New campaign aims to tackle fuel poverty

Mark Henderson is Chief Executive of Home Group
Mark Henderson is Chief Executive of Home Group

Mark Henderson, 03 November 2020

Last month I wrote to the Prime Minister and the UK’s ‘big six’ energy providers urging them to take steps to do more for the millions of people living in fuel poverty through the pandemic. Now we need your support to get the message out.

Home Group has recently launched a campaign to highlight the daily challenges people living in fuel poverty experience. We all know that this is a long term problem for so many of our customers who live on low incomes, but now more than ever we need to push for changes that can make peoples’ lives bearable during one of the bleakest winters we have all faced.

The latest government figures state that 2.4 million households are in fuel poverty. With an average 2.4 people per household, close to six million people are fuel poor.

Meanwhile, the recent paper Preparing for a challenging winter 2020/21 commissioned by the Government Office for Science and delivered by the Academy of Medical Sciences, notes that in homes where the temperature is less than 18 degrees centigrade the coronavirus will thrive.

Before the potentially perfect storm arrives – cold homes, high winter fuel bills, reduced incomes, and a virulent and unrelenting disease – we need to act.

We, in the housing sector, need to do all we can to limit the impact of fuel poverty on our customers. And I know from speaking to colleagues across the country that we are doing just that. In conjunction, we need to be working with the government and energy providers to the same end.

As part of our campaign, we have put forward a number of asks that would alleviate the pressure on households in the short term, especially in the face of what is likely to be around the corner:

  • the government to introduce a one-off coronavirus winter fuel payment of £300 for those households identified as needing more support.
  • energy providers to remove standing charges from the same households, with immediate effect.
  • energy providers to ensure customers known to be on a higher tariff are moved to a better tariff. Also, for them to simplify the process and information around switching tariffs.

Crucially we want energy providers to take urgent steps to prioritise those in social and affordable homes as part of its program of switching to smart metering. This isn’t about extra resource, it’s about using the same resource in a better way – for those who need it most. Already, one of the big six has told us they are looking into this.

We also want the government to work towards making the winter fuel payment means-tested and extend the criteria beyond pensionable age, to help others who would benefit.

And we are calling on the government to work with the sector and UK lenders so that innovative financing schemes can be delivered to increase the roll-out of commercial models of battery storage and rooftop solar panels – to help make greener and cheaper energy option available for many more people.

I’m delighted by the support we’ve received from colleagues across the sector so far. Housing associations representing over a million social and affordable homes in the country have backed our campaign.

The National Housing Federation, National Energy Action – the charity working to end fuel poverty in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – and MPs from all sides have also lent the campaign their support.

With momentum building, we will continue to urge the government and energy suppliers to take steps to not only tackle fuel poverty in the face of the coronavirus, but over the long term as well.

We would love for more of our sector colleagues to join us by visiting Home Group on Twitter and retweeting our calls, and writing letters to local MPs asking them to back our asks. If you want to be part of this crucial campaign, the team would love to hear from you.