Citizens Advice response to the Help to Heat consultation
2.35 million households in England live in fuel poverty, meaning that 1 in 10 households are either living in a cold home, or spending so much of their income on energy that they are pushed into poverty.
Citizens Advice welcomes the Government's commitment to tackling fuel poverty through energy efficiency measures. We support the proposal for a transition to a fuel poverty-focused scheme. The Help to Heat scheme will be an important element in achieving the interim Fuel Poverty target for England of ensuring that almost all fuel poor homes achieve an EPC band of at least Band E by 2020 and the equivalent targets for Scotland and Wales.
However, the proposed amount of funding available is insufficient for meeting these targets. We call on the Department to closely monitor and evaluate the scheme to ensure that measures are reaching those in the coldest homes and the deepest fuel poverty. It should also set out how the Help to Heat scheme relates to wider plans for meeting its fuel poverty targets.
We do not consider that supplier obligation, as currently designed, the most appropriate way to deliver energy efficiency measures to households in fuel poverty. Suppliers are ill-placed to reach vulnerable households, lacking sufficient links with the services and organisations that vulnerable and low-income consumers use. Within the target group, suppliers choose which customers receive what support, to meet their targets in the way that is most cost-effective for them, rather to help consumers in the most need.
The proposals for local flexibility may help bring some improvement in the delivery of measures to vulnerable householders. However, this effect would magnified by more extensive devolution of responsibilities and a system of mandating suppliers to deliver measures when they receive referrals from accredited organisations.
Whatever the delivery method, a future fuel poverty scheme needs to designed with the consumer at its heart and reflect how people actually think and behave. It should lead to clear, simple and credible offers to consumers, that can be tailored to individual. The supplier obligation has often led to a complicated and confusing customer journey. These problems put consumers off engaging with the scheme, and with energy efficiency more generally. It is important that suppliers use the transition year to simplify, streamline and improve the customer journey to ensure that consumers can engage with the scheme and receive high quality work.