Fuel poverty is a persistent problem in the UK, with a significant proportion of households struggling to pay their energy bills.
The definition of households in fuel poverty are those that:
- have required fuel costs (to meet an adequate standard of warmth) that are above average
- were they to spend that amount, would be left with a residual income below the official poverty line
In England, the adequate standard of warmth is defined as 21°C in the living room and 18°C in other occupied rooms.
Government statistics for 2016 show that an estimated 8.4% of residents in Winchester District are living in fuel poverty, with numbers weighted towards local authority tenants (16% of whom are in fuel poverty nationally) and social housing tenants (12.4%) rather than homeowners.
From 2014 through to 2018, WinACC ran a programme of support for social housing tenants across the District to help tackle fuel poverty. Funding for the work came from two sources – Winchester City Council (WCC) provided a rolling grant to fund work specifically for WCC tenants, complementing the existing funding for homeowners and private tenants through the Hitting The Cold Spots programme. Additional money came from a series of successful applications to the government-run Big Energy Saving Network grant scheme, aimed at encouraging all home energy users to regularly shop around for the cheapest gas and electricity tariffs.
WinACC’s home energy programme had two main objectives. The first was to train frontline advisers in third-sector organisations on straightforward energy efficiency and tariff switching issues – the advisers could then deliver advice to tenants and other energy consumers as part of their existing activities. The frontline staff would typically offer advice to those who call or visit their offices, or help with energy matters during visits to their clients’ homes. Training was delivered to a number of local organisations, including volunteers in Citizens Advice Winchester District, the housing teams at Winchester City Council and local housing associations, and a number of local charities supporting vulnerable people including Age Concern, Trinity Winchester and Friends Of The Family.
The second objective was to deliver support directly to WCC tenants through home visits. Our Home Energy Adviser, Andy Smale, coordinated with WCC housing officers to arrange visits to tenants across the district, providing advice on simple no-cost and low-cost things they could do to save energy.
Andy was able to demonstrate the financial savings that could be achieved by switching energy tariffs, as well as reporting back to WCC housing officers where repairs and improvements could be made to the properties to help save energy. Tenants could also be referred to a financial advisor who could look at opportunities for the tenant to reduce outgoings and claim appropriate benefits.
Further support was given to WCC tenants as part of a programme to upgrade obsolete heating systems at sheltered accommodation across the District, for example by helping tenants choose appropriate tariffs when moving from electrical storage heating to gas central heating.
Across the four years of the programme, many hundreds of tenants and homeowners have been helped, and dozens of frontline advisers trained up – a legacy that we hope will last for some time to come.