Memorandum submitted by the Commission for Rural Communities (FP 9)



Our evidence covers fuel poverty in rural England with specific concern for off mains gas areas.


Off Mains Gas Evidence


The enclosed maps (3)


Map 1 illustrates the extent of coverage of the mains gas network across England expressed in percentage terms and based on post code data.


Map 2 illustrates the correlation of the highest percentage off net gas areas with the highest incidences of rural fuel poverty identified by lower super output areas.


Map 3 illustrates the distribution 100% off net gas areas identified in Map 2 in correlation with the percentage of households in fuel poverty.


The graphs below show a clear correlation between increasing levels of fuel poverty and households with no mains gas connection. This is new analysis which we hope the Select Committee will find informative.


One in three rural households do not have a mains gas connection and are reliant on heating oil, Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) or solid fuel for their heating. As graph 1 illustrates not having a mains gas connection has a significant impact on the prevalence of fuel poverty. 23% of all households that have no mains gas connection are living in fuel poverty (compared to 12% of all households that have a mains gas connection).


Graph 1: Source: Building Research Establishment (BRE) analysis (2010) of English Housing Condition Survey 2006/07


The situation is worse in rural areas than in urban. 27% of rural households that have no mains gas connection are living in fuel poverty (compared to 18% of urban households that have no mains gas connection).


Also as graph 2 illustrates below the most rural areas (Villages and Isolated Hamlets) have worse indicators than the denser rural areas (Town and Fringe). 28% (almost 1 in 3) of households in 'Villages, hamlets and isolated dwellings' that have no mains gas connection are living in fuel poverty (compared to 22% in rural towns and fringe areas that have no mains gas).



Graph 2: Source: BRE analysis (2010) of English Housing Condition Survey 2006/07



Key characteristics of rural fuel poverty

Fuel poverty is exacerbated in rural areas due to the high number of older solid wall properties that are difficult to insulate and high number of households and lower than average wages. This combined with a partial access to cheaper (regulated) mains gas, increases the incidence of fuel poverty.


Key facts about rural fuel poverty include:

1 in 5 (21.3%) households in villages, isolated dwellings and hamlets are living in fuel poverty, compared to 12% in urban areas (Source: BRE / English Housing Condition Survey, 2006/07).

34% of all rural households are solid wall properties (Hard to Treat Homes) which are more difficult and expensive to insulate (Source: Centre for Sustainable Energy Report to Eaga Partnership Charitable Trust from July 2008).

Hard to treat homes (off mains gas and solid wall) account for over 50% of the UK's total carbon emissions from housing (Source: BRE/ English Housing Condition Survey of 2006/2007).

29.5% of households in villages, isolated dwellings and hamlets have a SAP (Standard Assessment Procedure for Energy Efficiency) below 30, compared to 5.8% in urban areas. A SAP rating below 35 is classified as an extremely energy inefficient home and a significant health hazard. (Source: BRE / English Housing Condition Survey, 2006/07).



Rural Fuel Poverty and Government initiatives


Given this evidence the CRC is very concerned that current and proposed fuel poverty programmes including Warm Front, CERT (Carbon Emission Reduction Target), Community Energy Savings Programme (CESP) and the CERT Extension; whilst supposed to be available across the country, may not in fact address the needs of rural households, nor reach the fuel poor in off mains gas areas.


An evaluation of the Warm Front programme by the Centre for Sustainable Energy for EAGA found that the correlation between Warm Front Grants delivered between 2000 and 2008 and levels of fuel poverty was strongest in 'urban' areas and weakest in rural areas - between 2000 and 2008 only 10% of Warm Front Grants were awarded in rural areas. This figure has risen to 15% in 2008/09 however, this is reaching only a fraction of the number of rural households who need to be lifted out of fuel poverty, especially those in hard to treat properties and/or off the gas network. Due to the focus on cavity and loft insulation the Government's CERT programme is not applicable to rural hard to treat homes. We also note that CESP agreed programmes of assistance are all in urban areas.



Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI)


This proposed initiative, currently being consulted upon, will apply to all areas including rural off net gas households. Whilst we are supportive of measures to improve the uptake of renewable technologies and tackle carbon emissions, we are concerned that the levy supporting the RHI may disproportionately impact on off mains gas fuel poor households reliant on fossil fuel; that is those using LPG, domestic heating oil (kerosene) or coal.


In our view the use of levies raised from domestic and from commercial users should be separately ring fenced for domestic and for commercial investment. This is because of the risk that fuel poor households would be compelled to pay the levy but might then (depending on the final design of the scheme)be unable to access investment from the RHI fund whilst rural (and other) businesses would be able to. This would clearly be unfair.


CRC Hands Up to Fuel Poverty Study


For information


The Commission for Rural Communities and Rural Services Network are working with Durham County Council, East Riding Council and Shropshire Council to identify the depth and impact of rural fuel poverty in these areas and gain a better understanding of the barriers and solutions to engaging with communities on rural fuel poverty issues.


As part of the study we have surveyed 7,500 rural households with a very high response rate of 15.6%. A full analysis of the responses plus further evidence from focus groups which are currently running in each of the areas will be available at the end of April 2010. However initial analysis of the Durham responses is showing a high level of confusion and mistrust amongst rural residents on the range of energy conservation schemes available, what schemes are applicable to them if any and the role of energy companies in delivering schemes.


We would be happy to provide the Committee, or any of its Members, with details of the findings following completion.



Marmot review 2010


We should like to draw the Committee's attention to Professor Sir Michael Marmot's strategic review of health inequalities, 'Fair Society, Healthy Lives' that state on page 134 'Risks of fuel poverty are higher in rural areas'.


The impact on health of fuel poverty should not be underestimated, it is not only cold but damp conditions that gnaw at and debilitate fuel poor households.