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OFTEC: “Urgent” government intervention needed on fuel poverty

Association argues for renewed government support for boiler replacement strategy via mechanisms such as the ECO in order to better tackle excess winter deaths

Trade body OFTEC has called on the government for an urgent intervention to introduce measures that will improve the energy efficiency of heating in some rural households to prevent an “unacceptable number” of additional winter deaths.

The association has said that ongoing support beyond this year to upgrade boilers in low-income households would be a vital step in protecting vulnerable people such as the elderly from cold periods. It would also assist efforts to curb UK fuel bills in line with the UK’s lower-carbon ambitions, OFTEC has argued.

Funding from the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) scheme, introduced to improve energy efficiency in fuel poor households, was cut by 40 per cent in 2016, despite government pledges to tackle fuel poverty, the association argued.

OFTEC chief executive Paul Rose said, “For too long now government has recognised the interlinked issues of fuel poverty and excess winter deaths, describing the situation as ‘scandalous’ and ‘unacceptable’. Yet policy to address the problem remains painfully inadequate.”

“Changes to ECO have seen insulation become the key priority. Whilst insulation is a welcome step, it will not solve the issue of fuel poverty by itself, particularly as many rural properties were built pre-1920, making them difficult to cost effectively treat.”

The trade association said recent Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show an estimated 34,000 excess winter deaths during the winter period of 2016/17 – up by 40 per cent on the same period the previous year.

OFTEC said that a cap introduced last year on new boiler installations under the second phase of the ECO scheme (ECO2t) has seen the government’s focus on tackling fuel poverty shifting to improving insulation. The shift in focus is argued to have seen a fall in boiler upgrades that were carried out following introduction of the cap. 

The association claimed that limits on new boilers will continue to lead to fuel poor households in England and Wales losing money on inefficient systems. 

OFTEC said that the average fuel poverty gap used to determine levels of income needed to bring a home out of fuel poverty stood at £371 and highlighted how boiler replacement programmes could alleviate these concerns, while also addressing the issue of carbon emissions. It therefore has called for government commitments for the ECO to continue beyond September 2018 with a specific push on replacing boilers currently used in rural areas.

Paul Rose cited the government’s Clean Growth Strategy that aims to drastically curb national carbon emissions as recognising that decarbonising heating needs was the most difficult challenge in meeting the strategy from both and policy and technology perspective. 

Mr Rose argued that it was important to consider all heating options to achieve these aims.

He said, “Whilst continuing to support oil heating in the short-term may seem to go against the tide of carbon reduction efforts, we think it could provide an important part of the jigsaw. Upgrading the estimated 400,000 old, inefficient oil boilers still in use would deliver immediate financial and carbon reduction benefits for their owners and the government.”

“It would also mean that all oil using homes are ready to accommodate the roll out of a low carbon liquid fuel replacement for kerosene, which our industry is working hard to bring to market during the 2020s.”

OFTEC said it was in discussions with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and wider government to outline a new strategy to decarbonise heating in off-grid, oil using homes.

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