Memorandum submitted by Durham County Council (FP 42)

 

1 Executive Summary - Total Place Programme

 

1.1 Durham County Council are currently working with Central Government (Communities and Local Government) to take part in the national Total Place Pilot Programme. This pilot in Durham is focused on Housing and Regeneration and covers proposals for the Government to consider changes to the existing national energy efficiency funding and delivery mechanisms.

 

1.2 The Total Place energy efficiency case study directly relates to the current domestic energy efficiency and fuel poverty delivery programmes to maximise efficiencies in delivering fuel poverty and energy efficiency programmes. The Total Place report has been submitted directly to the CLG and we are very keen to engage with other Government Departments to take forward this piece of work including the Department of Environment and Climate Change (DECC).

1.3 The case study from Durham County Council highlights the barriers and opportunities to maximise progress to strategically coordinate national opportunities to align national schemes to maximise the assistance available to vulnerable households and is available from the Communities and Local Government.

 

2 Progress Against Government Targets

 

2.1 The current proxy for fuel poverty is based on households with a SAP domestic energy performance of less that 65 and being in receipt of a qualifying benefit. Due to the lack of a national database for SAP energy performance it makes accurate national reporting on fuel poverty levels very difficult. It also prevents organisations pro actively targeting households for assistance.

 

2.2 Durham County Council are therefore working with the Building Research Establishment (BRE) to establish a countywide stock condition database for all 239, 000 domestic properties within County Durham. This database will record property specific information from a wide variety of data sources to allow accurate reporting on levels of fuel poverty within County Durham along with strategic targeting of households for energy conservation schemes. The Housing and Renewals Service will use the stock database to assist with the delivery of a comprehensive grants and loans service and landlord accreditation countywide.

 

2.3 By using this methodology on a national level it will be possible for Local Authorities and the Government not only to accurately assess levels of national fuel poverty but to directly contact households to maximise referrals to schemes to lift these households out of fuel poverty.

 

2.4 This methodology was showcased at recent national conferences from the British Research Establishment and Local Government Association .

 

3 Definition of Households in Fuel Poverty

 

3.1 The Governments current proxy for fuel poverty under NI 187 is based around a household with a SAP less that 65 and being in receipt of a qualifying benefit.

 

3.2 This proxy does not necessarily align with the Governments general definition of fuel poverty where a household pays more that 10% of their income on heating.

 

3.3 It is therefore worth considering that the NI 187 proxy requires assessing to ensure both definitions are aligned to ensure a uniform baseline and annual progress is being reported to DECC.

 

3.4 This may require the current NI 187 SAP figure of 65 being increased to take into account the significant national increases in fuel costs.

 

4 Coherence of the Government's Initiatives on Energy Efficiency

 

4.1 Over the past 10 year period the Government have introduced a range of national targets for domestic housing aimed at eradicating fuel poverty, reducing domestic energy consumption, reducing climate change emissions and the provision of warmer homes in line with decent homes targets. A wide variety of funding mechanisms have also been introduced to assist with the delivery of theses targets and managing agents have proliferated to assist with the administration of these programmes.

 

4.2 This wide variety of national funding mechanisms has results in a complicated and confusing range of delivery mechanisms. Some of these mechanisms are in direct competition with each other thus resulting in a lack of efficiency and wastage of resources which is not currently providing best value for money.

 

4.3 This Business Case proposed under the Durham County Council Total Place programme with the CLG proposes bringing together the multiplicity of funding streams thus targeting households which need most assistance.

 

5 Winter Fuel Payments and Cold Weather Payments

 

5.1 A significant problem exists with the inability of national organisations to contact vulnerable households directly to encourage them to apply for fuel poverty and energy conservation schemes. This problem is directly linked to the inability in obtaining client specific targeting data from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and energy supplier information thus preventing accurate and cost effective targeting of vulnerable client groups resulting in the use of complicated and expensive national social marketing publicity schemes.

5.2 Evidence set before the Work and Pensions Select Committee (24th June 2009)

set out how the provision of the Pensions Act could be utilised to identify vulnerable households and prioritise these households for assistance.

 

5.3 It is suggested that this guidance be used to consider payment of the winter fuel payments and cold weather payments directly to the Energy Utility Companies to reduce the fuel bills of vulnerable households and ensure heating is available during the winter months when it is most required.

 

5.4 In addition Durham County Council and in discussions with the fuel utilities to provide preferential fuel tariffs to vulnerable households who are in fuel poverty of suffering cold related ill health.

 

6 Support Households which are not connected to the mains gas grid

6.1 Durham County Council is the 4th largest Local Authority in England and have a very wide range of settlements ranging from fully rural off the gas network to urban town demographics. We are currently engaged with the Commission for Rural Communities and Rural Services Network invited Durham County Council to take part in the national rural fuel poverty pilot scheme.

 

6.2 This scheme aims to inform Central Government how to effectively engage with rural communities on fuel poverty issues.

 

6.3 We are currently engaged with local communities to obtain feedback on rural fuel poverty issues and can report that significant confusion currently exists among the general public as to the role of energy companies in assisting them to reduce their fuel bills and why there are several agencies contacting them about a confusing range of energy conservation schemes.

 

6.4 The pilot will report findings to Central Government leading to good practice guidance on engaging local communities in energy conservation schemes.

 

February 2010