Urgent action is required to help the most in need

Energy efficiency isn’t just about lagging lofts and using CFL lightbulbs. It’s about warmth, comfort, and reassurance in an age of spiralling living costs.

This is something we’ve always been concerned about as we sought to hit our main goal of reducing domestic carbon emissions, but also something we’re focusing in on now more than ever, in our new status as a social enterprise.

We’ve got a report out today, and it represents something of a landmark. In from the cold is the first time we’ve looked at the contacts we make through our advice service and done some analysis through the prism of fuel poverty.

What we’ve found is illuminating – but won’t come as a huge surprise to many. 62 per cent of callers are worried about their energy bills; over a quarter are finding it difficult to heat their home; one in five is suffering real personal stress as a result.

The report underlines what came out of the government-commissioned fuel poverty report by Prof John Hills, pointing out that rising fuel prices have largely undone the progress made through energy-efficiency improvements.  Eleven per cent of callers are telling us they spend over a fifth of their income on fuel. In 2009, only three per cent of households nationally spent such a high proportion of their income.  Whatever way you spin it, all this adds up to a shocking state of affairs in a developed nation.

So what are we going to do about it?

Well, we’re calling for better partnership working and targeting of the most in need, and right now. We’re looking to help local authorities play a more active role, guided by the government through the reinvigorated Home Energy Conservation Act, in developing financing strategies for large-scale energy efficiency retrofit, targeting action to hit the most in need, and working proactively with landlords in their area – particularly those who have F and G rated homes.

We’re also calling on robust advice and support for vulnerable people when smart meters get rolled out, and better targeting those who could benefit most from Green Deal and ECO through Energy Performance Certificate data.

We don’t stop there. We try and get across our excitement about the potential of smart home energy management in tackling fuel poverty, highlighting the SHIMMER pilot scheme, which we’ve blogged about here before.

Our Chief Executive Philip has something to say about that:

“It’s important that energy efficiency is seen as an essential part of having a financially-manageable home. The roll-out of smart meters could potentially be a great starting point in achieving this, so we’re also urging those funding research and development into smart technologies consider how they can support energy bill management and financial inclusion for poorer households.”

It would be strange to not mention the fact we’ve been recently awarded the contract to deliver the government’s new advice line which will refer customers at risk of fuel poverty for support under the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) – so this announcement of a refocusing of effort in tackling fuel poverty is more than timely.

In from the cold: Working in partnership to tackle fuel poverty was launched today at the ‘Delivering the Green Deal’ event at Central Hall, Westminster. You can download the full report here. For an abridged account, you can read the press release here.