14/11/13 – “Keeping Warm in Winter”

Speakers: Derek Lickorish MBE, Chair of the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group; Lawrence Slade, Chief Operating Officer of Energy UK, and Martin Williams, Energy Bill Revolution

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Energy Costs – joint meeting with the APPG on Ageing and Older People.

14 January 2014 – meeting notes

Keeping Warm in Winter

Lord Palmer, APPG Chair opened the meeting and welcomed the attendees, then handed over the chair for this session to Lady Greengross, who herself is chair of the APPG on Ageing and Older People.

Lady Greengross introduced the three speakers.

Green Deal  Raising the awareness of older people

Derek Lickorish  outlined what the Green Deal entailed; customers can borrow up to £10,000 over the course of 25 years at a fixed rate of interest to make energy saving “green” improvements in their properties. Suppliers have made available £69m of at risk equity for the scheme. The interest rate is competitive for loans of this size. Normally, the cost of a whole house scheme is in the region of £1,500 – £5,000, and results in annual savings on energy bills of around £300.

The debt is attached to the house itself and paid back by the reduction in fuel bills. It was made clear that the property and not the householders were liable for the repayments, so if someone moved away from the property, they would not be liable for the debt.

The Green Deal is not seen as a solution to fuel poverty as the savings are mainly used to repay the debt.

It was pointed out that a solution for the risk aversion of older people, in relation to the Green Deal, would be to have some trusted intermediaries involved to help put the proposition to older people.

Cold weather casualties

Derek Lickorish  illustrated the seriousness of the issue with the use of statistics from the World Health Organisation which indicated that in England and Wales there were 9,000 excess winter deaths in the home, as a result of the cold or cardiovascular disease.

He stated that the government was not sufficiently joined up on this issue and that systems which were in place were not ambitious enough, whilst welcoming DECC’s work on health and fuel poverty which recognises fuel poverty in people’s homes and acknowledging the DoH work on “Living well for longer”. He noted that responsibility for public health, in England, had been transferred to Local Government level.

Fuel prices – a political football

Derek Lickorish  also stated that the problem of fuel poverty was not being helped by fuel prices being used as a political football, with recent initiatives seen as mere sticking plasters on the ongoing price increases. Rather, reduction of bills should be based on the installation of efficient systems and an increase in thermal insulation. These points were also later emphasised by Lawrence Slade.

The fabric of UK Housing

Lawrence Slade suggested that the real issue is the problem of the housing stock in the UK, which needed to be improved in order to bring down the cost of consumer bills.  The problems here were summarised as: how to fund and how to engage with people by making energy efficiency exciting?

One way forward was to make this an all-party, multi-term issue, further; the industry could work more and better with local stakeholders.

Other suggestions included using the winter fuel payment to top-up money currently made available for green improvements on housing stock.

Lawrence Slade explained that investing in improvements in housing stock would be a permanent end to the problem, whilst acknowledging that such work would cost £4 billion for the next 15 years, he suggested that would actually be the most important infrastructure project a government could undertake.

Energy Bill Revolution

Martin Williams summarised the Energy Bill Revolution campaign as using the proceeds of carbon taxes to reduce energy bills. He stated that UK energy prices were generally lower than in most of Europe but that energy bills are higher.

Questions and comments

There was a question on the availability of grants for work to improve energy efficiency

Improvements: it was explained that the energy companies are obligated to pay for improvements throughout GB (it was explained that, in addition, Wales and Scotland kept the old government funded schemes) with a £1.3billion programme available.

The meeting was re-assured that building regulations on all new homes do indeed require them to be insulated, although Building Regulations do not go far enough to make new houses energy efficient.

The speakers explained that the cost of smart metering rollout, £12 billion, would be met through increases in bills. It was stated that, for those consumers who do engage with the data provided by the displays, there could be cost savings.

One contributor stated his belief that the Green Deal was geared towards gas and combined energy users, whereas many of the people he represented (in rural areas) were off-gas consumers, with 70% of the elderly in Devon not benefiting from the deals as a result.

Whilst it was agreed that those consumers were probably being unfairly “clobbered” by funding the cost of policies through electricity prices, it was made clear that the Green Deal was available to those consumers as well. There was also the suggestion that such groups of consumers consider collective purchasing for their heating and oil provision. Another helpful suggestion was the fact that The Home Heat Helpline was a good independent source of information for consumers.

An intervention from the Chief Fire Officer’s Association pointed out that fire fighters were often seen as trusted intermediaries (currently working in a number of community-based projects) and would be more than happy to be involved in outreach for the projects mentioned in this session.

There were suggestions about the contents of an energy bill, with one such as the idea that standing charges unnecessarily increased costs for older users. In reply to this, it was pointed out that Fuel Poverty Advisory Group had recommended to DECC that a proportion of the policy costs be removed from energy bills.

Another contributor recommended abandoning the winter fuel allowance and using the money saved to install solar panels.

It was also pointed out that the various schemes that had been created (such as the Warm Front Grants), put prices up for installation of new boilers and efficiency measures,  whilst the standard of workmanship on home improvements had gone down, resulting in a need for further improvement work to be carried out later. Derek Lickorish  replied that more rigour had been applied on the quality side of the Green Deal.

Lady Greengross closed the meeting at 5:59