New measures unveiled by the government to help vulnerable households pay their energy bills have been branded inadequate by a charity, which claims they do not go far enough to deal with the looming fuel poverty crisis.
The government’s measures follow energy companies agreeing to provide an £225 million to help people heat their homes. They include a proposal to change the law and allow data-sharing with energy suppliers as well as a £3 million pilot scheme to introduce energy efficiency in homes and reduce bills.
Energy minister, Malcolm Wicks, says that the government’s priority is to determine which households need help the most so the money can be distributed fairly and to provide the maximum benefit. A change in the law to allow energy suppliers to share their data on customers, would allow fuel poverty measures to be directed at those most likely to be in need.
But charity Help the Aged says the measures do not go far enough. "As the cost of energy continues to spiral, more and more older people are facing difficult choices about whether to pay fuel bills or cut back on basics such as food and clothing,” says Kate Jopling, its head of public affairs.
“In a rich country such as ours, this is simply unacceptable. This latest plan merely scratches the surface and is not the policy change that will deliver a turnaround in the growing levels of fuel poverty.”
The government’s fuel poverty target is to end fuel poverty for vulnerable people by 2010, and for everyone by 2016.
However, Jopling says that official figures and a report from its official advisory group on fuel poverty indicate that the 2010 target will be missed by a large margin and that even the 2016 target is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve.
The government’s latest measures also include a £150,000 campaign to raise awareness of assistance for vulnerable homes, and a pilot scheme to ensure people applying for Warm Front grants are referred to their energy supplier for tariff advice.
But Help the Aged says the government should set up a mechanism to identify households suffering from fuel poverty.
It says that social tariffs and switching schemes offered by energy companies have “limited impact”, and calls on the government to do more to promote energy efficiency.
But environment minister, Phil Woolas, says: "These new measures will make homes across the country more energy efficient and give people at risk of fuel poverty a boost where they need it most.”