Government launches fuel poverty action plan
The Government launched a new action plan aimed at eradicating fuel poverty in vulnerable households this week.It defines fuel poverty as a combination of low income and poor energy efficiency in homes, and estimates the number of fuel poor households in England stands at 1.4 million.
The new action plan will provide an extra £140 million to boost Warm Front, the government's main tool for tackling fuel poverty, in providing insulation and central heating. More than 940,000 homes have been helped by this scheme since 2000, backed by £600 million from Defra.
More people will be given benefit entitlement checks which have yielded nearly £1,500 a year extra on average for Warm Front applicants. The new plan will target action on areas with a high proportion of fuel poor and try to increase the energy efficiency of properties to a level where there is a minimal risk of fuel poverty.
There are also plans to give local councils new powers to intervene where a private landlord refuses Warm Front assistance, to assess if the property needs work to protect tenants from cold or damp.
Launching the new action plan, Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett said: "This government is serious about putting an end to fuel poverty. It damages the health of those who live in cold homes and affects their quality of life. We want to create warmer, healthier homes particularly for the elderly and families with children."
However, Conservative shadow Environment Secretary, Tim Yeo said he found the action plan "staggering" as the government had recently thrown out a Conservative amendment in the Housing Bill to enforce basic energy efficiency standards in social housing.
"The current decent homes standard is set so low, as regards thermal insulation and energy efficiency, that it will leave millions of people in fuel poverty. This standard would not be legally acceptable under the Building Regulations, which maintains the standards for new homes. Every year in the UK an average 30,000 people die unnecessarily from cold related illness. Yet the government is allowing our poorest and most vulnerable to live in the coldest and least fuel efficient homes," he said.
Mr Yeo called on the Chancellor to consider further fiscal measures to encourage householders to invest in energy efficiency in the pre-budget report.
The fuel poverty action plan comes just a week after the DTI launched a drive to encourage vulnerable consumers to switch to cheaper energy suppliers and invest in energy efficiency measures such as cavity wall insulation ( see related story).
Launching the drive, Trade and Industry secretary Patricia Hewitt said significant savings could be made if consumers switched to cheaper suppliers and practiced a few simple measures such as switching off lights and unplugging machinery when not in use.
Her comments were widely ridiculed in the national press after photos showed most of the lights of the DTI headquarters in London were left on all night despite all staff having gone home.
By David Hopkins