Area of work:
Rising UK energy prices and falling real incomes during recession have pushed millions more households into fuel poverty, sometimes forcing them to choose between heating or eating.
The Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) is on a mission to eradicate fuel poverty in the UK. As well as providing direct assistance to people at risk of fuel poverty in Avon and Somerset, it insulates large numbers of properties and offers advice and help on saving energy. CSE also helps other organisations to tackle fuel poverty in their own spheres of influence with a range of freely available resources.
Most impressively, CSE has been instrumental in driving forward the government’s fuel poverty agenda: amongst other successes, its model for assessing the impact of energy levies on the poorest customers has been adopted by government.
CSE’s entire work with fuel poor households since it was established is estimated to have resulted in a current saving of 32,000 MWh/year of gas and electricity combined, equivalent to 7,500 tonnes CO2 emissions.
CSE’s vision is to create “a world where fuel poverty has been replaced by energy justice”, and its entire work is formed from three strands, as described below. Its work is guided by lessons learned from its extensive experience in the sector, including:
CSE provides services directly to households in their local area of Avon and Somerset, which includes a mixture of urban, market town and rural areas. Some programmes are for all households, while others are specifically aimed at those at risk of fuel poverty. The most significant component of CSE’s direct work with households is their energy advice service, which was run in partnership with the Energy Saving Trust until it pulled out in 2010.
Alongside the advice work, CSE also runs programmes to give practical assistance to households in cutting their energy use, using ECO (Energy Company Obligation) funding to pay for the measures installed. These programmes can install new boilers, cavity wall insulation, loft insulation and solid wall insulation. Cheaper technical measures such as thermometer cards and electricity monitors are also supplied to fuel poor households to help them keep control of their energy usage.
CSE replicates its work in two ways. First, it works with and trains staff from partner organisations in its local area to extend its reach into the community, for example through health workers or advice centres. Second, it makes much of its material available for other organisations across the UK to use, with the choice of a free website download or paying for CSE to post out printed copies.
CSE has built up an impressive reputation for research on energy efficiency and fuel poverty, by combining its practical experience in the field with expertise in programme evaluation, data analysis and modelling. As a result it has been able to influence government policy in several ways:
Warmer homes have reduced damp problems, resulting in improved thermal comfort and better health, as cold, damp homes can exacerbate respiratory and other illnesses. They also have the opportunity to save money through a better understanding of how to use energy effectively and how to read energy bills, thus reducing the risk of getting into arrears with energy suppliers. CSE estimates that about one quarter of the households in fuel poverty that it has helped have been lifted out of fuel poverty, while the others will be in a less difficult situation than they were previously.
CSE’s colour-coded fuel poverty maps proved invaluable for persuading local councillors and MPs that action was required on fuel poverty in their areas, as they immediately highlight where the problems are – and most elected politicians want to be seen to be fighting for the less well-off people in their locality. At a national level, the reports resulting from the DIMPSA model have been influential in government, for example playing a key role in the Renewable Heat Incentive being funded through general taxation rather than energy bills.
Advisory work with Ofgem has helped to ensure the needs of fuel poor and vulnerable households are reflected more meaningfully in the regulator’s work. CSE has also been helping with work at NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) to develop guidance for the health and social care sector on tackling cold homes.
CSE is continuing to innovate with its programmes providing advice, in-home support, and direct practical measures, such as an ECO-funded project for private householders and a focus on helping pre-payment meter customers get a better deal. It is also developing its volunteer programme, which helps extend the charity’s reach and capacity. In all these projects CSE is continuing to feed the lessons learned into government and other relevant agencies, and make use of them in its ongoing policy research.
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