430,000 of the poorest children in England and Wales live in dangerously cold homes
New analysis by National Energy Action (NEA) shows over 430,000 of the poorest children are living in rented properties that are impossible to keep warm(4).To add insult to injury, current Government plans to address the issue in England and Wales risk being watered down by the Private Landlord lobby.
Seven years after Parliament voted to address this scandal, NEA says private landlords are still failing to act and are resisting measures to improve conditions in the worst of the sector. NEA also warns the upcoming regulations – which come into force in April – will offer no protections for the most vulnerable children living in Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs).
Adam Scorer, Chief Executive of NEA comments:
“Many private landlords take pride in letting warm and decent homes to their tenants. But the bitter reality is that we are fast approaching half a million children living in rented properties with freezing conditions, at risk of serious ill-health and with landlords who show no inclination to make their homes fit for human habitation.
Government and landlords need to get their priorities right. It’s pretty obvious that the worst landlords will act, only if they are required to.Government has the chance to take many thousands of children out of the worst impacts of fuel poverty. If it does not, then it will be most vulnerable children in our communities who will continue to pay the price. Frankly, that is simply unacceptable.”
NEA welcomed Government proposals to force landlords to improve the energy efficiency of their properties in time for new minimum standards due to come into force in April. However, Ministers appear to have followed the recommendations of the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) and reduced the cap on landlord spending from £5,000 down to £2,500.
The lower cap means only 139,200 households in England and Wales will benefit from better insulation by April 2020. NEA also estimates over 50,000 children living in the deepest fuel poverty won’t be helped by 2020 and will still be living in unacceptable housing conditions.
The warning comes ahead of NEA’s Fuel Poverty Awareness Day (taking place on Friday 23 February) which will highlight that across England over 1 million families will have had to make impossible choices about which essentials they have gone without this winter. The day of awareness follows NEA’s warning late last year that low income families have little to no financial safety net and the gap between their incomes and what they need to spend to meet the essential cost of living can be as much as £9,000.
NEA is calling for:
- The cap on landlord spending to be set at £5,000 as recommended by the Government’s own Committee on Fuel Poverty and supported by a wide range of organisations;
- Enhanced oversight of local enforcement in the private rented sector and to compel landlords to meet Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards;
- Single room HMO tenancies to be brought inside the scope of the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards PRS regulations;
- Ofgem to enhance tenants’ knowledge of the rights to switch, choose their payment type and benefit from smart meters;
- Ofgem to enhance its focus on protecting PRS tenants from the on-selling of sub-metred electricity and non-regulated fuels via their landlords.
- 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 Warm Homes Campaign is NEA’s national initiative to raise awareness of the problem of fuel poverty and the solutions available. It has run from 17 November and will conclude on 23 February (Fuel Poverty Awareness Day).
- The Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000 states that a person is to be regarded as living “in fuel poverty” if they are a member of a household, living on a low income, in a home which cannot be kept warm at reasonable cost. Since 2011, fuel poverty in England is defined using the Low Income High Cost (LIHC) definition to measure progress. This states that an individual is considered fuel poor where they have fuel costs that are above average (the national median level) and, were they to spend that amount they would be left with an income below the poverty line. Progress to monitor fuel poverty across the other three UK nations is still measured using the previous 10% definition.
- Fuel Poverty now affects around 2.50 million households, representing approximately 11 % of all English households compared to 2.38 million households (or 10.6% of all households) in England in 2014. This too was a small increase from 2.35 million households in 2013 – the level of fuel poverty prior to the fuel poverty strategy being passed in Parliament. The fuel poverty gap – an estimation of the additional amount that those in fuel poverty need to pay to heat their homes adequately compared to average households – has not shown any real progress either, and remains at around £884 million. The most acute levels of fuel poverty are in the Private Rented Sector.
- There are 267,000 F/G rated homes in the private rented sector, with a further 13,000 in Wales (where the PRS regulations also apply). In England, currently, over 122,000 of these least efficient PRS households contain those suffering from the worst extremes of fuel poverty. NEA’s analysis also finds that in England, 1 in 5 private renters (941,000) are in fuel poverty (compared to 1 in 8 social renters and 1 in 14 owner-occupiers). Analysis conducted by NEA of the English Housing Survey also shows there are 437,298 fuel poor households with children living in the PRS and 42% of all children in fuel poverty live in the private rented sector. By comparison, a child living in owner-occupied housing has a 1 in 8 chance of being fuel poor.
- Fuel poor private tenants face excess energy costs (the extra amount they need to spend to keep warm compared to a non-fuel poor household) of £410 per year on average and up to £1,160 per year in private rented F and G properties. By comparison, fuel poor tenants in social housing face gaps of less than half their private rented counterparts (£175 per year). Characteristics of F and G properties may include no central heating, no wall insulation (leading to problems with damp and mould) and old boilers that are inefficient and less safe.
Living in the poorest quality housing causes private tenants hardship, places their health at risk and, in some cases, leads to death. In 2016/17 there were 34,300 excess winter deaths in England and Wales, the second highest number in five years. At least 10,290 of these deaths are attributable to cold homes, and ill-health caused by poor housing is an even bigger problem. Treating the health impacts of cold homes, including cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, falls and injuries and mental ill health, is costing the NHS an estimated £1.36 billion each year.