Banishing fuel poverty should be a national priority, says OFTEC

As a heating technician, it is likely that you will have come across customers who cannot afford to run their heating. Sadly, for some low-income homes, it has become a stark choice between eating and heating, and we should all be wondering how this can be possible in 21st century Britain, says Jeremy Hawksley, OFTEC’s director general.

High fuel prices and poor quality housing have left many in this terrible situation, and for some it has become a matter of life and death. Government statistics reveal that the number of deaths rises dramatically in the winter and the UK’s figures for winter mortality are among the worst in Europe. Something needs to be done!

In the UK fuel poverty is said to occur when a household has fuel costs that are above average and spending that amount would leave their residual income below the official poverty line. It is something OFTEC has campaigned strongly on, together with many other industry and consumer groups. We know that households off the gas grid are more likely to be in fuel poverty, so oil heating users are particularly vulnerable. Luckily, last winter the price of oil fell dramatically, but this will not continue indefinitely.

[pullquote]For some it has become a matter of life and death[/pullquote]

Policy changes required
Before the general election, we wrote to all the candidates in rural constituencies,asking them to fight for the following policy changes if elected:
• To improve insulation levels of UK homes, with an emphasis on rural households, up to an energy efficiency level of at least band C
• To incentivise the installation of high efficiency condensing boilers through a generous boiler scrappage scheme, applicable to oil boilers as well as gas boilers
• To revise the domestic RHI to include more pragmatic steps to encourage the installation of low carbon heat – e.g. improved incentives for hybrid heating solutions and recognition of bio-liquids, such as B30K
• To extend the government’s £25 million scheme to install modern central heating in fuel poor homes that have none, so that it also covers the upgrading of existing heating systems in fuel poor households • To develop a more holistic domestic energy policy that will address fuel poverty and carbon emission reduction simultaneously, rather than as separate goals.

A welcome boost
It remains to be seen whether these demands will be met, but we received a welcome boost in March when the Department of Energy and Climate Change published a fuel poverty strategy for England. The strategy acknowledged that the rural fuel poor had been poorly served by existing measures – which shows that they are listening and have recognised the problem.

Linked to this new initiative is a £25 million fund to support low income offgrid households, which was announced by the government in the 2014 autumn statement. The so-called “central heating fund” has been created to help pay for the installation of a first time central heating system. This would significantly boost the energy efficiency levels of a home. The fund aims to improve the heating efficiency of up to 8,000 off-grid, fuel poor homes, many of which will benefit from a condensing oil boiler. OFTEC will be looking closely for more policy announcements to address this issue.

An active role for technicians
Also in March came the interesting suggestion from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) that heating technicians could play an active role in helping to identify households that need help to improve their energy efficiency. OFTEC believes many technicians would welcome this opportunity, particularly if they were then able to carry out the improvement work. This would ensure that sole traders and small businesses do not miss out on the chance to get involved – as has happened with other government schemes, such as the controversial Green Deal.

[pullquote]Heating technicians could play an active role[/pullquote]

With the election now decided, OFTEC hopes that tackling fuel poverty will be a key priority for the government. While sensible and effective government domestic energy efficiency policies would undoubtedly benefit our industry, the wider benefit to society as a whole would be incalculable.

Would you like to do something to help the elderly fuel poor now? OFTEC has published a useful guide called ‘Keeping warm this winter’. It is free of charge, so to order copies, email: marketing@oftec. org or tel: 0845 65 85 080 or 01473 626 298 from the UK or 01-8645771 from the Republic of Ireland.