What does the new European Energy Poverty Observatory mean for social housing?

A combination of rising energy costs, poor-quality housing or low incomes means that many households across Europe are struggling with the cost associated with heating (or cooling) their homes – often called fuel poverty.

Gerald Koessl is a Research Officer at the National Housing Federation

Gerald Koessl is a Research Officer at the National Housing Federation

29 January 2018

A combination of rising energy costs, poor-quality housing or low incomes means that many households across Europe are struggling with the cost associated with heating (or cooling) their homes – often called fuel poverty.

Around 9% of all EU citizens – about 45m people – are struggling to keep their homes adequately warm, and that figure rises to 21% among low-income earners (those earning below 60% of the median equivalised income – ‘equivalised’ meaning earnings are adjusted for household size).

While the UK was one of the first countries to introduce an official fuel poverty measure, the situation looks very different in many other EU member states, where the issue has not received as much attention.

Percent of households unable to keep their homes warm in the EU (2016)

 

Source: EU-SILC Survey

The launch of the EU Energy Poverty Observatory (EUPOV) – part of the Commission's efforts to address energy poverty across EU countries – will hopefully change this.

The Observatory provides information, raises awareness and promotes public engagement on all things related to energy and fuel poverty across the EU.

Its launch is an important step in addressing some of the issues around energy efficiency and poverty at the level where much of the energy market’s intervention and regulation actually sits – at EU level.

Hopefully, it will draw connections between fuel poverty, energy efficiency and the goal to reduce carbon emissions and increase the use of renewables, as set out in the Energy Union. Only a few days ago, the European Parliament adopted a report on a revised energy directive, aiming to achieve a 35% reduction of energy consumption by 2030, compared to 2005.

Social housing tenants are referenced in this directive. The revised directive suggests that “in designing alternative policy measures to achieve energy savings, Member States shall take into account the effect on low-income households, including those affected by energy poverty, and ensure measures are implemented as a priority in those households and in social housing.”

Housing associations in England are already providing the most energy efficient homes across all tenures, but fuel poverty still remains a problem for many social renters according to the latest fuel poverty figures.

These show that 13% of social renters are fuel poor (i.e., they pay above average fuel costs and fall below the poverty line), and around a third of all social renters struggle with fuel costs, even if their fuel bills are not above average (English Housing Survey, Household Dataset 2015/16). This is to be expected, as many social renters are on low incomes, which means even moderate fuel bills can be a struggle.

It’s important to look at the household types living in different tenures to understand the true impact of fuel poverty. With a concentration of older and single households, social tenants are more vulnerable to the health consequences of living in a cold home.

For housing associations in the UK, the Observatory could be a valuable resource in understanding how social housing providers across Europe are trying to tackle the issue of fuel poverty amongst their tenants. And our experience of dealing with fuel poverty here in the UK could provide some important lessons too.

More information about the launch of the EU Energy Poverty Observatory can be found here.

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