastructural concern

There are some other positives to take from the report. The authors reference energy efficiency as a national infrastructure priority – something that Energy Saving Trust is looking to be officially recognised. 

The health and wellbeing impact of improving leaky homes is potentially enormous; coupled with significant economic benefits; it's a truly compelling package. 

Reaching private landlords

With double the incidence of fuel poverty (20 per cent) in the private rented sector compared to the percentage across all sectors, and some of the least energy efficient housing to be found there, it's clear that this should be another priority area. 

So while it is pleasing to see the report call for minimum standards in private rented accommodation, this does need to be introduced in a form that's undiluted, with some capacity to measure and enforce its effectiveness. 

A figure of £5,000 has been mooted as a possible cap to the amount landlords would have to spend to get the least energy efficient properties up to an E rating, but at present, nothing has been decided. 

The advice is right?

A section of the report is dedicated to the importance of householders living in fuel poverty being informed of the options available to them. Another positive, as good advice, combined with good targeting, is what will take fuel poverty schemes from good ideas on paper to actually improving people's lives. 

Looking to Scotland might be a good idea for decision-makers when it comes to making sure the right information gets to the right people. Home Energy Scotland, a well-funded one-stop shop service for householders, is proving an exemplar model for joining advice and delivery on energy efficiency. 

It's to be hoped that this report, as well as the forthcoming Bonfield Review on energy efficiency and renewables advice and consumer protection, will inform a smarter approach to fuel poverty that finally starts to stem the tide of a phenomenon that poses a serious, long-term problem in the UK. 

Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, or tweet @EnergySvgTrust.

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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want to hear about a very large source of hidden heat loss and how to fix it ? Affecting nearly every house - say 5 million

the cheapest,, easiest only slightly technical fix, almost DIY - not many know about it

Should be the First step in a Complete Envelope to optimise "semi" homes

Ian Greenwood

The supply network knows which properties have the highest usage. Should they also be asked to contact and review the heaviest users and determine a strategy to help those reduce their consumption? Properties with Vulnerable persons could be passed to the Local Authority (or other organization) to assist.

I just would like advice really..we seem to be using and paying for more electricity than a normal family of say 4 or 5.. We are not using our devices eg oven...washing ..machine...dishwasher..(tumbler dryer (never) more than 3 times a week to save money..we are a married couple who have and are just reaching 60...it's nearly £12 a day..£2 of which is gas...heating..which we try not to put on...too often..then a standing charge of .45p because of our prepayment meter ...we switched to OVO earlier this year and now have a smart meter fitted.... We noticed the raise in our prices a few years ago when our then new neighbours moved in and had put our address down by mistake...I corrected this after receiving letters from both my suppliers..although couldn't contact eon (our then elec supplier) so just left it...there is definitely something very wrong...I have tried emailing ovo several times and so far Havnt had a reply!!! So will try to ring them tomorrow...what I really would like to know..have you heard of this before..sorry to be so long winded many thanks and any advice would be gratefully received kind regards Julia Brundell.

I consider myself as a "green" -person, rain water and pump for hosing the car and garden, double glazing and good loft installation. the government is heavily promoting solar panels with generous feed in tariffs but as a licenced radio amateur my hobby is not now possible on some of our limited frequency bands during daylight hours as the result of massive interference in some cases over 200 times the normal background noise level following the installation of a system on a nearby bungalow roof. the equipment makers and installers are aware of the problems but the government has not given OFCOM the power to deal with it and the installers know that. I would like to point out that in a poor signal area reception of FM and DAB radio may be effected. If my equipment produced a small fraction of that "RF" pollution OFCOM would have me shut down. Is that a fair government policy?