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Warm Homes, Better Lives

Orbit’s director of strategy & communication looks at how we can tackle the issue of fuel poverty and says we must act now.

It has been a long wait for detail of how we tackle the UK’s dire fuel poverty problem. Despite a new government strategy being published a year ago, and the historic Paris agreement in December, we are yet to see a clear vision for how we are tackling this pertinent issue.

There is much ambition, and a list of long-term targets. The Paris agreement will require countries to limit their emissions, and the UK still plans to have dealt with our fuel poor homes by 2030.

But still, very little is known of the detail. The Autumn Statement set targets to improve 200,000 fuel poor homes per year, albeit with a continued fall in ECO investment. We remain in a woeful position in Europe, with only Estonia having a higher rate of fuel poverty. And the biggest single reason for poor energy efficiency is the quality of UK housing.

The Orbit and CIH report Warm homes, better lives, makes recommendations to government as to how it can drive its long-term commitment to helping the UK’s 2.3 million households living in fuel poverty.

With government’s existing ECO programme due to end in 2017, and targets on winter deaths, fuel poverty, cold homes, and carbon reduction, we should give this unresolved problem the scrutiny it needs once again. Fuel poverty can only be reduced by focusing on the energy efficiency and energy bills of those in fuel poverty, especially low-income vulnerable households.

Greater detail is needed quickly for a number of reasons. Firstly, all major energy efficiency programmes only run until 2017, so we need to work out the best ways to maximise future investment.

The Orbit/ CIH report sets out how the government, together with housing, health and third sector partners, can take a comprehensive approach to tackling fuel poverty – making a real difference to fuel-poor households, as well as wider cost savings.

Government investment over the next five years represents only half of what the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group felt was needed to meet 2030 targets, before it was disbanded in 2015. Others need to come together to meet this investment gap – investment from health, housing and environmental partners that will benefit financially from a country of warmer homes.

The energy efficiency market is seeing innovation coming from across the world, creating effective solutions that cost us less over the period of the long-term targets. We need to harness this new thinking to enable the UK to lead the way in energy efficiency.

And finally, families are being hit by the latest wave of welfare reform change, and tackling fuel poverty will put money back into the pockets of our poorest households.

We have learnt much from the ECO and Green Deal programmes. Orbit has seen the impact these have made to our customers’ lives with them benefitting from a £1.5 million investment in homes. It is clear the impact was life-changing for some.

A criticism of ECO though is that it was driven by the energy companies themselves, largely through tele-marketing and without necessarily engaging with the hardest to reach people. The new government strategy and associated think-tanks drive the localism agenda, along with the idea of ‘prescribing energy efficiency’ through GPs, adult social care, children’s services and the voluntary sector. Health and wellbeing boards will potentially direct future resources in this area and local authorities.

Orbit is committed to ensuring the sector shows ambition, learns from ECO and agrees the best possible investment model now so that homes can be warmer and people can be healthier for generations to come. Our next step is to bring together experts from housing, energy and public policy to explore the role of the housing sector in stimulating improvement in the energy performance of the nation’s homes.

We need to act now, with the development of delivery partnerships that are committed to tackling this issue, and bring investment and expertise. We need to deliver on the 2030 targets, not shift the goalposts, and deal with this issue now.