Leonie Cooper: Fuel poverty is killing Londoners

Leonie Cooper: Fuel poverty is killing Londoners

Last month’s increase in energy bills, amounting to over £100 a year for millions of British households, will be yet more bad news for Londoners already struggling with the rising costs of living. As it, one in nine have difficulty paying their food bills and so face a stark choice between heating their homes and putting food on the tables. The energy price hike also raises the question of whether national government interventions, such as its latest fuel poverty strategy or its energy price cap, are as effective as they should be.

It is unacceptable that in a city as rich as ours as many as 341,000 households are finding it difficult to keep up with their burgeoning fuel bills. This, combined with low incomes and higher housing costs, is plunging them below the poverty line. A lack of adequate heating is directly contributing to thousands of excess winter deaths each year, with cold and damp homes an underlying cause of respiratory illnesses amongst the oldest and youngest Londoners alike. Over the past five years, the total number of excess winter deaths in London attributable to cold housing conditions has been 14,010, of which 10 per cent were a result of high bills and low incomes.

Since the introduction of national government austerity policies and welfare reforms, more Londoners have been left struggling to pay their bills. The rise in the number of fuel banks is a symptom of this, with vouchers being provided to help those most in need to perform basic tasks, such cooking their food and keeping their homes warm. Across the country, fuel banks are currently running within 31 food banks, and have helped over 100,000 people.

It is no wonder that the advisory committee on fuel poverty recently found that the government is not making progress towards meeting the target it set itself in 2015 for as many households as is practicable to achieve a minimum energy efficiency rating of Band C by 2030.

In London, those living in the private rented sector are at particular risk of having problems with their bills. The government has made some tentative moves to address this, but has ultimately fallen short of enacting any meaningful change. From April 2018, their new minimum energy efficiency standards (MEES) came into effect, preventing private landlords from granting a new tenancy unless the property’s energy performance certificate is rated as ‘E’ or higher.

However, there is a loophole in this legislation which allows landlords to avoid meeting even this relatively low level of energy efficiency, as the amount they are expected to invest in this area is capped at just £3,500. Sadiq Khan has backed sensible calls for the cap to be increased to £5,000 as, by definition, those properties that cannot be brought up to EPC E with £3,500 investment will be the hardest to heat, leaving the most vulnerable tenants in the cold. The Mayor has also stepped in with London’s first fuel poverty action plan. Its measures include increasing the incomes of the most at-risk Londoners by supporting benefits uptake campaigns, introducing referral services and programmes that provide direct advice and support to the fuel poor.

In addition, the Mayor has outlined proposals to boost the energy efficiency of the capital’s homes so that they are better insulated and use less energy. And considerable work has already been done to enable City Hall to begin tendering for the delivery of an energy supply company, which aims to offer Londoners fairer energy bills. The Mayor’s programmes have already supplied energy saving retrofitting to nearly 20,000 homes in London, saving households up to £225 each year.

Despite these efforts, the Mayor will not be able to eradicate fuel poverty alone. We need stronger interventions from the government, especially when it comes to empowering the low carbon and renewable energy sector, so it can provide the clean and more affordable energy we desperately need. When the national fuel poverty strategy is updated in the next year, the government must take a long, hard look at how its austerity policies have led to its failure to meet its own targets.

Leonie Cooper is London Assembly Member for Merton & Wandsworth and is deputy chair of the Assembly’s environment committee. Follow Leonie on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, there is a loophole in this legislation which allows landlords to avoid meeting even this relatively low level of energy efficiency, as the amount they are expected to invest in this area is capped at just £3,500. The Mayor of

 

London has backed sensible calls for the cap to be increased to £5,000 as, by definition, those properties that cannot be brought up to EPC E with £3,500 investment will be the hardest to heat, leaving the most vulnerable tenants in the cold.

 

Where the Government has failed, the Mayor of London has stepped in with London’s first Fuel Poverty Action Plan, setting out how City Hall can help Londoners struggling with their bills. The Plan’s measures include increasing the incomes of the most at-risk Londoners by supporting benefits uptake campaigns, introducing referral services and programmes that provide direct advice and support to the fuel poor.

 

The Mayor has also outlined proposals to boost the energy efficiency of the capital’s homes so that they are better insulated and use less energy. In addition, considerable work has already been done for City Hall to begin tendering for the delivery of an energy supply company which aims to offer fairer energy bills to Londoners as soon as possible. The Mayor’s programmes have already delivered energy saving retrofitting to nearly 20,000 homes in London, saving households up to £225 in energy bills each year.

 

Despite the efforts being undertaken at City Hall, the Mayor will not be able to eradicate fuel poverty alone. We need stronger interventions from the Government, especially when it comes to empowering the low carbon and renewable energy sector, so it can provide the clean and more affordable energy we desperately need.

 

When the national Fuel Poverty Strategy is updated in the next year, the Government must take a long, hard look at how their austerity policies have led to their failure to meet their own targets.

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