O FTEC have called for urgent policy intervention to help improve the energy efficiency of vulnerable rural households, in order to safeguard against unnecessary winter deaths.
The Office for National Statistics has released data that shows there were around 34,300 excess winter deaths in the winter of 2016/17, the second highest level in 5 years with a 40% increase - this equates to 11 people dying every hour. The majority of this statistic comes from older people who were the worst affected, with up to a third of deaths related to respiratory illnesses exacerbated by the cold weather. It also ties in to the fact that a higher proportion of people in rural areas are living in fuel poverty and cannot afford to keep their homes well heated.
Despite all of this, in March 2016 the budget for the ECO scheme, the main scheme to help houses facing fuel poverty to make their homes more energy efficient, was cut by 40% to £640 million. This was followed in April 2017 with the introduction of the next phase of the scheme, ECO2t, and a cap was placed on new boiler installations, causing the number of installs in the first month to drop by 83% as the focus was shifted towards improving insulation.
This move away from boiler replacements does not tackle the root of the problem and has left many fuel poor households to continue wasting money on inefficient heating systems, when a simple boiler replacement could cut their fuel bills by 20 percent per year.
OFTEC CEO Paul Rose comments: “For too long now Government has recognised the interlinked issues of fuel poverty and excess winter deaths, describing the situation as ‘scandalous’ and ‘unacceptable’. Yet policy to address the problem remains painfully inadequate. Changes to ECO have seen insulation become the key priority. Whilst insulation is a welcome step, it will not solve the issue of fuel poverty by itself, particularly as many rural properties were built pre-1920, making them difficult to cost effectively treat. With resources scarce, helping low income households to upgrade their heating systems would reap far higher benefits in terms of reducing fuel bills, enabling vulnerable people to better afford to keep warm. “We strongly urge government to continue ECO beyond September 2018 with a renewed focus on boiler replacements in rural areas as part a series of measures required to tackle the fuel poverty crisis at its root.”
It is clear that continuing the boiler replacement program would greatly contribute toward combatting fuel poverty, while also significantly reducing carbon emissions UK wide. Rose continues by saying that upgrading the estimated 400,000 old, inefficient oil boilers still in use would deliver immediate financial and carbon reduction benefits for their owners and the government. It would also mean that all oil using homes are ready to accommodate the roll out of a low carbon liquid fuel replacement for kerosene, which our industry is working hard to bring to market during the 2020s.”