In 2011 NEA marked its 30th Anniversary. The charity continued to use the experience, skills and evidence acquired over that time in leading the fight against fuel poverty and continued to use our expert voice to champion the needs of vulnerable and low-income households.
The year also saw the charity respond to the challenge of reduced public funding and a number of challenges to the voluntary sector as a whole. We focused on three areas of activity:
- Shaping policy – to ensure that the Energy Company Obligation, Electricity Market Reform, the review of the energy retail market, consumer protection with the move to smarter electricity grids and other energy policy developments were socially just and led to fair outcomes and effective programmes.
- Skills training – we developed higher level energy efficiency courses and appropriate training for those working under the Green Deal and advising people in fuel debt.
- Project delivery – we established community-led affordable warmth schemes in rural and urban areas helping prepare for the Green Deal and the Energy Company Obligation.
The context for our work during the year was one of major public policy changes being introduced by the Coalition Government at Westminster in response to the financial crisis; reducing public sector budgets; and an ever-increasing number of people living in homes they could no longer afford to heat properly without going without other essentials. Radical proposals emerged for the financing and delivery of fuel poverty programmes, and a review of existing fuel poverty targets and definitions was instigated by the Government in recognition that the existing strategy was failing and would not deliver on the statutory goal set by the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act for 2016. In Wales and Northern Ireland similar policy reviews were undertaken and changes introduced to the main fuel poverty programmes.
The year also saw the birth of the Warm Home Discount initiative. The Government brought forward legislation to mandate energy suppliers to offer rebates to certain categories of customers through the scheme, focusing assistance to customers most likely to be in, or at risk of, fuel poverty. The Government also introduced a new target for the fuel utilities to direct carbon reduction measures to a ‘Super Priority Group’ – comprising those deemed to be in greatest need.
Professor John Hills also took leadership of a Review of Fuel Poverty on behalf of the Government which was to consider fuel poverty from first principles. The review sought to determine the nature of the issues at the heart of fuel poverty, including the extent to which fuel poverty is distinct from poverty, the detriment resulting from fuel poverty and issues around fuel poverty targets and definitions.
NEA’s campaigning work helped to achieve this improved targeting, working with other members of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, the All-Party Group on Fuel Poverty and Energy Efficiency and the Government’s Fuel Poverty Advisory Group.
In Wales, there was a renewed commitment to fuel poverty alleviation as part of a wider environmental programme to introduce new technologies. In Northern Ireland, where fuel poverty had reached unprecedented levels, the Assembly continued to fund programmes, whilst conceding that available resources were inadequate to the task.