The energy bills freeze is welcome but now we need to insulate the nation
An energy bill freeze is in – a huge relief to millions of households – but no one has any doubt this crisis is far from over.
The Prime Minister’s announcement may have put the brakes on further terrifying hikes, but it left a big unanswered question: what’s our exit strategy?
There’s no doubt an emergency measure was needed. Citizens Advice is currently helping two people a minute with crisis support like food banks and charity grants. Our advisers have been reporting stories of people turning off vital appliances to try and save cash. Parents are making desperate choices about whether to give their children a hot meal or a bath – that’s before the cold weather even hits. We feared a further price hike in October would have been impossible for millions of people to bear.
People pay sky-high gas and electric bills each month for energy that seeps straight out of their home
But with prices still extremely high, there is both an imperative and an opportunity to tackle the other side of the equation. Too much of what people are paying for heat goes straight through the walls, windows and roof because of cold and draughty homes.
What we need now is a proper solution to get us out of this crisis, reduce our dependence on gas and upgrade our houses for the long-term. This must include a generational drive to insulate our homes.
New research published by Citizens Advice today lays bare how vital insulating our homes is to any exit strategy from the energy crisis. In the leakiest houses, a third of the money spent on energy bills goes straight out of the window. More than a million people could save nearly £1,000 a year if their homes were brought up to energy performance (EPC) band C.
Despite government targets to get all homes to this standard by 2035, the majority in England and Wales are falling catastrophically short. There are stark regional differences too. If you live in Wales or Yorkshire and the Humber, you’re more likely to have a draughty home than if you live in London or the South East. It’s the very opposite of the government’s levelling up aspiration.
And cold, draughty homes have real world consequences. We’re hearing from parents whose children's bedrooms are so damp that they've given them their room and are now sleeping on the sofa or floor instead. Many with existing health conditions are living with the very real fear that they’re getting sicker just from resting at home.
Almost half of homeowners are actively considering improvements to make their houses more energy efficient, but for too many people it’s unaffordable.
There are schemes in place to support people with this. The Energy Company Obligation (ECO), for example, is a grant designed for people on the lowest incomes. But most people who could benefit haven’t heard of it or don’t realise they’re eligible for it. Others aren’t covered by schemes but can’t afford to make upgrades either.
Instead, people pay sky-high gas and electric bills each month for energy that seeps straight out of their home. The energy bills freeze is a welcome respite, but we’re plugging a hole in the bucket to the tune of billions of pounds, only to watch it drain away.
The best solution to this is insulating the nation. There are upfront costs, but the pound for pound benefit makes it a sustainable solution in the long-term – and the return on investment for both government and people will be particularly fast, when prices are so high. Giving people more money to insulate homes now will save billions in the future, protect us from the volatility now baked into the market and mean we're less reliant on expensive gas from overseas.
The new Prime Minister has a generational opportunity to fix the crisis we’re facing. She must seize this with both hands.
Dame Clare Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice.
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