One of the UK’s largest housing associations has sent open letters to government and the country’s ‘big six’ energy providers, urging them to take immediate action to help the millions of people currently living in fuel poverty.
Due to the potential impact a COVID-19 second wave could have on the country’s vulnerable, Home Group says it has taken the “unprecedented” step of writing directly to the prime minister, several government departments, as well as energy providers British Gas, EDF Energy, E.ON UK, npower, ScottishPower and SSE.
Latest government figures show that close to six million people in the UK are in households trapped in fuel poverty – equivalent to the population of Denmark, Finland or Norway.
The End Fuel Poverty Coalition suggests that a further 200,000 people could fall into fuel poverty as the economy struggles to recover from lockdown.
The recent Academy of Medical Sciences ‘Preparing for a challenging winter 2020/21’ paper – commissioned by the Government Office for Science – notes that in homes where the temperature is less than 18 degrees centigrade, the COVID-19 virus will thrive.
Home Group’s demands
In a move welcomed by the housing sector and charities fighting to end fuel poverty, Home Group has suggested key interventions that government and the big six could undertake in a quick and targeted fashion to improve people’s wellbeing and save lives this winter.
In its letter to the prime minister, Boris Johnson, Home Group calls on government to introduce a one-off COVID-19 winter fuel payment of £300 to each vulnerable household, as well as make the winter fuel payment more targeted – extending the criteria beyond pensionable age to help the most vulnerable.
The big six energy providers are being urged to remove standing charges from the most vulnerable households with immediate effect, ensure customers known to be on a higher tariff are moved to a better tariff, and to simplify the process and information around switching tariffs.
Over the longer-term, Home Group says it would like to see energy providers prioritise those in social and affordable homes as part of its program of switching to smart metering.
The government is being urged to work with the housing sector and UK lenders so that innovative financing schemes can be delivered to increase the roll-out of commercial models of battery storage and rooftop solar panels, especially for social housing.
Current support ‘complex, confusing’
Mark Henderson, chief executive of Home Group, said: “Surely, it’s unacceptable that this winter around six million British people, and counting, will suffer because they are caught in fuel poverty.
“We need to act now if we are going to alleviate the risk to lives this winter – this isn’t about pointing the finger at government and energy providers, it’s about working together to support some of our most vulnerable in society.”
Henderson continued: “While the support currently available to help those living in fuel poverty is in part well-intentioned, it is in large part complex, confusing, and poorly thought through.
“We, in the housing sector, need to work with government and energy providers to make the well-intentioned work better, to unravel the complexity and confusion, and crucially, to ensure greater ownership and accountability.
“That is why we have felt the need to write open letters to urge them to do all they can, over the longer term, but particularly now, at such a worrying time.”
Kate Henderson, chief executive of the National Housing Federation (NHF), said: “This winter, as we face a second wave of coronavirus, it is crucially important that vulnerable households are able to afford to heat their homes.
“The National Housing Federation is pleased to see Home Group taking action on behalf of those who are facing fuel poverty. This is a great example of when our sector pushes on issues that matter most to their tenants.
“I hope both government and the ‘big six’ heed the calls and ensure that social tenants are protected from cold homes and the increased threat from coronavirus they pose.”
Adam Scorer, chief executive of National Energy Action – the national charity working to end fuel poverty in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland – said: “We welcome Home Group’s efforts to push government and the energy suppliers to do all they can to ease the situation for those caught in fuel poverty.
“COVID-19 has supercharged the need to end the ill-health, misery, and economic stress caused by cold, damp homes that people cannot afford to heat adequately.
“There is much more that suppliers could be doing, but the primary message is to government for immediate and long-term measures to support those on the lowest incomes and in the least efficient homes who face a miserable and dangerous winter.”
Home Group is one of the UK’s largest providers of housing, health, and care, supporting over 115,000 customers across 55,000 properties in England and Scotland – including around 15,000 people with mental and physical health issues.
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