Supplementary memorandum by the Fuel Poverty
FPAG's remit covers England only. We are obviously
keen to learn from good practice elsewhere, although we are clearly
not experts on the approaches in the devolved administrations.
A number of the organisations represented on the Group are active
throughout the UK (eg Eaga and NEA) and have provided relevant
information to the Group.
Three points are worth highlighting on the approach
Warm Deal (the Scottish equivalent
of Warm Front) does in appropriate cases include a benefits health
checkie an assessment of whether the customer is entitled
to benefits which he/she is not receiving. On the basis of a recommendation
from FPAG (and others) this is now included on a pilot basis in
Warm Front in England.
In Warm Front there is a maximum
grant per household. In Scotland the average grant per household
has to be at/or below £2,500 but there is no restriction
on the grant to any individual household. This provides flexibility
for the homes where expensive work is needed to remove the household
from fuel poverty. FPAG has recommended a similar approach for
In Scotland free central heating
is offered to pensioners who have no central heating system. FPAG
has not recommended this for England. It would provide help to
some of the fuel poor currently not covered by the English fuel
poverty programmes, but would draw in many who are not fuel poorthus
exacerbating the problem of targeting of the programmes.
In Wales a significant number of properties
do not have, and are unlikely to have, access to mains gas. Pilot
projects on alternatives, such as oil, are therefore in hand.
In Wales and Northern Ireland, the Warm Front
equivalent programmes provide grants for the conversion of solid
fuel to gas central heating (where gas is available)which
is not the case in England, where it is perhaps somewhat less
In Northern Ireland, the extent of fuel poverty
is very high. Natural gas has only recently been introduced in
Northern Ireland and one of the main anti-fuel poverty measures
is to encourage the development of the gas industry. The format
of the energy suppliers' energy efficiency/fuel poverty programmes
is somewhat different in Northern Ireland. A £5 Energy Efficiency
Levy is raised from each Northern Ireland Electricity customer
and the funds are then spent by the energy suppliers, primarily
Northern Ireland Electricity, under a framework laid down by the
Regulator. In recognition of the intensity of the fuel poverty
problem in Northern Ireland, 80% of the funds have to be spent
on fuel poverty programmes.
We can only make informed judgements about this
as we are clearly not party to Defra/Government financial arrangements.
We would make the following observations.
The financial constraints on Defra
appear to have been very tight in recent years, much tighter than
in many other Departments. This is probably in part a result of
foot and mouth disease but there may be other factors as well.
As far we understand it, there is
little "optional" expenditure in Defra. Much of their
expenditure is obligatory eg under the Common Agricultural Policy.
The Fuel Poverty programmes, especially Warm Front, running at
around £150 million pa are a surprisingly large part of their
There is a series of other demands
on Defra stemming, for example, from EU Directives on waste and
recycling, and relating to water.
There appears also to be a feeling
in some parts of Defra that fuel poverty does not fit well with
the key environmental and rural objectives of the Department.
As a result of all this, expenditure
on the Fuel Poverty programmes, especially Warm Front, is often
under threat and there was an 11% cut in the budget in 2003-04.
For the future:
For all the same reasons there again
may be a threat to the Warm Front budget this year (2004-05).
Because Warm Front is such an important
part of Defra's optional expenditure it is harder to secure the
necessary increase in resources for the current spending round
The pressures on Defra staffing do,
as we mentioned in our evidence, cause problems for the implementation
of the Fuel Poverty programmes.
In conclusion, it is our view that the institutional/Departmental
arrangements are not helpful for the attainment of the fuel poverty
When we gave evidence we were unsure about the
funding of the energy champion scheme in five Primary Care Trustsa
scheme under which a health service employee champions awareness
of fuel poverty and energy efficiency grants amongst health professionals.
This scheme is funded by Defra via National Energy Action, not
by the Department of Health. This underlines our comments about
the lack of commitment from the Department of Health.
We would therefore like to see the following
from the Department of Health:
Funding of energy champions more
extensively in a number of PCTs.
Encouragement from Department of
Health to Primary Care Trusts to accept fuel poverty as an important
issue, to refer customers to the fuel poverty and energy efficiency
schemes and to respond positively if they are approached by an
organisation offering energy efficiency measures. This request,
in particular, is an extremely modest one.
4. ENERGY COMPANIES
The Committee asked about additional contributions
from the energy companies. We were in general complimentary about
their work, and some of the companies, as we mentioned, feel that
they doin partown the fuel poverty problem. This
is helpful. The most important contribution they can now make
is to keep their electricity and gas prices as low as possible.
There may be some upward cost pressures, but it is important,
especially from a fuel poverty viewpoint, that prices should not
be increased any more than necessary. In addition, when costs
fall, this should be rapidly reflected in price reductions.