BEIS consultation on the Fuel Poverty Strategy for England - Citizens Advice response
Citizens Advice welcomes this consultation and review of the Fuel Poverty Strategy. A refreshed strategy should give much-needed impetus to reducing fuel poverty in England, a problem that impacts the quality of life of millions of households.
We welcome the proposed new fuel poverty indicator. It is clearer than the current indicator and should make it easier to benchmark progress toward, and ultimately meet, the overall target fuel poverty target. The indicator should not take into account receipt of the Warm Home Discount (WHD). This would make the indicator less useful and could potentially skew the delivery of energy efficiency measures.
The government must also provide further clarity on the principles underlying the strategy and take action to ensure the principles are reflected in the design of policy. There is limited evidence that the existing principles have significantly guided government policy since 2015. Unless the revised principles are clarified further, they are unlikely to have much impact in future.
We are pleased to see the inclusion of a new principle on aligning the fuel poverty strategy with wider government strategies, particularly the Clean Growth Strategy. Citizens Advice also recommends the introduction of a fifth principle, that the strategy should be consumer-friendly.
Citizens Advice supports the government’s targets for fuel poverty. However, both the overall target and interim milestones are only useful if they drive government action. The government needs to provide much more support for delivery if they are to be achieved.
In the 4 years since the introduction of the Fuel Poverty Strategy for England, the government has failed to produce a convincing plan to deliver the strategic targets. In order to achieve the targets, the government must publish and consult on a fully-costed plan on the back of this review. This plan should build on the recommendations of the Committee on Fuel Poverty (CFP), the statutory advisory body on fuel poverty.
England is the only nation in Great Britain without a public fuel poverty scheme alongside the Energy Company Obligation (ECO). To meet the fuel poverty target the government needs to increase funding from the £640m provided annually under ECO to the £1.2bn a year (between now and 2030) recommended by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC).
The current approach of delivering fuel poverty support through targets on energy suppliers leads to poor targeting and provides no guarantee of support for vulnerable households. Citizens Advice strongly recommends the government consider moving this responsibility to other bodies post-2022, like energy network companies or local authorities, and guaranteeing support to those in most need, through a combination of:
An area-based delivery scheme
On demand support for consumers in the greatest need
It should also look to provide automatic data-matched support for low income vulnerable households, rather than the patchy approach of the Warm Home Discount broader group.
To overcome the immediate shortfall in funding and prepare the ground for future schemes, the government should introduce the Fuel Poverty Challenge Fund as recommended by the CFP
In the private rented sector, the £3,500 cost cap in the minimum energy efficiency standards will leave many renters still living in substandard conditions. Increasing the cost cap, and reintroducing regulation are needed to gradually increase the minimum standard in future.