Lower bills and stronger communities
by Ralph Scott
Earlier this month, the Hills Fuel Poverty review announced that the Government is likely to fail in its target to eliminate fuel poverty by 2016. On the contrary, it predicted that the numbers of fuel poor would multiply to reach 9 million that year. As a result of stagnant or declining incomes and rapidly rising fuel prices, fuel poverty has reached epidemic proportions – and it gets worse every year.
The Government has been running schemes to tackle fuel poverty for years – often by improving household energy efficiency. One such scheme, which has been in operation since 2009, is the Community Energy Saving Programme (CESP). CESP is mandated by Government but funded and delivered by energy companies, who work in partnership with local authorities and community groups.
The Warm-Up, which we launch today, evaluates two CESP schemes. It finds that, when delivered well, CESP schemes can reduce households’ energy spend; ease local unemployment; have a positive effect on community relationships and lead to an improvement in health and general wellbeing.
The immediate impact of providing insulation and other efficiency measures is a reduction in household bills. In the Stafford scheme, 45 per cent agreed that their bills had reduced, rising to 70 per cent when those who felt it was too early to say were discounted.
But more interesting is how participation in the scheme could also strengthen neighbourliness. Members of the community said they had made concerted efforts to keep it tidy, and found an improved sense of friendliness post-CESP. Again in Stafford, 26 per cent believed that their neighbourhood became a friendlier place to live after CESP, compared to only 16 per cent who didn’t.
CESP is winding up this year, to be replaced by the Green Deal. The Government has confirmed it will respond to the Green Deal consultation in March, with secondary legislation planned for later this year. Worryingly, both of the above benefits appear to be under risk.
While energy companies will continue to be obligated to help the fuel-poor, the consultation document suggests far less money should be set aside for this purpose. Tenants in social housing are at risk of losing out on this funding and the Government plans to no longer incentivise community-based schemes. As energy companies will inevitably – and legitimately – fulfill their obligations as cost-effectively as possible, provision could become more and more on an individual basis.
This has a double impact. First, it means that those in most in need of these measures – those most at risk of fuel poverty – might miss out in future. Second, it makes more likely the programmes being implemented on a pepper-pot basis, rather than street-by-street, thereby losing the benefits to the community.
So, in order to reap the positive effects identified in the report, the Government should learn the lessons of CESP, and encourage community-based schemes – which deliver both lower household bills and stronger communities.