Memorandum submitted by Kent County Council (FP 29)
Kent County Council, as a large authority with considerable issues in relation to fuel poverty and energy efficiency, welcomes this opportunity to provide evidence to the Energy and Climate Change Committee and wish to note the following points in response to the areas identified:
1. The coherence of the Government's initiatives on energy efficiency
1.1 The crux of alleviating fuel poverty is the roll out of a comprehensive area based retrofitting initiative. The national government could assist local delivery of this by directly providing local authorities with the funding levied in by utilities (CERT). The Local Authority could then combine this funding with funds currently provided to Warmfront to offer assisted installations to all households.
1.2 Doing this would overcome the current barriers to assisting fuel poor households outlined below:
a. Householders lack of trust in the available offers: Local authorities still hold a position of trust and as administrators/marketers of an area based scheme they would expect a high response rate.
b. Fragmented funding: Current initiatives are unpredictable and do not offer the installer market longevity. Offering a 5 year business plan, based on utility and national assistance, would result in supply costs being driven down and offer security to the installer market.
c. Eligibility: The English House Condition Survey 2006 indicates that 57 per cent of vulnerable households in fuel poverty do not claim the relevant benefits to qualify for the national scheme (National Audit Office, published 4 February 2009). Through an area-based scheme all households would be eligible for some assistance and this would be marketed under the same trusted banner. Confusion over schemes and utility offerings would therefore be removed from the marketplace.
d. Not all property and tenure types have schemes that are applicable. Most noticeable of these is where the vulnerable customer is not the owner: All property types would be eligible, making it simple to understand.
e. Lack of awareness: As this would be area-based the local awareness would be concentrated and installations would be visible in the area.
2. The methods used to target assistance at households which need it most
2.1 There is a distinct gap between the roles of staff who encounter the effects of fuel poverty and those that are able to signpost to assistance. There seems to be little national drive to utilise these roles to get measures installed into households. The remedial action for this is to impose duties on these functions to be part of the solution.
2.2 For example some roles that are likely to identify needs early include Doctors (repeated visits affected by cold, such as falls, asthma etc), officers responsible for those that are new entrants to the benefits system, and public staff responsible for the payment of housing benefit to private lettings.
2.3 The social economy picks up the cost when early intervention is not made by these functions. For example the well-documented increased health costs and the burden on services for doctors and the increased drain on benefits (as a higher percentage of income is used on fuel costs and possible health impacts).
3 Social tariffs and plans to put social price support on a statutory footing
3.1 Social tariffs are a welcomed intervention. Kent has a high proportion of rural households which are not eligible for dual-fuel discounts. Statutory social tariffs for the rural fuel poor would be welcomed.
4 Support for households not connected to the mains gas grid
4.1 Kent's rural households experience the fluctuations of fuel costs (especially oil) more than those on mains gas and electricity. These households require specific assistance in installing alternative fuel sources and assisted efficiency measures.