Fuel crisis: Gordon the energy outlaw

What a strange situation our government is in. As the body that creates our laws, it’s bizarrely found itself on the wrong side of it. Back in 2000 it made a commitment to outlaw fuel poverty. The Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000 states the government must end fuel poverty for vulnerable customers by 2010, and for everyone by 2016.

But eight years on, it’s obvious that our Gordon is nowhere near this utopian goal. In fact, things have become increasingly worse, not just for people on the breadline, whether pensioners or low income families, but for many other households. According to research by the National Housing Federation, nearly a quarter of UK households will end next year owing money to their energy company due to the hike in fuel prices. Many families, it claims, will be spending 10 per cent of their income on energy by the end of 2009. Shockingly, it says many people on low incomes will have to choose between heating or eating this winter.

And while the PM has outlined a package of measures billed as ‘worth a £1bn’ (actually £910m –where is the other £90m?!) to tackle the problem, it’s clear it isn’t going to do anything close. As Evan Davies on the Today Programme pointed out in a particularly argumentative discussion with environment secretary Hilary Benn this morning, it’s really just £300m a year over three years – small beer in financial terms.

There is, of course, no windfall tax on energy companies – something the trade unions have been shouting for but the government says could be the death knell for investment – but a focus on loft lagging and insulation. Gordon is literally trying to wrap the nation in cotton wool, aiming to insulate all households by 2020 with 50 per cent off insulation, although severe cold weather payments are also rising from £8.50 a week to £25 a week (for the disabled, pensioners and families with children under the age of five) and bills for the poorest customers will be frozen this year. But these are only paid if the temperature hits or is forecast to be below zero degrees Celsius for over seven consecutive days during 1 November to 31 March!

How many households will be able to find or afford somebody to lag their loft for them before the winter well and truly kicks in? As usual, this is all too little too late and I doubt will do much to stave off the huge fuel crisis we are sinking into.

Help the Aged’s response was suitably icy. Mervyn Kohler, the charity’s special adviser, called the measures “flimsy and failing” and “half-baked”, insisting the government needs to provide cold hard cash to tackle fuel poverty asap. And no wonder. Along with Friends of the Earth, the charity is taking the government to court for failing to end fuel poverty.

Here’s a few useful links if you’re concerned about your energy bills. A recent piece by me on cutting your bill, the Homeheat helpline’s website, uswitch, help from the Energy Saving Trust and MSN articles on saving on your energy bill.

How will you cope with your gas and electricity bills this winter? Will you have to choose between heating and eating? Do you think the government has done enough in its measures, or do you think we are to blame as energy guzzlers?

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7 Responses to Fuel crisis: Gordon the energy outlaw

  1. lee says:

    I think its time the government pulled their fingers from their asses and took a real look at the country as a whole, not just at the London area (which seems to be detached from the rest of the country). How will going round the country giving half price loft insulation and wall insulation benefit anyone? Not only is this time consuming, its throwing good money after bad!!! building regulations and local authority (council) laws specify that all new homes and ALL council homes meet strict regulations which include insulation and heating boilers, by law these have to be up to standard, so who stands to benefit from this package? certainly not your average person in the street. The government need to have another look at this dia situation and realize that the only possible way to combat this crisis is to take more control over these company fat cats who only seem to benefit from other peoples missfortunes and look at a hard cash solution for people on low incomes for THIS WINTER and a permanent solution next year.
    The way things are going at the moment it looks like many of our citizens are going to be in debt or freezing this winter and it and its worrying to think how many deaths will be associated with this next spring!!! Bears thinking about????

  2. piper says:

    Good point Lee.  And what about all the people out there who rent their property?  They\’re hardly going to pay for someone else\’s home to be lagged. What if their landlord can\’t be bothered to do it?

  3. Christine says:

    Unfortunately I don\’t think that the government can do a lot about the energy companies which are now foreign owned in many cases. I\’m jolly sure that there is no money to re-nationalise them and that legal regulation would take quite some drafting (think in 5 years time to get it right) as the owners are foreign companies. The only way to ensure that private rental property is properly insulated is by legislation. This could of course result in a number of private landlords selling up which will make the present housing market even more difficult – at the moment there is a severe shortage of rental property in the Morpeth area for people who can\’t return to their homes after the flooding for instance.For older people who own their own houses the grants for lagging, insulation and/or modernising heating systems do not cover the full amount required in many cases. Age Concern seems to be running with problems in this area – that seems to be a worrying development.

  4. Chris says:

    I think that it\’s time the Government did us all a favour and damatically reduce fuel taxation. At around 70% on road fuels and 5% on heating fuels they are themselves are adding fuel to the fire so to speak. Without the tax on road fuel we would be paying around 65p a litre for unleaded. Of course it\’s not just fuel tax it\’s the so called green taxes ie. road tax which for any car with an engine 3.0 ltr. or more (not just the 4X4\’s) is £400 p.a. due the government say to the CO2 emissions but do the drivers of these "gas guzzlers" not already pay more tax simply by having to buy more fuel. By the way all these green taxes are they seen to be used for green issues ? No they all go straight into the coffers.

  5. Moira says:

    4 disabled adults and one student in this household.  Bills £123/month DD Run up a further £260 worth of fuel debt in six months. Switched to a different tarrif again npower because they said they could save us £500pa.  Why don\’t companies put us all on their best rate automatically?  How can we tell them we are a so called \’vulnerable household\’?  Does it really make a difference

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