Posted: 10 January 2018

Fuel poverty: To heat or to eat?

We’re teaming up with University of York to find out what works best for families living in fuel poverty. Ross Gillard, Research Associate at York, explains the ways and schemes available to help tackle the problem and how families can get involved in his latest research project. 

The cost of running a family home

Energy use around the home is an essential part of family life. Keeping the heating on, the hot water running and the food cooking often accounts for a big part of the family budget. The most recent figures show that in order to run a home and keep it warm, couples with dependent children who are living in fuel poverty need an extra £412 per year.

For a long time now, households where there is someone under the age of 16 have had the highest levels of fuel poverty (around 17%). So keeping the cost of energy down is a top priority for millions of families.  

Tackling fuel poverty

The negative impact on children’s health, well-being, education and family life is a key part of the government’s strategy for tackling fuel poverty.

We are speaking to households from anywhere in the UK, who have received support with their home’s energy efficiency

One way for policymakers to do this is to put a cap on the amount that energy companies can charge for standard energy tariffs. Whilst this might help stop some families being ripped off, it doesn’t necessarily reduce their bills or provide a long-term solution for households who need to use a lot of energy. We have argued that improving the energy efficiency of families’ homes would be a much more sustainable way to go, and that much more needs to be done to make sure these energy efficiency schemes work well for those that need them the most.

Improving your home’s energy efficiency

Energy efficiency schemes seem to come and go as often as buses and trying to get to reliable information about them can be very tricky.

Schemes and support for families range from emergency winter warmth packs and general advice, to home visits and things like new insulation and new boilers. They each have an important role to play in helping keep children warm, safe and well. The biggest and longest lasting impact is felt when the fabric of the house is improved (e.g. replacing windows, putting in loft insulation and upgrading heating systems), but these are also the most expensive and complicated schemes to deliver.

Across the UK there are a number of different government policies intended to promote such large-scale energy efficiency schemes. Households with children under the age of 16 are often eligible for some kind of support, especially if they have trouble affording their energy bills:

So, with the help of The Children’s Society and a number of other project partners, the University of York is evaluating all of these policies and schemes to try and discover what works best. We’ve already spoken to policymakers and scheme providers from each nation about the importance of having flexible funding and eligibility criteria.

We’ve also spoken to local councils and contractors to find out the best ways to provide information and get in touch with people, as well as making sure that the installation of energy efficiency measures go as smoothly as possible.

Improving the reach and impact of future schemes

Listening to the views and experiences of families is a vital part of designing and delivering effective energy support schemes. As part of our research we are speaking to households from anywhere in the UK, who have received support with their home’s energy efficiency. Whether this resulted in substantial home improvements or just some useful advice and support at a moment of crisis, these stories can help ensure that the household perspective is heard and that future schemes meet families’ needs and expectations.

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The families behind fuel poverty statistics

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Keeping families warm

Posted: 1 March 2017

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Opportunity for energy companies to show some warmth

Posted: 5 December 2016