The growing importance of tackling fuel poverty at a national level has been reflected in a number of ways, including the development of legislation (e.g. the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000) and major policy initiatives such as the Fuel Poverty Strategy, as well as large-scale government investment in energy efficiency schemes such as Warm Front and Warm Zones. As part of this, since 2000 local authorities in England have been required to report their progress to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) on an annual basis by virtue of their designation as Energy Conservation Authorities (ECAs). To date, no review or quality assurance of the information being provided has been undertaken. Analysing these returns would enable an in-depth overview of compliance, performance and the approaches being used at local levels across the country.
Key research Question
The research aimed to evaluate ECA reports to ascertain the levels of engagement with fuel poverty, detect any variability in performance, identify examples of best practice and determine whether the activity is delivering the intended outcomes.
Summary of activity
The research involved a desk-based review of the latest fuel poverty reports submitted to DEFRA, plus 68 local authority fuel poverty strategies. Ten case studies were selected to explore examples of good practice. A methodology for evaluation and scoring was devised to rank aspects of the performance of each local authority, such as funding obtained and partnership working.
The reports submitted to DEFRA indicated that most local authorities were undertaking some activity, with energy efficiency advice and the installation of retrofit measures the most common forms of delivery. Over half of the local authorities had a dedicated fuel poverty strategy, but their performance was not markedly better than that of those without such a strategy.
The least common activities were tackling ‘hard-to-treat’ properties and houses in multiple occupation or under-occupation, although a third of the local authorities were undertaking work in the private rented sector.
In the case study areas, best practice appeared to result where the local authority workers responsible for the agenda focused on partnerships and sourcing funding, leaving delivery to contractors. Those authorities that retained narrow control over the agenda, sought to deliver schemes themselves and did not seek additional funds tended to perform less successfully.
Central government must provide local authorities with better guidance on how to monitor fuel poverty, how to work effectively in partnership and strategies for securing funding. Reporting formats should be standardised, and enhanced feedback should be provided to inform local authorities how they are performing and what is expected of them. Good practice should be highlighted and shared – this could include mentoring of staff in one area by those in another area.
The Energy Efficiency Commitment framework and Warm Front programme should expand the scope of their funding criteria to allow a greater diversity of measures to be financed.
Further research should be undertaken on how ECAs assess fuel poverty and monitor progress, how to maximise staff resources and how to establish effective partnerships that are successful in gaining funds to deliver their plans.