Households in fuel poverty are unable to afford to keep their house adequately warm. Thousands of people die every winter as a result, including many older people. Homes in the UK are generally poorly insulated, meaning fuel poverty is more prevalent in the UK than in many other European countries.
In 2000, a four-year campaign by a coalition of charities led to the creation of Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act. For the first time, the Act recognised fuel poverty as a major issue of public well-being. It committed the government to put in place a strategy to ensure “that as far as reasonably possible people do not live in fuel poverty”.
The November 2001 strategy required the government to “seek an end to the blight of fuel poverty for vulnerable households by 2010.” The government intended to focus on vulnerable households – those containing children, old people or people with disabilities, which it said made up 85 per cent of all the fuel poor in the UK.
The strategy focused on introducing measures to insulate the homes of those at risk of fuel poverty, as well as measures to reduce energy prices and tackle social exclusion. It predicted 1.1 million households would receive improved heating and insulation by 2004 as a result.
The government introduced a number of programmes to help meet its targets. Between 2002 and 2008 the Energy Efficiency Commitment placed an obligation on electricity suppliers to encourage their customers to use energy more efficiently. Between 2008 and 2012, the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (CERT) and the Community Energy Savings Programme (CESP) required suppliers to finance energy savings measures for some of their customers, like home insulation or boiler upgrades, particularly for those on low incomes or living in deprived areas.
The original strategy didn't contain a target for ending fuel poverty entirely - even though it was required by the Warm Homes Act. Environmental group Friends of the Earth launched a legal challenge arguing this was illegal. As a result the next version of the strategy promised that as far as reasonably practicable, the government would eliminate fuel poverty in England and Scotland by November 2016 (Wales and Northern Ireland had slightly different targets).
Unfortunately for these plans, energy prices rose steadily over the next few years . Fuel costs hit poorest households hardest, and the number of households in fuel poverty rose from two million in 2004 to a 5.5. million peak in 2009. The government missed the 2010 target, and formally abandoned the 2016 target in 2013.
In 2013 the government also ended Warm Front - a grant scheme to help the fuel poor pay energy bills - and cut investment in the Energy Company Obligation (ECO), CERT and CESP's successor. Both changes were made as a result of concerns about the impact on consumer energy bills of implementing the schemes.
In 2014, the government created a new target: That as many fuel poor households as reasonably practicable achieve a high level of energy efficiency by 2030. In 2015, it created a new strategy to ensure this happened.
INTRODUCTION 2.1 The goal of the Government and the Devolved Administrations is to seek an end to the problem of fuel poverty. In particular, they will seek an end to the blight of fuel poverty for vulnerable households by 2010. Fuel poverty in other households will also be tackled once progress is made on the priority vulnerable groups.
2.2 The first priority is therefore to ensure that by 2010 no older householder, no family with children, and no householder who is disabled or has a long-term illness need risk ill health due to a cold home. These householders are particularly vulnerable to the health consequences of fuel poverty. In 2000 there were 3 million such households, about 85% of all the fuel poor in the UK.
2.3 Once progress has been made on the priority vulnerable groups, the focus will be widened to include those healthy adult householders in fuel poverty. While they are at less risk of ill health, these householders still suffer from the other problems associated with fuel poverty
2.4 By 2004, it is expected that over 1.1 million UK households will have received improved heating and insulation through the specific fuel poverty programmes, with further properties being improved through general social sector programmes. Nearly all of the households receiving assistance will either be in, or at risk from, fuel poverty
2.6 The common approach is to tackle the problem through: programmes to improve the home energy efficiency of fuel poor households; continuing action to maintain the downward pressure on fuel bills, ensuring fair treatment for the less well off, and supporting the development of energy industry initiatives to combat fuel poverty; continuing action to tackle poverty, low incomes and social exclusion.
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