Author: Sam Hubble
Fuel poverty is a major challenge that has significant social, environmental and health implications – particularly in the winter months as heating bills inevitably rise to combat the cold. This post aims to shed light on what fuel poverty is, the opportunities and barriers involved in trying to tackle it, and how we at SEWEnergy are working towards helping those most in need.
What Is Fuel Poverty?
In the simplest terms, fuel poverty is the situation that many households or individuals find themselves in of being unable to afford to keep their home adequately heated.
The traditional definition used by policy-makers was “a household is considered to be in fuel poverty when it needs to spend more than 10% of its income on fuel”.
However, in 2013 the Department for Energy and Climate Change updated how fuel poverty is measured in England and Wales. This new definition considers households to be in fuel poverty if:
- They have required fuel costs that are above average (the national median level)
- Were they to spend that amount they would be left with a residual income below the official poverty line
This definition change was designed to provide a more accurate measure to help to identify the vulnerable households. Like many political developments, this change received both praise and criticism as the implications for various stakeholders were discussed (for a balanced debate see this Carbon Brief article).
Whilst the way fuel poverty is defined can have important implications for official statistics – and as a result the development of policies that aim to tackle the problem – at SEWEnergy we are able to work at a more local level (concentrated in South East Wales), enabling us to focus on the individual circumstances of vulnerable households.
As such, there are three main factors that influence fuel poverty, which we aim to be able to help people with:
- The energy-efficiency of the property
- Energy Prices
- Household income
How Can Fuel Poverty Be Tackled?
There are a number of ways that fuel poverty can be tackled:
Energy Efficiency: The energy efficiency of homes can be improved by installing insulation and modern, efficient heating systems. Draught proofing and replacing appliances and light bulbs with more efficient models can also help.
Energy Prices: Accessing the most suitable energy prices can often reduce annual fuel bills by hundreds of pounds. Schemes such as the Priority Service Register and Warm Homes Discount can also provide financial (and other) assistance. We recommend considering switching energy suppliers, and can provide free, impartial advice to those who want help.
Household Income: Maximising household income – both through advising on and facilitating employment opportunities, and checking that households are in receipt of benefits they are entitled to – can help to reduce the financial burden of struggling to pay the bill.
Schemes such as Welsh Government’s Nest, ECO Energy Wales, and our Healthy Homes project provide advice on how to save energy, access grants and improve the efficiency of your home. Get in touch with us on 01633 223111 to see how we can help.
Obstacles To Tackling Fuel Poverty – And How We’re Trying To Hurdle Them
Unfortunately it is often the case that the most vulnerable households are also the hardest to reach. It can be difficult for people to know what help is out there and how they can access it. Many vulnerable people have no internet access, may be housebound and have little means of contact with organisations like us who are trying to help.
Our Healthy Homes project is trying to change this, by working with organisations with direct access to at-risk households, and also undertaking community outreach to try to identify people who we can help. Throughout February we have held advice surgeries, and we will be holding others across Newport and Monmouthshire in the near future.
Get in touch if you would like an event to be organised near you, and come along and/or call us on 01633 223111 if you think we can help you or someone you know.