Monday, 8 August 2011

Age UK concerned about more fuel povery deaths

From an Age UK Press Statement

When the Warm Front scheme ends in 2013, England will have no publicly-funded scheme to help households in fuel poverty, says Age UK

In 2009, 5.5 million UK households lived in fuel poverty. With every one per cent rise in energy prices adding 60,000-70,000 households to the numbers in fuel poverty, the recent announcements from major energy companies regarding price hikes make tackling fuel poverty ever more urgent. At the same time, the policy landscape is changing significantly.

From 2013, when the Warm Front scheme ends, England will have no publicly-funded scheme to help households in fuel poverty. Having been re-launched in a slimmed-down form in April, the scheme is likely to reach about 50,000 households in each of the next two years; a significant number but vastly short of the increasing numbers of households experiencing fuel poverty. The scheme no longer offers a benefit entitlement check, which in the past picked up many households who were entitled to a qualifying benefit and, as such, improved family incomes.

Of particular concern to many people in later life is the lowering of the Winter Fuel Payment back to its 'normal', first set in 2003. Pensioner households this year will receive £200, while households with one person aged over 80 are entitled to £300. The new Warm Homes discount, replacing social tariffs, will make a payment to qualifying households by way of a discount of £120 on their electricity bills. Rising energy prices are likely to wipe out much of the value of these benefits for older people, who spend disproportionately higher percentages of their incomes on fuel than the general population.

The current Energy Bill will give the government powers to introduce the Green Deal by late 2012 through more detailed secondary legislation. We believe that advice about the Green Deal for customers must be as transparent as possible, particularly with regard to handling of complaints. The government should clarify measures eligible for the Green Deal and should take into account consumer choice and preferences.
Later this year, Age UK will be launching its annual winter campaign, focusing on excess winter deaths. We will be calling on local authorities to develop strong partnerships with communities, business and the voluntary sector to coordinate efforts to prevent excess winter deaths. At the same time, we will be highlighting the contribution of fuel poverty to excess winter deaths to national government and calling for an increase in the funding available for initiatives that provide targeted support to counteract fuel poverty for households on low incomes. We will also be working directly with older people at highest risk, providing targeted information and support.

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