Fuel poverty affects almost a fifth of London households and contributed to 2,500 excess winter deaths last year - and the problem is getting worse, a London Assembly report warns today.
‘In from the cold’ by the Assembly’s Health and Public Services Committee says despite efforts by the government, the Mayor and a range of targeted initiatives and incentives, the number of households affected by fuel poverty increased by more than 19 per cent in just one year.
The report warns that unless concerted and effective action is taken to tackle the issue, long term energy price rises will continue to push more people into fuel poverty. The Greater London Authority’s own projections show a worst case scenario where almost a quarter of households will be in fuel poverty by next year.
People in fuel poverty spend a disproportionate amount of their income on energy for heating, lighting, and cooking in their homes. Cold homes contribute to serious health problems like pneumonia and heart attacks and cost the NHS an estimated £859 million per year.
Victoria Borwick AM, Health and Public Services Committee Chair said:
“More and more people are finding keeping their home warm unaffordable as fuel prices rise faster than incomes. Fuel poverty is having a major effect on the health of Londoners, from the very young to the elderly, as well as costing the NHS significant sums of money each year.
“The energy companies and all levels of government have a part to play in helping prevent households falling into fuel poverty and our report sets out practical ideas to help achieve this.”
The report says home insulation and energy efficiency programmes are the best and most sustainable ways to tackle fuel poverty and calls on energy companies to fund a ‘RE:NEW 2’ scheme to build on the work of the Mayor’s RE:NEW programme.
To date, progress on these types of programmes has been slow because insulating homes is particularly challenging in London as properties tend to be older, with solid walls and are often divided into flats. Because its housing stock is more expensive to treat, the capital has lost out on available funding through the Carbon Emission Reduction Target (CERT) scheme: this loss has been estimated at £350 million by the Mayor.
Energy companies have also found it difficult to identify low income vulnerable households at risk of fuel poverty, particularly as data about households is not shared between agencies and useful information - like eligibility for benefits - is confidential.
To combat this problem, the Committee has helped develop a new mapping tool using open public data to help delivery organisations identify areas in London most likely to contain households at risk of fuel poverty. Assembly Members want this tool to be shared with the GLA, energy companies, local authorities and other organisations by May 2012 so they can use it to help target the support they provide.
The Committee makes a number of recommendations, including:
- Energy companies should provide funding for RE:NEW 2.
- The GLA should agree criteria for areas to be selected for RE:NEW 2.
- The RE:NEW 2 programme should be used to provide a comprehensive referral service to other sources of support for households in fuel poverty, including advice on discounts, tariffs and how to boost income.
- There should be a regional target for future funding for Government energy efficiency programmes.
- Eligibility criteria for the Warm Home Discount should be managed better to increase take-up among those at risk of fuel poverty.
As well as investigating issues that matter to Londoners, the London Assembly acts as a check and a balance on the Mayor.