Charities and industry warn loss of funding for repairs and replacements of gas heating appliances will kill this winter

For press enquiries please contact peter.smith@nea.org.uk or call 07595 780893.

Two charities are today warning that a loss of funding for repairs and replacements of gas heating appliances will badly damage thousands of people’s health, well-being and could even kill this winter. They claim there is now virtually no support provided nationally from current schemes, despite one in ten households not being able to afford to service, repair or replace these appliances. They say the crisis will lead to people with existing health conditions living with prolonged periods without space heating and as many as one in six gas appliances could shortly be condemned as part of the GB- wide smart meter roll-out. Industry experts also claim some old boilers are much more expensive to run, bad for the environment and are more prone to dangerous faults which in extreme instances can lead to loss of life from Carbon Monoxide poisoning.

Peter Smith, Director of Policy and Research at National Energy Action (NEA) comments:

“Our latest research shows that Gas Safe engineers, local authorities, charities and other local agencies are coming into daily contact with households who have had older, inefficient unsafe gas appliance condemned but one in ten households can’t afford to fix or replace them. This leaves thousands of people with existing medical conditions facing a winter without any effective space heating or hot water. This is bound to have very negative consequences; causing needless deaths and acute suffering. There is now no Government support to repair or replace these heating appliances and current energy supplier-led schemes are not addressing these issues which have increased significantly in recent months. This situation is also scheduled to become more severe in the near future, as engineers visit millions of homes and will have to turn off any unsafe gas appliances as part of the GB-wide smart meter roll-out. Whilst it is welcome that qualified engineers condemn gas appliances that need to be repaired or replaced, one risk to health and safety can be replaced by another.”

NEA is working with the heating industry to urge the UK Government to use the upcoming Budget to introduce a national boiler scrappage scheme, providing emergency assistance to low income households. Mike Foster, Chief Executive of the Energy & Utilities Alliance continues:

“The upcoming Budget must address this worrying gap in support. Replacing an old, inefficient ‘zombie’ boiler could have a positive impact on air quality and potentially lead to yearly savings of between £85 to over £300. The heating industry are committed to working on a cross-departmental basis with the Department of Health (DoH) and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to introduce a new and additional policy which will help reduce cold-related ill health and winter deaths, help improve air quality, avoid acute risks such as CO poisoning and potentially save millions of tonnes of carbon emissions a year. The new initiative could also help stimulate local growth and wealth creation as local contractors could be used to install or repair the broken gas appliances.”

Safety expert, Chris Bielby, Chair of the charity Gas Safety Trust (GST) which aims to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning backs the campaign and concludes:

“We know the tragic and fatal consequences of not being able to afford to service, repair or replace unsafe gas heating appliances, particularly for the most vulnerable in our society. It can put households or nearby neighbours at risk as a result of Carbon Monoxide poisoning or potentially, in extreme situations, cause fires or gas explosions. The latest industry data for September 2015 and January 2016 shows that there were four fatalities from this form of carbon monoxide poisoning – caused by a lack of gas appliance servicing, poor ventilation or where old flues have become blocked. All of the victims were over 60. Sadly, we also know this is just the tip of the iceberg; many thousands more perish or badly suffer over the winter because the resulting cold indoor temperatures exacerbate existing health conditions.”

The lack of support for gas boiler repairs and replacements has been frequently raised in Parliament in the last month. However, to date, the UK Government has failed to acknowledge the severity of these issues or commit to investigating what additional investment may be needed at a national level. NEA estimates it costs health services approximately £3.6 million per day treating cold related morbidity and in the past four years alone over £5 billion of tax payers’ money has been spent treating the symptoms of cold homes.

Conversely, addressing this big gap in support would help reduce these needless costs whilst delivering a wider set of local and national benefits.

ENDS

EDITORS NOTES 

  1. National Energy Action (NEA) is the UK fuel poverty charity which undertakes research, advocacy and works collaboratively with partners from local and national governments, industry and the third sector to deliver practical solutions to vulnerable people living in cold homes across the UK. For more information visit: nea.org.uk. The Gas Safety Trust is a registered charitable body and is UK’s leading fuel safety charity with the key objectives of further improving fuel safety for the public and industry throughout the United Kingdom and reducing the incidents of death and serious injury from carbon monoxide exposure. For more information visit: www.gassafetytrust.org/. The Energy and Utilities Alliance (EUA) is a not-for-profit trade association that provides a leading industry voice to help shape the future policy direction within the energy sector. EUA has six organisational divisions one of which is the Heating & Hotwater Industry Council (HHIC), a member organisation representing the UK domestic heating and hot water industry. For more information visit: https://www.eua.org.uk/about/.

 

  1. NEA recently carried out research with Northern Gas Networks to assess the extent of support within the energy industry and wider stakeholders for households with condemned appliances and to develop a protocol for safeguarding domestic customers identified as vulnerable following a gas disconnection. This complemented industry research which identified as many as one in six British homes may be living with an unsafe gas appliance. If checked by a qualified gas engineer such appliances would have to be turned off from supply or ‘condemned’ under current law. Out of the respondents to a call for evidence on gas disconnections, 83% confirmed that their organisation had come into contact with households who have had an appliance condemned. Respondents to the call for evidence also stressed the detrimental impact this has on a householder’s mental and physical health. As part of the national GB wide smart meter rollout, energy suppliers and their contractors will also have to condemn an increasing number of gas appliances in the coming years up to

 

  1. In a recent written response from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to a question by Barnsley Central MP, Dan Jarvis, answered on 17 October, the Government noted support is provided via the Energy Company Obligation (ECO), the Warm Home Discount (WHD) scheme and consumers living in rented accommodation should contact their landlord in the first instance if they have problems with their heating system. Whist ECO continues to provide some limited support for gas boilers, from a high of 85,000 boilers installed from the three months October to December 2013, only 13,037 boilers were installed in the five months from April to August 2017, only c. 5,500 were gas boiler replacements, less than 6% of what they were at the start of ECO in 2013.There have also been no repairs funded under the current phase of the scheme. The issue was also recently raised in the House of Lords by Baroness Maddock who asked the Government to use the upcoming Budget to make sure that emergency funding is available to the most vulnerable for boiler repairs and replacement. See: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Lords/2017-10-19/debates/2C1511A7- 9402-4888-B01A-767487C44BFC/FuelPoverty.

 

  1. Using the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s estimate that 30% of winter deaths are caused by cold housing, NEA estimate that over 9,300 frail and vulnerable people across the UK are dying needlessly on average throughout the winter months due to cold homes; 80 people per Beyond premature mortality, evidence continues to show the increased risk of heart attacks and strokes via rising blood pressure for households, who live in a cold home, as well as causing or worsening respiratory illnesses such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD) and asthma. There is also strong existing evidence that cold homes can worsen arthritic, rheumatic conditions or increase propensity to falls as well as badly effecting mental health. Conversely, NHS England also recognises that these deaths are largely preventable and that measures such as increasing energy efficiency in the home through installing insulation and efficient heating systems can have major health benefits.

 

  1. Heating and hot water accounts for about 60 per cent of what a household spends in a year on energy bills, so an efficient boiler makes a big difference, especially to those households which are struggling to pay their energy bills. In a typical semi-detached home, upgrading heating controls and replacing a gas boiler that is around 80 per cent efficient (D rated) with a new boiler will save around £85 a year, whereas replacing a boiler that is 70% efficient (G-rated) could save over

£300 a year. This is based on a 70 per cent or below efficient boiler with no heating controls being replaced by an at least 90 per cent efficient boiler with heating controls. Households which have the worst performing boilers could save even more than this.

 

Real life examples of the impact of loss in funding for repairs and replacements of gas heating appliances:
 
Example 1: ‘…this very vulnerable client was left reliant on electric fan heaters for much of the winter’ (provided by respondent in local government sector, London)
‘An 80+ year old gentleman living alone in a large Victorian house. Severely limited mobility and dementia. Receiving round the clock care. The timeline is unclear however following a safety check his stove was disconnected as it was found to be unsafe. This was replaced but the engineer sent to reinstate the supply found the pipes running from the meter had become corroded. The supplier who carried out the safety check offered to do the work but [was] going to charge £300+ [through ECO]. The client did not feel he could afford this and had difficulty understanding what was going on and communicating due to his dementia. Social services bought [respondent’s organisation] in to try to resolve the situation. [Anonymous] ultimately paid for the work but this very vulnerable client was left reliant on electric fan heaters for much of the winter and was eventually put into temporary supported accommodation.’
Example 2: ‘He was referred to my service but only after he had been without a gas supply for 18 months’ (provided by respondent in charity sector, North East England)
‘I was called to the property of an elderly man in Sunderland whose gas supply had been capped. A neighbour had highlighted the smell of gas. He was referred to my service but only after he had been without a gas supply for 18 months! He had been left a card advising contact with a Gas Safe engineer but unfortunately this gentleman was unable to understand fully or follow it up. When I notified [supplier] they advised that they did not have any follow up procedures due to the limitations in current schemes and that it was the responsibility of the homeowner.’
Example 3: ‘A severely mentally ill client is currently being assisted by our bureau. He has not had a gas supply to his home…for about five years’ (provided by respondent in charity sector, North East England)
‘A severely mentally ill client is currently being assisted by our bureau. He has not had a gas supply to his home (which has major disrepair issues that the landlord has not rectified), for about five years. It is possible that he may have disconnected himself due to not putting money onto the prepayment meter, but it appears more likely from discussions with the supplier that the boiler is not safe and the gas was capped because of this. The client has now run up a debt of more than £600, which is just standing charge that we will try and get written off. Due to his mental health, client has found it difficult to seek support services and has therefore lived in the conditions that he does for such a long time.’
Example 4: ‘One client had no microwave or other appliances to cook besides a deep fat fryer’ (provided by respondent in charity sector, Wales)
‘We have had dozens of clients who have gone long periods without a cooker because theirs was condemned. People on solely benefit based incomes often cannot afford to buy white goods themselves, so we have had many clients who have lasted years without one. One client had no microwave or other appliances to cook besides a deep fat fryer. They used this daily and it resulted in health conditions for the children. They both suffered from impacted bowels and needed help from their doctor.’
Example 5: ‘…the customer’s vulnerable situation made matters a lot more complicated. She was unable to open the door and…[also] very uncomfortable speaking on the phone’ (provided by respondent in local authority sector, London)
‘An extremely sick recently bereaved woman was left with no supply because she had no money to pay for a gas safety check: this is quite a common occurrence for those reliant on PPMs. Social services contacted us because they were unsure who had capped the supply. We established it was the landlord, we applied to our local resident support scheme so we could credit the meters and arranged a time that a carer was available to let the engineer in and to supervise. Again in this case the customer’s vulnerable situation made matters a lot more complicated. She was unable to open the door and extremely uncomfortable with letting people she did not know into the flat unsupervised. She was also very uncomfortable speaking on the phone’.

 

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