National – Regional – Local
2004 and a period of persistently high energy prices meant that the task of eradicating fuel poverty amongst vulnerable households had become much harder to achieve. Increased funding for Warm Front in England was welcomed by NEA, as was the extension of the programme to include central heating provision for all eligible households.
At the start of the year the charity took operational control of Warm Zones Ltd, the not-for-profit company originally established to operate pilot schemes in five areas. The company moved beyond the pilot phase to develop new zones across England and Wales building on lessons learnt from the pilots.
In April 2004 the Government produced the Second Annual progress Report on the UK Fuel Poverty Strategy. It highlighted the fact that the number of households in the UK estimated to be in fuel poverty in 2002 had fallen to 2.25 million from around 3 million in 2001. NEA believes that this estimate, and subsequent estimates, is overly optimistic since they take no account of increases in domestic fuel prices post-2003.
NEA worked with a total of 61 local authorities during the year on the delivery of 31 locally based practical projects. Thirteen research projects were conducted, one of which established a clear link between higher SAP ratings of a property and improved health. NEA also contributed to the Government’s aim of eradicating child poverty by working with the SureStart network to deliver training for staff and volunteers.
The challenge of engaging with key Government Departments, other than Defra and DTI, met with some success, especially with the Department for Work and Pensions in relation to income maximisation and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister on housing policy. The implementation of the new Housing Act 2004 was present to further opportunities to integrate energy efficiency with more general housing improvements in the coming years.
2005: When the Home Energy Efficiency Scheme first started, annual funding stood at £23 million with a maximum grant of £315; by 2005 funding for Warm Front was ten times this figure with a grant maximum of £2,700 (£4,000 for oil-fired central heating). Despite this, the Government’s Fuel Poverty Advisory Group warned that: “The Government has to run faster in order to stand still” and that business as usual would not be sufficient to meet the target of eliminating fuel poverty in vulnerable households by 2010.
NEA continued to rise to the challenge of providing innovative solutions to eradicating fuel poverty including: identifying and appointing rural energy champions; trialling the use of air-source heat pumps; and analysing the potential for renewable and alternative technologies in fuel poverty programmes. The East Midlands became the first English region to set itself the challenge of addressing fuel poverty on a region-wide basis and the Regional Public Health Group, in partnership with NEA, developed an Affordable Warmth Action Plan for the East Midlands.
NEA moved towards a regional presence and Regional Co-ordinators now operate in the East Midlands, South West, North East, North West and East of England. The Chancellor, in his Pre-Budget Report in December 2005, announced increased taxation on North Sea energy producers, revenues from which would be used to mitigate the impact of higher prices on fuel poverty. This revenue would fund the continuation of Winter Fuel Payments and additional resources for Warm Front. In Wales, First Minister Rhodri Morgan and Finance Minister Sue Essex announced an extra £10m for energy efficiency programmes aimed at reducing fuel poverty in that country. 2005 ended with the coldest winter for over a decade.
“The risk of heart attack, stroke and household accidents is increased by cold conditions in the home. The development of an East Midlands Regional Affordable Warmth Action Plan aims to tackle these problems by raising the profile of fuel poverty across a range of regional and sub-regional organisations and complementing the work being undertaken at local level.”
Carl Neal, Regional Public Health Group