In Wales, 12 per cent of households are living in fuel poverty. That’s 155,000 households that are unable to keep warm in the winter, and are often living in debt to their energy supplier. Many families who live in fuel poverty go to bed early to keep warm, use candles to light their rooms, and are going without food to be able to afford an hour’s warmth during these bitterly cold winters. We know that over 58,000 people are in debt to their gas and electricity supplier in Wales, and many more will be disconnecting themselves from their pre-payment meter.
The Welsh Government set targets to eradicate fuel poverty in Wales by 2018. Due to the failure of meeting this target, the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee is undertaking an inquiry into fuel poverty.
In the social housing sector, 9 per cent of households are living in fuel poverty, compared with 11 per cent in the owner occupied and 20 per cent in the private rented sector. Housing Associations have worked hard over the last decade to support their most vulnerable tenants with high energy prices, poor quality housing, and low incomes.
More than 750 homes connected to Newport City Homes’ Duffryn district heating scheme have halved their energy consumption by moving to Switch2Energy’s G6 smart energy pay-as-you-go meters. Residents now have control over their usage and costs, which allows them to budget and save money.
Over the last three years, Trivallis’ money advice service has saved its customers over £210,000 by providing energy advice, and assisting customers to switch energy supplier and access various entitlements and discounts to reduce their energy costs. All members of the money advice team hold the National Energy Action (NEA) Level 3 Award in energy awareness and fuel debt advice.
Grŵp Cynefin’s Energy Wardens project targets homes in North Wales where fuel poverty is prevalent. A total of 102 warm home discount applications were submitted, providing an overall saving of £14,280.
Along with advice on income maximisation, benefit claims, and energy awareness, energy efficient housing is needed to ensure tenants can live in warm, dry, safe homes. The Welsh Housing Quality Standard has certainly improved the quality of housing. 99 per cent of social housing is compliant with the standard which includes having an energy rating of SAP 65 or above.
Many housing associations are going further to build homes and communities where affordable tenancies are created, energy bills are reduced, and strong community pride is developed. As well as tackling fuel poverty, these developments are creating green jobs in local areas and are using local supply chains to source resources.
Pobl Group in partnership with Neath Port Talbot Council and SPECIFIC are building ‘active homes’ which generate most of their own energy needs from the roofs and external wall coverings. Bills are dramatically reduced for tenants, along with fuel poverty and carbon emissions.
Catrefi Conwy began work in 2019 to produce low energy homes with Beattie Passive. These homes are estimated to save residents up to 90% in annual energy costs.
With the Welsh Government’s declaration of reaching net zero emissions by 2050 in order to tackle climate change, the Better World, Better Wales, Better Homes Report has recommended that by 2030, all homes in the social sector must reach an EPC Band A. Those living in fuel poverty must be prioritised in this process and must be given the advice and support needed to be able to use renewable technologies in the most effective way.
This is just a snapshot of some of the work that housing associations are undertaking to tackle the blight of fuel poverty. There is a role for Welsh Government and UK Government to work together to ensure energy prices don’t continue to rise to unaffordable levels, that the benefit system covers the cost of living, and those in work are protected with minimum hours and employment rights.
Community Housing Cymru would like to see the Welsh Government’s new plan include ambitious targets to eradicate Wales of fuel poverty, backed up with sufficient investment and funding. The Warm Homes Programme does great work in improving the energy efficiency of homes to those in need, however it needs to go further to retrofit fuel poor households to EPC A, and provide thorough, face-to-face advice on debt and energy.