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Without more efficient housing stock the poorest households will be left out in the cold

(Alamy)

3 min read

The United Kingdom continues to be in the grips of an energy crisis. Millions of people are struggling to afford to pay for enough energy to stay safe, warm, and healthy at home.

Very high energy prices are being exacerbated by the shockingly poor quality and inefficiency of the UK’s housing stock. Those in the least efficient homes are having to pay thousands extra than the typical household just to heat and power their home to a minimum reasonable standard.

People of all ages are regularly being forced to make desperate choices between eating or heating, to ration their fuel use or face debt. For some, this stark reality can prove fatal.

Those in the least efficient homes are having to pay thousands extra than the typical household just to heat and power their home

Previous campaigning by National Energy Action (NEA) and our coalition partners resulted in the UK government introducing a legal requirement to ensure that all fuel-poor homes in England are brought up to a reasonable standard of energy efficiency before the end of this decade. Yet the latest official fuel poverty statistics for England from the government show 3.26 million households were still in fuel poverty in 2022 (13 per cent of all households, up from 3.16 million a year earlier).

While the final target is still some way off, the figures also shine a light on the government’s failure to meet its interim target of getting fuel-poor households out of the least efficient homes by 2020.

We have known for too many years the worst conditions remain in the private rented sector but the same evidence suggests any limited progress is now being reversed within this tenure, despite separate legal requirements to the contrary. The UK government consulted on extending minimum energy efficiency standards in the PRS in England and Wales in 2020, yet three years later have not yet responded to that consultation. There has also been limited progress on a revamped Decent Home Standard for social housing, which is yet to include a minimum energy efficiency level for the first time.

As a charity, we have previously warned that without these regulations and further support for poorer owner-occupiers in place, the government could miss the final fuel poverty target by 150 years. Based on the government’s new figures, we estimate it will now take up to 300 years to catch up. This is despite recent polling commissioned by National Energy Action and carried out by YouGov of 2,055 adults in Great Britain. It showed that 85 per cent support the government providing more financial support to low-income homeowners to improve the energy efficiency of their homes. In contrast to the government’s current proposals for a new ECO Plus scheme, the same respondees noted they would prefer the government to prioritise the most vulnerable when it comes to providing financial support to improve the energy efficiency of homes.

As well as helping to offset the current energy crisis, National Energy Action is advocating for a fair and affordable transition to net zero. While further support for boosting incomes and directly reducing energy prices is necessary for the short to medium term, decarbonising our housing stock gives us an opportunity to achieve warmer, safer homes at a lower cost with people at the heart of the transition. It’s therefore vital our legal obligations to the poorest households are met. If they aren’t, unforgivably, the poorest households will be left out in the cold for another decade and will continue to be the first casualties of future energy crises.

 

Peter Smith, director of policy and advocacy at National Energy Action (NEA).

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