How local authorities are reducing fuel poverty through energy efficiency in the UK: Christine Smith and Norman Walsh, Cosy Homes in Lancashire

Author:
Grace
Reading time: 5 minutes
18 July 2016
Credit: Andy Aitchison/Ashden

Christine Smith, Community Energy Coordinator with Blackpool Council, and Norman Walsh, Director of Firefly Energy, write about how energy efficiency improvements implemented by local authorities can save money and lower emissions in homes despite diminishing support from the UK government. This is part of The Climate Group project, Home2025.

Our homes are responsible for around one quarter of the world’s final energy demand but tackling energy efficiency isn’t always high on the political agenda.

The costs to homeowners are clear enough. A 2015 report by Policy Exchange – Warmer Homes – indicates that in the UK, households living in the least energy efficient properties would have to spend as much as £1,700 (US$2,243) extra a year to heat their home to a suitable temperature. 

For poorer communities, these costs are even greater. The charity National Energy Action believes that the recognized benefits of acting to end fuel poverty in a local area include: reductions in bills and energy arrears which can increase spending within poorer communities; better living conditions, and significant positive direct impacts on public health and fewer premature winter deaths.

On top of this, reductions in bills can also lead to less stress and better mental health for occupants. And of course improved energy efficiency helps reduce carbon emissions which has an impact on all of us.

ENERGY IMPROVEMENTS

Winner of the 2016 Ashden Award for Sustainable Homes, the Cosy Homes in Lancashire (CHiL) energy improvement scheme is a partnership between 14 local authorities and is helping keep homes warm and prevent fuel poverty in the county.

In 2014, 13% of households in the UK county of Lancashire were classified as fuel poor, with that figure rising to 18% in the city of Blackpool, the highest percentage in England. 

The county includes high numbers of hard-to-treat homes, with solid walls or cavities that are too narrow or irregular to insulate, and the region has a high level of exposure to wind and rain, which can cause damp problems when wall cavities are filled in the normal way.

The cities of Preston and Blackpool also have many blocks of flats, where external insulation can only be applied to the entire block in one go, requiring consent and funding for every flat in the block.

A unique concept driven by Public Health and Energy Officers joining forces, CHiL’s major achievement has been to get all 14 local authorities and Lancashire County Council working together to subsidize energy efficiency measures for the most vulnerable households

CHiL launched in April 2014, offering free or subsidized insulation and boilers and giving advice on energy tariff switching. We publicize our service through leaflets, a website and a call center. In an effort to ensure that the scheme reaches those in the county that need help the most, we also send staff into hospital wards dealing with respiratory illnesses to talk to patients about their home heating requirements.

TACKLING FUEL POVERTY

The Ashden Award judges said that the CHiL program showed: “a huge team effort by 14 local authorities across Lancashire who, despite limited funding, have cleverly pooled resources in order to prioritise energy efficiency, tackle fuel poverty and improve the health of residents living in old housing stock.”

By working together, the councils involved are able to save money through bulk-buying and redistribute surplus funding to ensure that no household need miss out on efficiency measures.

In a challenging funding environment this means that people living in old, expensive to treat houses can be helped by the scheme.  

The CHiL scheme has assisted more than 7,000 households to date, focusing on the oldest properties in the most deprived areas. We believe that this is a rare example of a local authority contracting directly with energy companies to deliver the full range of energy efficiency measures.

According to Dr Arif Rajpura, Director of Public Health at Blackpool Council: “CHiL is Lancashire’s attempt to address the links between poor housing conditions, ill health and excess winter deaths and to bring about equitable delivery of energy efficiency measures for everyone who needs them.”

In addition to the Public Health funding, each of the participating local authorities contribute the time of their Energy Officers to CHiL’s work. The other key partner is CHiL’s managing agent, Firefly Energi, which has been instrumental in the work, supporting and advising CHiL on technical matters and funding applications.

We believe that CHiL shows there are still ways for local authorities to reduce fuel poverty by insulating homes, despite diminished support from government policy – and sets an example for other UK local authorities to follow.

Click here for more information about CHiL and to watch a short video about their work. 

Home2025

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