Customers, Policy & regulation

New rules will allow suppliers to identify most needy “by address”

New legislation for the better use of government data should deliver a “breakthrough” in support for the fuel poor, the chair of Committee on Fuel Poverty (CFP) has told Utility Week.

If approved by parliament, new rules will allow certain data about UK citizens to be shared between departments from 2018, explained David Blakemore.

The “better use of data in government” programme is “fundamental to the success of our [fuel poverty] strategy. Because otherwise we are using statistically generated numbers and using proxies to identify addresses,” he said.

According to Blakemore, the proposed data legislation would allow around 60 per cent of the estimated 2.4 million UK households classed as fuel poor to be identified by address.

Because this is not currently possible, Blakemore said that government funding which should be helping the UK’s most needy, is being “poorly targeted”. It is thought that just 10 per cent of the funds available through schemes like the energy company obligation (Eco) and the winter fuel payment, for example, reach those living in fuel poverty.

Another reason for the poor targeting of Eco money, according to Blakemore, is that the scheme has historically been driven primarily by government determination to meet carbon emissions reduction targets, not by a social cause.

This “difficult conflict” was further complicated by the Conservative manifesto commitment to insulate 1m homes before 2020, said Blakemore.

These drivers mean that energy suppliers have been incentivised for “efficiency reasons” to fulfil their obligations to install energy efficiency measures largely in urban areas and without significant focus on the fuel poor.

Blakemore acknowledged that these drivers are changing and welcomed recent changes to the Eco scheme which increase its focus on the fuel poor. He also welcomed government commitments to continue ramping up this focus on fuel poverty in future iterations of Eco.

Blakemore was keen not to lay all responsibility for better action on fuel poverty at government’s door however. He suggested that there is more that suppliers, and other groups such as health professionals and social workers, can do to identify individuals in particular need of support.

This includes making “sensitive” use of the smart meter rollout, which risks being a “missed opportunity” to address fuel poverty.  

The FPC is shortly to publish a six-month update on its fuel poverty strategy, which it released in September 2016.