The energy bills crisis is now predicted to be so severe that a wide range of health, poverty, housing and environmental organisations and academics have written to Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt MP, to request the introduction of an Emergency Energy Tariff.
The Emergency Energy Tariff would use the existing Energy Price Guarantee mechanism to fix the unit costs and standing charges for vulnerable groups at a lower level. Campaigners have suggested that this is fixed at the levels of energy bills in winter 2020/21, which would see eligible households’ monthly energy bills reduced by around 46%.
Polling suggests that 83% of the public who have an opinion would support such a measure – with support consistently high among all demographic groups and all parts of the UK. The research also suggests that, among those who will have to cut back on essentials to afford their energy bills or can’t afford them, the plans for an Emergency Energy Tariff would provide them with enough financial support to enable them to avoid the worst of the winter crisis.
Fi Waters, spokesperson for the Warm This Winter campaign which commissioned the research, commented:
“As millions of households batten down the hatches and prepare for a miserable winter in cold damp homes, only the Government can now prevent a winter crisis.
“As well as this emergency tariff for those now priced out of the market, people want to see bills come down permanently, which is going to require government action. We need to see beefed up programmes to insulate homes, more heat pumps fitted, which are cheaper to run, and more homegrown renewable energy built so we can get off expensive gas.”
Jan Shortt, General Secretary of the National Pensioners Convention:
“Government financial support for this winter is absolutely crucial to older and vulnerable people. A longer term effective policy of addressing fuel poverty must contain genuine and active moves to sustainable, renewable and affordable energy.”
The Chancellor has also recently been urged to use the Autumn Statement to tackle record levels of existing energy debt through a Help To Repay scheme, which would be in addition to support for tariffs to prevent debt levels escalating further.
Researchers examined the make-up of groups who think they will or could be unable to afford to turn the heating on this winter and found little difference between groups who work or do not work and found that 27% of people who are not on benefits can’t or may not be able to afford to heat their home. However, with 50% of benefit recipients saying they will not or may not be able to afford to turn their heating on, campaigners have also called for the Government to upweight pensions and benefits in line with inflation and remove punitive measures such as the two-child benefits cap.
The initial research to inform the development of the proposal and targeting of support was undertaken by the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute and Cambridge Architectural Research.
Dr Jason Palmer, Cambridge Architectural Research:
“Financial support for households struggling with fuel poverty is critical this winter, and only with government help will the most vulnerable people stay out of hospital and avoid anxiety from going into debt. This support should run in parallel with much greater investment in energy efficiency to address fuel poverty and bring down carbon emissions from homes.”
Dr Tina Fawcett, Associate Professor, University of Oxford:
“Our research has helped identify how to effectively target vital support to households most at risk this winter. To avoid future energy bill crises, locally we need more investment in energy efficiency and energy advice, and nationally we must rapidly reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.”
Rachael Williamson, Head of Policy and External Affairs, Chartered Institute of Housing:
“Our members see first hand the impact that high energy prices are having on some of the most vulnerable. Even before the recent rapid increase in gas and electricity prices, approximately 4.5 million UK households were living in fuel poverty. An emergency energy tariff would help provide targeted support for those most at risk this winter. This should be coupled with a longer-term strategy to develop a social tariff, boost energy efficiency and tackle energy debt so we can reduce fuel poverty and carbon emissions.”
Alex Massey, Head of Policy, Public Affairs and Campaigns, MND Association
“People living with MND have been hardest hit by the energy crisis. Many rely on a wide range of personal powered equipment at home to maintain life, health and wellbeing. Consequently, soaring energy costs have placed many households in an impossible financial position. Targeted government investment is now essential to prevent people living with MND being forced to choose between which vital piece of medical equipment to switch off this winter.”
The End Fuel Poverty Coalition has recommended that the Government should meet with charities and industry to finalise the details of the proposal. It can then use the opportunity of the Autumn Statement to send a clear message to the public that Ministers understand their suffering and are prepared to help them stay warm this winter.