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Editor Pick's: Fuel Poverty Monitor reveals systemic challenges in Northern Ireland

Cat  Sturman Cat Sturman Writer
8th October 2019

This article was originally published on 8 October 2019 in Energy Spectrum Ireland

On 17 September, EAS and National Energy Action (NEA) published The Fuel Poverty Monitor 2018/19. It highlighted that stakeholders in Northern Ireland have shown an interest in energy efficiency and affordability, however, several barriers to entry remain.

Affecting 24.9% of households in Scotland, 22% in Northern Ireland, 12% in Wales and 10.9% of households in England, three different approaches to how fuel poverty is defined and measured in the UK has created ongoing complexities in addressing its scale. Such barriers include fluctuating energy prices and income stagnation; demand outweighing supply; wholesale energy prices and an overreliance on oil which is limiting the affordability of energy for fuel-poor households, the report stated.

Additionally, challenges included insufficient resource to deliver energy efficiency improvements (even with area-based schemes); a lack of resource to cover revenue costs associated with the delivery of energy efficiency and advice to vulnerable households; difficulties associated with improving energy efficiency standards in the private rented sector and falling incomes. Existing available data also is also unable to capture all households in need.

In Northern Ireland and Wales, households are defined to be in fuel poverty if they spend over 10% of their income on fuel, whereas the government is looking to move away from the Low Income High Cost definition in England, to one which looks towards the efficiency rating of a property, in combination with the current relative measure on income. Whilst this will categorise a further million households as fuel poor in EPC bands D - G, it will reclassify up to 200,000 households living in Band C or above. On the other hand, the new fuel poverty definition in Scotland states that a household is in fuel poverty if the fuel costs are over 10% of its net income.

Across all four UK fuel poverty strategies examined in the report, common themes are explored: improving energy efficiency; improving partnerships; targeting households in most need; reducing energy bills and the use of data. Whilst most respondents to the report agreed that the principles of their strategies “were the right ones to be focusing on,” the majority stated not enough has been done to ensure the delivery of key targets.

Although the UK’s Clean Growth Strategy in 2017 reaffirmed the fuel poverty targets and targets to decarbonise all sectors of the UK, slow progress has seen the NEA estimate that it would take more than 90 years to meet the 2030 target. Whilst The Fuel Poverty Act for Scotland implemented a new set of targets, Wales has yet to reintroduce a set of key climate targets. Additionally, Northern Ireland has yet to introduce a new fuel poverty strategy which will encompass specific energy efficiency or fuel poverty targets.

The report issued a high number of recommendations, both regional and for the entirety of the UK. For Northern Ireland, recommendations include a review of the current fuel poverty strategy, and energy efficiency and fuel poverty schemes by the Department for Communities in order to remain focused and ensure any successor to the Northern Ireland Sustainable Energy Programme (NISEP) would be socially just.

Furthermore, it is recommended that an energy efficiency target should be established, driving forward the need to make energy efficiency and infrastructure a priority. The Department for Communities must also review the current fuel poverty strategy and establish a new fuel strategy, which should have a renewed focus on oil, cavity wall insulation, technical performance, the private rented sector and building effective partnerships, including the Department of Health and the Department for the Economy.

Northern Ireland continues to undergo significant challenges in lowering emissions across the housing sector. It will be vital for government to implement new policies and incentives to support homeowners, businesses and industry in order to achieve its net zero goals.

EAS

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