Experts despair at coalition’s fuel poverty pessimism

By Jo-Anna K. Burnett

The government's fuel poverty strategy is "going in the wrong direction" and will not succeed in ending fuel poverty by 2016, specialists have warned.

Experts giving evidence to the Commons' energy and climate change committee urged ministers to shift from the three-year-deadline to focus on what will happen in five to ten years.

Instead of eliminating fuel poverty by 2016, according to figures from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc), it would increase by about half of what it was in 2009, John Hills of the London School of Economics said.

"That was a profoundly disappointing projection," Hills said of Decc's estimate.

Nick Eyre of the University of Oxford, Jan Rosenow of Ricardo-AEA and Hill all testified that the government was not on track to eliminate fuel poverty by 2016 by "reasonably practicable" methods, as stated in the House of Commons briefing paper and reiterated by Eyre during testimony.

According to Eyre, focusing on the target reduces "the amount of resources that are being committed through both government funding fuel poverty measures … for England and the ECO [Energy Company Obligation] Affordable Warmth programme".

Decc projections estimate that ECO will bring 125,000 to 250,000 households out of fuel poverty. But Rosenow said that the total number of households in fuel poverty was around 5 million.

"I think with the new definition, it's a little less than that. But it's still nowhere near the figures they are projecting, I think, for this," he said, noting the 29% reduction from fuel poverty spending by the Association for the Conservation of Energy's data.

"That's quite a significant cut," he said.

Committee chair Tim Yeo questioned the proposal to establish a new fuel poverty definition and target by the government.

Changing the terminology and introducing a system of rolling targets that keep government accountable is key to tackling fuel poverty, experts said.

"Where I think I would probably part company from the original specification in the act would be the use of the word elimination," Hills urged. "Keep officials' and government's nose to the grindstone in delivering the greatest possible action to deal with a problem of this kind."