Summary and implications

The Government Warm Front Scheme has recently been criticised in a House of Commons report for failing to tackle fuel poverty adequately. The report:

  • claims the scheme is not targeting the correct people, and vulnerable households have to wait too long for help to be received; and
  • proposes a suite of recommendations by the Commons in order to solve these problems.

Energy and Climate Change minister David Kidney said the Government was carrying out a review of the way the scheme worked.

Fuel Poverty

The Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000 requires the Government to ensure that, as far as reasonably practicable, people do not live in fuel poverty. A household is deemed to be fuel poor when it needs to spend more than 10 percent of its annual income on energy costs. In 2007 over three million households were in fuel poverty, the majority being in private accommodation.

The Warm Front Scheme

The Warm Front Scheme was introduced by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to tackle this fuel poverty by improving energy efficiency in privately owned properties in England.

Qualifying householders can receive insulation or heating improvements up to a value of £3500, or £6000 where oil, low carbon or renewable technologies are recommended. The householder qualifies for this scheme typically by being in receipt of one of a series of benefits.

Key Failings

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, in their report, found that there are several key failings of the scheme, including identifying a significant shortfall in funding.

The entitlement of the householder to scheme money being dependant on the receipt of benefits was criticised as it has not targeted those in need. 57 percent of those households in fuel poverty do not claim the relevant benefits, and 75 percent of those who do qualify are not necessarily in fuel poverty. The report suggested that all energy efficient houses should be excluded from the scheme, and should instead provide alternative technologies in hard to treat homes.

Another criticism was levied at the contributions that 25 percent of applicants were asked to make towards the work required. The report recommended further research into those who cancelled their application on the basis that they couldn't afford the contributions as requested.

The scheme was found to be delivering help within the timescales originally laid down, however the House of Commons believed that these timescales, which can extend to three months, are too generous and should be revised.

Finally there was concern about potential duplication with other initiatives to tackle fuel poverty through improving energy efficiency (for example, with the Warm Zones project, which targets geographic areas with fuel poor households). In order to target the vulnerable, it was recommended that the DECC should make effective arrangements to enable work on the different energy efficiency schemes to be coordinated.