2015-16 was a year of growth and increased delivery with a strong focus on innovation, communities and education – themes which we singled out for our 35th anniversary year throughout 2016.
NEA grew substantially over the course of the year as we employed 23 new members of staff to enable us to continue our usual range of activities, to deliver the Health and Innovation Programme, and to develop new programmes and plans for the future. Following consultation events with key stakeholders across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, NEA produced a new strategic plan and a business plan for the coming three years. Whilst we did not change direction and our focus remained steadfast on fuel poverty alleviation, we increased our capabilities and the charity became a major grant-awarding body with greater outreach to help build capacity in more communities.
The Government committed to ensuring there is a home energy efficiency policy to supersede the current phase of the Energy Company Obligation (ECO). It accepted NEA’s proposal that the future ECO scheme should be focused on fuel poor households, and there should be greater discretion for local communities to apply their own judgement to customer eligibility. We also helped secure a commitment in the Comprehensive Spending Review to the extension of the Warm Home Discount to 2022, with over £1.6 billion funds over five years to assist low income and vulnerable customers.
NEA contributed to the Competition Markets Authority’s investigation into the energy market and price caps to be developed and put in place for prepayment meter customers, who are much more likely than other customers to experience fuel poverty.
Our campaigning work in Wales and Northern Ireland helped secure manifesto commitments to tackle fuel poverty from the main parties ahead of the assembly elections. Through collaboration and joint working with other organisations as part of the fuel poverty coalition in Wales, we outlined five key priorities for action, gaining cross-party support from the major political parties in Wales and helping to secure a commitment to continue to invest in an energy efficiency programme. In Northern Ireland we continued to chair the Northern Ireland Fuel Poverty Coalition producing the FPC Manifesto for Warmth which was used to support campaigning activities. We also started The Energy Justice Campaign delivered by NEA NI and funded by the Oak Foundation. Its aim was to establish a progressive social and environmental energy efficiency obligation ringfenced and targeted at the fuel poor, providing access to energy efficiency measures for at least 50,000 low-income households over 10 years.
In 2015-16 we also progressed a number of social research studies which run over several years. This included SMART-UP, an EU-funded project which examined the impact that providing enhanced advice to vulnerable smart meter customers can have on changing energy usage behaviour as well as a study funded by the Gas Safety Trust to investigate the relationship between carbon monoxide risk and household vulnerability.
Delivery projects included the npower Fuel Bank™ pilot programme; a successful partnership between npower, NEA, the Trussell Trust and individual food bank providers in a number of pilot areas. It was targeted at food bank users who use a prepayment meter and were in energy crisis or at immediate risk. The fuel bank users were provided with a top-up and our research evaluation showed that there were three principal benefits being delivered to food bank users in this way: they were helped to reconnect to energy supplies; prevented from disconnecting where emergency credit was already being used and were helped to reduce some of their energy debt. The evaluation insights informed npower’s decision to expand the Fuel Bank in 2016 into ten new areas and to continue with their investment.
Our education and training work continued to enhance the skills of a wide variety of audiences across the energy sector, the health sector and in communities, increasing the capacity for delivery of quality advice to vulnerable households across the UK. Over the year NEA delivered training to 5,154 participants, a 21% increase on the previous year and we were an integral part of the Government’s Big Energy Saving Network (BESN), providing online training and delivering support sessions for 120 BESN champions across the country.
The main work programme for the year however was our new £26.2 million Health and Innovation Programme (HIP) which we were able to design and implement. The programme commenced in April 2015 with the aim of bringing affordable warmth to over 6,000 fuel poor and vulnerable households in England, Wales and Scotland. It was split into three distinct funds:
- A Technical Innovation Fund
- A Warm and Healthy Homes Fund
- A Warm Zones Fund
The programme delivery began and would continue until 2018 and the expectation quickly became that we would exceed our targets. As well as providing direct assistance the programme generated a range of insight which helped inform future policy and scheme delivery. It also significantly expanded NEA’s core functions, enhanced our role as a grant-awarding charity and capacity builder, and increased our technical capabilities.