The Health of the Nation: new research on local fuel poverty schemes

Some aspects of fuel poverty are inherently local and many local authorities, and others, have recognised this. Local support services for those in fuel poverty have been part of the solution for some time, but there was limited evidence about how they operate, who they reach and how cost effective they are.

SE2 Ltd and Lewisham Council wanted to investigate this topic further and – funded by Eaga Charitable Trust – have developed a detailed review of local, health-related fuel poverty schemes. Their research report – The Health of the Nation – examines the objectives behind such schemes, how they are targeted, the services they offer, their costs and how success is monitored. It provides a rich seam of evidence for anyone scoping, developing or managing a local fuel poverty scheme.

You can read the full research report, and download accompanying guidance documents for policymakers and practitioners here

New research on the lived reality of energy inefficiency in the private rented sector

Housing tenants in the private rented sector are choosing to live in cold homes out of fear of high heating bills and losing their tenancy, according to new research funded by Eaga Charitable Trust. 

The research, carried out by Sheffield Hallam University, was developed to provide a better understanding of the lived reality of energy inefficiency in private rented sector housing. The private rented sector is the fastest growing tenure in England. It houses a higher proportion of poor and vulnerable households than any other tenure and contains a higher proportion of the least energy-efficient properties.

The research which focused on private rental sector tenants across two areas of England, Hackney and Rotherham, revealed that tenants face considerable barriers to seeking help with cold homes that are unaffordable to heat. Respondents in both locations experienced dangerously cold homes and rationed their heating in winter due to energy inefficient properties and fears over high heating bills.

The stress of maintaining a tenancy – particularly given the high demand for rental properties – meant that few respondents considered how easy the home would be to heat when finding somewhere to live.

The relationship between tenant and landlord was one characterised by fear on the part of tenants that any complaint may be countered by retaliatory action such as rent increases or eviction if they spoke out. Most tenants felt reluctant to make contact with their landlord and instead found ways to work around problems.

Keeping warm by routinely wearing coats inside the home, keeping blankets in living areas and spending extra time in bed or outside of the home were common practice, as was heating the home for very short periods in order to save money, rather than lobbying landlords for improvements.

Issues such as excess cold, condensation, and extensive damp and mould were widely highlighted, along with increased suffering associated with chronic health conditions (e.g. respiratory diseases and arthritis) known to be exacerbated by cold homes, the emotional strain of insecure tenancies, and living in properties they wouldn’t have chosen to live in.

Over half of the participants used pre-payment methods to pay for their heating and therefore paid higher tariffs but, despite this, many valued pre-payment meters as a method of controlling spending on heating and electricity.

Under the Energy Act (2011) tenants are able to request consent from their landlords to carry out energy efficiency improvements to properties. The landlord cannot unreasonably refuse consent. It is, however, the responsibility of the tenants to arrange funding. Although the majority of respondents were supportive of the Act in principle, the majority felt too afraid to approach their landlord about this.

Dr Aimee Ambrose, senior research fellow from Sheffield Hallam University’s Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research (CRESR), led the project.

Dr Ambrose said “There is a key voice missing from the debate about energy performance in the private rented sector: that of the tenant. Tenants are under-researched and underrepresented, lacking a collective voice due to the absence of organised groups representing them.

“The picture emerging from the accounts of respondents is one characterised by limited housing choice that leads to the acceptance of poor quality properties that would otherwise be unacceptable, to fear of challenging the landlord in case of retaliatory action, to enduring cold conditions and high bills, and to suffering the consequences for health and wellbeing.

“This research represents a decisive step towards a stronger voice for tenants in the debate about energy efficiency in the private rented sector.”

The full report and research summary can be accessed here.

New research on fuel poverty in Scotland

The Speird Project: research by Glasgow Caledonian University

Research funded by Eaga Charitable Trust provides new evidence on the extent and segmentation of fuel poverty in Scotland – uncovering the ‘hidden geographies’ of fuel poverty across rural areas and the islands. The Speird Project was developed by Dr Keith Baker and Ron Mould at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), and conducted in partnership with ALIenergy, Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association, Orkney Isles Council, Highland Council, and Scarf, with support from a steering group chaired by Energy Action Scotland. The findings validate and substantially expand on previous research by the GCU team, which found the difference between the amounts rural and urban households in Renfrewshire were spending on heating was significantly more than current statistics suggest. The recommendations include the need for policies that treat fuel poverty as primarily a welfare problem, and which treat householders as individuals, not statistics. The full report and research summary can be accessed here.

Masters bursary recipient wins Green Gown Award

Eaga Charitable Trust is delighted to learn that one of its Masters bursary recipients, Danielle Butler from the Sustainable Housing and Urban Studies (SHUSU) Unit at the University of Salford, has been awarded a Green Gown Award. Established in 2004, the Green Gown Awards recognise the exceptional sustainability initiatives being undertaken by universities, colleges and the learning and skills sectors across the UK and Ireland. Danielle won in the Student Research category for her Masters research which explored fuel poverty among young adult households. Further details, including a video about Danielle’s research, can be found here.

Eaga Charitable Trust responds to Ofgem consultation on allocation of redress payments

Eaga Charitable Trust has submitted a response to Ofgem’s consultation on ‘Allocation of voluntary redress payments in the context of enforcement cases’, proposing that a small portion should be allocated to the Trust to ensure that there is dedicated research in the energy sector on issues relating to fuel poverty and health and wellbeing.  The consultation proposes more transparent administration and regulation of how voluntary redress money – tens of millions of pounds a year – is spent.  Ofgem is considering opening up access to this funding to a much wider range of organisations working with the public on energy issues. Eaga Charitable Trust proposes that Ofgem’s objectives for spending this money should be widened to allow a small sum to be spent on practical research and innovation into how to assist vulnerable and hard-to-reach energy consumers who are not accessing affordable energy. This could be delivered very effectively and efficiently through Eaga Charitable Trust.

Our full response to Ofgem’s consultation can be found here

New Masters bursary awards from Eaga Charitable Trust

The Trustees of Eaga Charitable Trust encourage Masters students to write dissertations relating to fuel poverty issues. This is an area that provides research opportunities for new students that stretch as far as climate change, environmental justice, and visionary solutions to housing challenges and there is a huge knowledge bank of world expertise available in the way of supervisors. Each year bursaries are available to UK and EU MSc/MA students who are proposing to write a dissertation on a topic linked to fuel poverty within the UK or other EU countries. The Trust has recently awarded two bursaries to students at the University of Surrey and Bangor University who are undertaking Masters research into issues related to tackling fuel poverty:

The challenges of local authorities’ multi-agency approach to identifying the fuel poor living in private rented accommodation – a case study of Portsmouth City Council 

Grant Holder: Masters student: Katherine Shadwell. Supervised by Professor Matt Leach, Professor of Energy and Environmental Systems, University of Sussex
Main Contact : Dr Jonathan Chenoweth, M.Sc. Programme Director, Centre for Environmental Strategy
Email: j.chenoweth@surrey.ac.uk

Summary

To combat the rise in fuel poverty, especially within the private rental sector, many local authorities have recently been implementing a multi-agency approach to identifying the fuel poor in local authority housing, private rental and owned accommodation.  However, the complexity and challenges of this approach are yet to be evaluated in detail. This research will analyse the implementation of Portsmouth City Council’s multi-agency approach and examine if intervention from front-line local government staff can really make a difference in identifying the fuel poor and if any improvements to this multi-agency approach can be identified.


Do Community Energy Services Companies (CESCOs) reduce fuel poverty?

Grant Holder: Jane Kelly. Supervised by Dr Paula Roberts, Lecturer in Environmental Management, Bangor University
Main Contact : Dr Paula Roberts
Email: p.roberts@bangor.ac.uk

Summary

Energy Local and Ynni Ogwen have recently started the first UK pilot of a Community Energy Services Company (CESCO) aimed directly at using local renewable energy to supply local households in fuel poverty in Bethesda, Gwynedd. The project aims to benefit both the generator of renewable energy and the user of energy by closing the gap between the price received per unit generated and that paid by householders. This research aims to understand the motives for joining and their responses to cheaper energy supply and suggest ways of improving the educational components of the project.

 


Masters bursary students’ testimonials

Below are three testimonials from earlier recipients of Eaga-CT Masters bursaries, in which the students describe their motivation for undertaking Masters research into fuel poverty and the ways in which the bursary awards helped them and their research. Further information on the bursary award scheme can be found here.

Andreas Schneller, London School of Economics and Political Science – 2014 bursary recipient    

My motivation to undertake research on fuel poverty can be explained by the fact that I am concerned about both persisting social inequalities and continuing environmental degradation on a global scale. Fuel poverty as a social phenomenon which exemplifies the difficulties that policy makers face in integrating social and environmental policy objectives was therefore an ideal subject of inquiry for my research. Synergies between these two policy areas can become feasible and offer a win-win scenario by creating lower energy bills and reduced emissions.

The generous MSc dissertation bursary of the Eaga Charitable Trust contributed greatly to the depth and scope of my study. Since my research focused on a cross-national comparative analysis it was essential for me to gather information and meet experts on the spot. The bursary enabled me to cover travel costs and get access to resources which had a great impact on my ability to carry out an excellent thesis. The bursary also gave me the opportunity to concentrate entirely on my research and facilitated my enthusiasm about a future career as a university lecturer.

Danielle Butler, University of Salford – 2014 bursary recipient  

I was first made aware of the Eaga Charitable Trust and the bursaries offered to Masters students by my supervisors, who signposted me to the website. Requiring a short statement which detailed the background of the proposed study, along with research aims and the intended research strategy, I found the process of submitting the application itself to be particularly valuable. Specifically, it encouraged me to think in a clear and concise manner about what I actually planned to do and how I planned to go about it. What’s more, with the application needing a supporting statement from my supervisor, this meant it proved to be a really useful resource during early supervision meetings.

Undoubtedly, one of the greatest benefits of the bursary was the added financial security it provided. With this, I felt as though I gained some much needed time and space to devote my attention towards my research. Additional to this, however, an unexpected benefit came in the form of thoughtful and relevant feedback given by the board of trustees who had considered my application. Rather than simply notifying me that I had been successful, comments were offered that prompted some key research considerations and, again, useful supervision discussions.

Since sending the application, a little more than a year ago, I feel that my understanding of and interest in the field has grown substantially. So much so, that I decided during my master’s degree that I wanted to continue with postgraduate study, pursuing PhD opportunites in fuel poverty research. At the end of last year, I began a fully-funded PhD with the Sustainable Housing & Urban Studies Unit at the University of Salford, in which my research aims to examine the role of intermediaries, such as third-sector organisations, in the context of urban fuel poverty. Again bridging aspects of professional experience to my academic goals. Even though my Master’s degree is now completed, I remain in contact with Eaga Charitable Trust and believe that those at the Trust will continue to be an excellent source of support and advice in my future as a fuel poverty researcher.

Dr Harriet Thomson, University of York – 2011 bursary recipient 

During my Undergraduate studies in Social Policy I was very interested in issues relating to housing and the environment, and how this affects marginalised groups. My specific interest in fuel poverty emerged after a summer internship with an energy service company that coordinated practical fuel poverty alleviation schemes. I decided to further explore fuel poverty from a research perspective as part of a Masters of Research degree. I received an Eaga Charitable Trust Masters bursary in 2011 for a dissertation project that explored how fuel poverty is conceptualised across the European Union, and what levels of fuel poverty exist.

As a recipient of the Master’s bursary, I definitely recommend applying. Aside from the obvious financial benefit, which was helpful as I was self-funding my Masters, I found it incredibly useful to have my research proposal and subsequent dissertation reviewed by the Eaga trustees, who are all experts in the field. Furthermore, the bursary scheme gave me experience of grant writing, and after receiving the bursary it allowed me to demonstrate on my CV an ability to attract research funding.

Since receiving the Eaga-CT Masters bursary, I have completed a PhD, which expanded on my Masters research, and I now have a postdoctoral research job that explores fuel poverty in Eastern and Central Europe. Along the way, I have also had some success in gaining further grant funding from Eaga Charitable Trust and other funders.