The Independent View:  How to bring  an end to cold homes

respublica_logo_hi_res1 in 10 households in the England are in fuel poverty. This is national scandal which we need to address.

The coalition has made progress, improving the energy efficiency of over a million homes, but as the proposed ‘Green Homes Bill’ in the Liberal Democrat manifesto recognises, much more can be done to cut energy bills for the fuel poor and help bring an end to our cold homes crisis.

The current energy efficiency scheme aimed at the fuel poor, ECO (the Energy Company Obligation) in its current form is not up to the job of responding to the scale of the challenge which confronts us. We need to go further to ensure the most vulnerable in our society are not faced with the unenviable choice between heating and eating.

That’s why ResPublica, in our new policy paper, is calling for a reformed delivery model for ECO, to not only improve our leaky housing stock, but also the health problems which result from living in a cold home. Here are three of our recommendations:

Government should pilot a new devolved delivery model for ECO within two years, with the ultimate goal of rolling it out nationally after April 2017, when the current arrangements are set to expire. They should facilitate an ECO competition for each locality, where cities, local authorities, housing providers and other trusted local bodies could work with community organisations to deliver energy efficiency measures for the most vulnerable in our society.

Not only do we need a ‘whole house’ approach to tackle fuel poverty, but a ‘whole person’ approach too. So when energy efficiency measures are installed we also should take the opportunity to offer debt advice or install safety measures such as smoke alarms. This is why our cities and local authorities should take the lead on integrating health and social care budgets with ECO budgets to fund local approaches to tackling fuel poverty. Where the budgets are managed centrally, NHS Commissioning Boards and Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG) should take the lead.

Homes in the private rented sector are the least energy efficient of all different housing types, with the highest percentage of households in fuel poverty. To address this problem we need a sensible balance of regulation and incentives, a more ambitious minimum standard for properties (EPC D by 2020 and subsequently EPC C by 2025) and also a fiscal nudge for landlords looking to do the right thing for their tenants. This is why the tax free allowance that currently exists for landlords looking to improve their properties (the Landlord Energy Saving Allowance) should not be scrapped and should be increased in the short term, gradually reducing overtime.

It is only with an ambitious set of policies to improve the budget, health, and wellbeing of low income households will we see them brought out of the cold.


* Richard Sagar is a researcher for ResPublica

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