Evidence suggests that there is a strong correlation between fuel poverty and low skills and also access deprivation. Households in fuel poverty are also more likely to be on low incomes, reside in rural areas and have inferior access to financial instruments (e.g. credit) and general amenities such as shops and transport (phenomena known as access deprivation and multiple access deprivation).
However, this relationship is often taken for granted, and there is a lack of evidence demonstrating the clear causal links, the interplay between the factors and the magnitude of the problem. Having a clear overview of these issues is therefore an important first step to identifying possible interventions for addressing fuel poverty in low-income households.
Key research Question
The research aimed to synthesise existing evidence from the research examining basic skills, access deprivation and fuel poverty in order to inform the broader fuel poverty agenda.
Summary of activity
The study undertook a review of recent literature on basic skills and multiple access deprivation to locate any links to fuel poverty; conversely, it examined fuel poverty literature for details of issues with basic skills and access deprivation. The review was guided by several broad considerations. The literature was examined for any evidence demonstrating causal connections, the degrees of interaction and overlap, whether it offered examples of good practice or other potential solutions and what lessons could be shared across the areas of research.
The review identified several contributory factors but cautioned that the evidence was not robust and was often variable – furthermore, it was not clear what the relative contributions of different factors were. As a result, although the above links appear plausible, the review could not offer definitive proof. There was a shortage of adequate evaluation of projects designed to improve knowledge about energy efficiency among individuals with low skills, which tended to be based on assumptions about the core issues.
Specific issues included challenges in understanding energy efficiency information and fuel bills, difficulties in communicating with energy suppliers, low awareness of grants, programmes and consumer rights, limited access to financial instruments (such as direct debit) that offer cheaper payment options and inefficient use of domestic heating systems and appliances.
The authors recommend a number of general principles that projects working in the basic skills and energy sectors should follow, including the requirement to tailor energy efficiency advice to clients’ needs; the need to make such information easy to use and understand and the importance of personal contact and dialogue when providing it; the need for basic skills programmes to offer more than numeracy and literacy; and the need for practical energy efficiency interventions to be offered free or at low cost to low-income households.
Further in-depth research is recommended on a series of questions with the aim of clarifying the causal links. These include measuring the relative contribution of poor knowledge and awareness of fuel poverty in comparison with other factors, the degree to which services are following best practice and what can be done to encourage greater adoption, and understanding how energy efficiency services (both advice and installation) respond to the particular needs of households with low skills.