This working paper addresses two key gaps in knowledge regarding justice in energy efficiency policy in the UK.
Despite disabled people and low-income families with children being defined in policy as vulnerable to fuel poverty, there is very little evidence about how the needs of these groups are recognised or incorporated into policy decisions. There is also no clear evidence on how energy efficiency policies actually affect these groups, and whether policy outcomes are consistent across the UK.
The research was undertaken by ACE Research and researchers at the University of York and was supported by Disability Rights UK and The Children’s Society. One hundred and twenty-five households and practitioners were interviewed as part of the research. In addition to this working paper, a condensed policy guide is also available, as well as separate guides for practitioners who focus on the needs of disabled people, and families on low incomes.
Summary of findings
The research team found that disabled people and low-income families with children often had higher energy demands within the home compared to other households. These increased demands are often associated with keeping warm, additional laundry needs, and in some cases using energy intensive equipment such as dehumidifiers and nebulisers. These circumstances lead to both increased household energy costs and higher risks associated with disconnection and a drop in household temperature.
Despite these needs, and the intention of policy to support households in this position, interviewees described accessing information and advice about energy and energy efficiency as a ‘minefield’, high levels of mistrust in the energy sector, and finding it difficult to know where to go and which sources to trust.
The report reveals the delivery of energy efﬁciency policy is variable and patchy, with vulnerable groups in greatest need not always eligible for support or receiving support which fails to reflect their additional needs. To improve access for vulnerable groups and to meet their needs more effectively, the report recommends there be a greater recognition of the needs of vulnerable groups, more consistent approaches across the UK and better cooperation with non-energy sectors.
Barriers to accessing fuel poverty support
The report identifies five key barriers to accessing vital fuel poverty support mechanisms and suggests ways in which access and outcomes can be improved for all.
- Current energy efﬁciency programme design leads to an emphasis on meeting targets at the lowest cost – ‘the numbers game’ – and there needs to be a greater emphasis on the positive impact of intervention to the household rather than a focus on least cost.
- Households in need are not always eligible and the mechanisms for ﬁnding households needs to improve, including greater access to quality data, data matching and data sharing to enable households to be targeted more effectively.
- Vulnerable customers often are not aware they are eligible for support and mechanisms for ﬁnding these people need to improve, together with work to improve the trustworthiness of the schemes promoted.
- Current programmes focus on technical improvements to buildings rather than the needs of vulnerable groups and there needs to be shift to understanding the needs of these people and how they engage with energy.
- The delivery of existing energy efficiency support programmes across the UK is patchy and Government should aim for consistent outcomes for households wherever they live.