The Government launched the UK Fuel Poverty Strategy in November 2001 making a commitment to eradicating fuel poverty amongst vulnerable households in England by 2010 and for all households by 2016. The devolved administrations were responsible for drawing up their own strategies for Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Warm Zones Ltd was established in 2001 as a not-for-profit company established to run five pilot Warm Zones for an initial three-year period. NEA was one of several agencies involved in the initial stages of the project. This area-based initiative systematically identifies the fuel poverty status and energy efficiency standards of all households in an area and coordinates the delivery of the relevant energy efficiency programmes, and other interventions, to provide solutions to any problems.
NEA’s response to the debate prior to publication of the Energy White Paper emphasised that improved energy efficiency is the rational and sustainable solution to fuel poverty and the only policy option that reconciles tensions between social and environmental objectives.
The first annual progress report on the UK Fuel Poverty Strategy estimated that between 1996 and 2001 there had been a reduction of almost 60% in the number of households in fuel poverty in England. Despite differences between NEA and the relevant Government departments on how household income should be defined for the purpose of assessing fuel poverty, this represented impressive progress. The Government’s Fuel Poverty Advisory Group (FPAG) and NEA both acknowledged that advances had been made in eradicating fuel poverty but also recognised that the majority of this progress could be attributed to lower fuel prices and higher household incomes rather than sustainable improvements to energy efficiency. NEA’s campaigning activities continued, focusing on: the inadequacy of the thermal comfort criteria proposed as part of the Decent Homes Standard for social housing; the Home Energy Conservation Bill 2001; the potential for renewable technologies in tackling fuel poverty; and the delivery of the UK Fuel Poverty Strategy.
At a practical level NEA’s training staff noted a significant increase in the uptake of the NEA City and Guilds 6176 course with a remarkable 350% increase in the take-up of targeted one-day courses.
NEA continued to pilot innovative ways of tackling fuel poverty and the Realising Energy Efficient Communities and Homes (REECH) project was launched in partnership with British Gas to help members of minority ethnic communities overcome any barriers that might prevent them from heating their homes affordably.
In December 2002 NEA signed up to make its Newcastle headquarters the city’s first workplace to go Carbon Neutral under the CO2Much Campaign. 2003 saw rapid movement in the upward trend of energy prices making it much more difficult to sustain progress in reducing fuel poverty in years to come. NEA contributed to the reviews of the two major energy efficiency programmes aimed at tackling fuel poverty – Warm Front and the Energy Efficiency Commitment (EEC) prior to the Government’s launch of its Fuel Poverty Action Plan in 2004.
NEA also worked to engage with other key departments, notably the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Departments for Health and Work and Pensions. In January 2003, Portsmouth Primary Care Trust (PCT) became the first in the country to nominate an Energy Champion in a bid to engage more fully with the fuel poverty and energy efficiency agendas. NEA’s work at a local level continued with the development of Affordable Warmth Strategies with a further 17 individual local authorities and consortia. Hard-to-reach groups were a major focus of NEA’s project activity, working on two specialist projects: ‘Older People’s Energy Needs’ and MEND – ‘Meeting the Energy Needs of the Deaf’. In Northern Ireland, an evaluation of the Department for Social Development’s Warm Homes Scheme was completed, and research into the Armagh-Dungannon Health Action Zone project was carried out in conjunction with the Institute for Public Health in Ireland.
In 2003, the Government’s Energy White Paper reiterated its commitment to the eradication of fuel poverty by identifying this as one of the four main goals of energy policy. Our Energy Future – creating a low carbon economy, the first Energy White Paper to be published for more than 30 years, emphasized the need: ’to ensure that every home is adequately and affordable heated.’ This commitment represented another significant landmark in NEA’s history.
“I am well aware of the benefits of NEA’s work in securing affordable warmth for vulnerable households… it is a remarkable achievement and a major contribution towards our shared objective of eradicating fuel poverty.”
Rt Hon Alan Milburn MP, Secretary of State for Health, 2000