Memorandum submitted by Mr Richard Beard (FP 15)
1. The Warmfront scheme one of many setup to remove fuel poverty has endeavored to reduce the number of households in fuel poverty. This is not without significant failings.
2. Eaga Plc the company running the scheme is continuing to make millions of pounds of profit out of public funds which could be used directly to help more people in fuel poverty. The company was previously a nonprofit making organization which raises further questions outside the scope of this subject. It would make more sense for the Energy Saving Trust or NEA to run and manage the scheme along with all publicly funded energy improvement schemes. This would allow the public who are often confused about criteria's for qualifying to call one place for advice from an unbiased non-profit making organisation.
3. The concept of the Warmfront scheme is to assess households on the grounds that if they have been qualified by another government department for certain benefits, then they must be in fuel poverty and qualify. This is a seriously floored method; many households in the UK on low incomes who do not qualify for said benefits are excluded from the scheme. The only fair assessment would be to means test households directly or open the scheme to everyone, there is no middle ground here without dismissing the availability to some of those in most need. The government has earnings records for everyone through income tax and national insurance contributions; could this data be used to assist in means testing as it is for benefit entitlement?
4. The maximum available under the Warmfront scheme has increased however there are still people having to pay contributions. Rather than having a funding limit for each property which is abused by some, it would make more sense to assess a property and occupants on their energy efficiency needs.
5. Progress is too slow in moving efficiency improvements away from traditional methods and forwards into renewables. By following the current path and leaving a large section of the nation dependant on gas we are setting up a cycle for this position to happen again. As renewables become more the convention and the cost of replacement falls, those who can afford them will have lower heating costs than those that have been left on gas. As gas prices increase which they are set to do then gas as a source of energy is nothing short of a fuel poverty trap.
6. Having undertaken work for the Warmfront scheme I can add experience of how the scheme has been abused. I have witnessed a boiler being installed to heat a swimming pool as under the current criteria and funding limits the money was available. How is this in anyway fair to a household who don't qualify for benefits and struggle to make ends meet on a low income and who are by definition in fuel poverty? Frequently houses that most people can only dream of affording with £100,000 cars parked outside, households that clearly are not in fuel poverty have qualified and received the benefit of a Warmfront grant.
7. Some landlords have seen the potential of the scheme and I have witnessed landlords moving one person who qualifies for the scheme between their properties so they can have the improvements done to each of their properties for free. I'm sure the general public does not consider a private landlord a good use of public funds to eradicate fuel poverty. Surely it would make more sense to progressively phase in legislation that makes it the landlord's responsibility to improve their tenant's fuel poverty by efficiency improvements with the landlords taking the financial burden and not the tax-payer.
8. Social tariffs are simply Plc propaganda, a gesture to humor politicians and the press. Most households by shopping around can find tariffs far cheaper than the social tariffs offered. However this is fundamentally floored as many in fuel poverty do not have the credit and financial status needed to qualify for the cheaper rates. If energy companies are going to offer social tariffs then they should be as cheap as any other scheme that company offer before they can call it a social tariff, both for those on pre-payment and post-payment terms.
9. Whilst the current strategy has made great strides in reducing fuel poverty, it is clear that improvements to the management, selection and use of funds need changes. The current practices of replacing gas for gas needs to be assessed with a longer term perspective. More promotion of the current renewable schemes is needed. If there is to be serious movement towards achieving the primary goal then action is needed immediately. At the current rate prices for fuel and energy are rising the number of households facing fuel poverty is going to increase more and more without smarter intervention.