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Rural Fuel Poverty – A Project in South West Wiltshire to Study Rural Fuel Poverty and Develop Practical Solutions

Co-funded by the Rural Development Commission
Date: 1997


To date, research on fuel poverty has neglected the specific issues affecting households in rural areas.

Key research Question

The objective was to undertake a detailed assessment of the nature of rural fuel poverty in South West England. More specifically, the study aimed to determine whether low-income households were experiencing fuel poverty, detect any differences between urban and rural areas and identify solutions for alleviating this issue in a rural context. As a consequence, it is expected that the data gathered will provide lessons that are applicable across the country.

Summary of activity

The research involved a questionnaire survey, which was completed by two groups of rural residents living in South West Wiltshire: social housing tenants in Salisbury and older people recruited via lunch clubs. These were compared with a control group comprising inhabitants of a village in West Wiltshire.


The main findings covered six themes:

  1. Perceived warmth and ease of heating: Across all three groups many struggled to heat their homes (or afford to heat them), but this was particularly pronounced among older people, those with disabilities and families with young children – over 75% of the latter said affordability was an issue.
  2. Tenure and ability to heat: A significant percentage of private tenants struggled to heat their homes, but this was much less of a problem for owner-occupiers. Social housing tenants were more concerned with not being able to afford to heat their homes. Properties on large private estates were the least energy-efficient and possessed the least modern heating systems.
  3. Energy advice: More advice is required to boost the take-up of grants and energy efficiency measures.
  4. Fuel use: The control group had good awareness of the most cost-effective fuels, oil-fired central heating being the most commonly used in the absence of a mains gas supply. Similarly, very few social housing tenants were connected to a gas supply. Open fires were commonly the only heating option in properties on large private estates.
  5. Energy efficiency: Cheap measures, such as loft insulation or draught-proofing, were largely absent in the main sample. Although their installation would improve warmth, there was a general reluctance to pay for this, especially among older people, and the take-up of grants such as those offered under the Home Energy Efficiency Scheme was low.
  6. Wood as a fuel: Just under a quarter of the control group used it, a much higher proportion than that in the main sample, but overall, although it has a role to play in rural areas, it is not a priority to promote this source.


The authors structure their recommendations into seven areas with the overall aim of alleviating rural poverty in the South West Wiltshire Rural Development Area (RDA).

  1. Energy Advice: Separate energy advice services are not viable and therefore must be incorporated into existing RDA advice services, which already target vulnerable groups. One proposed model is an ‘Energy Stewards’ scheme, which would train volunteers to offer information at a village level.
  2. Rural Energy Initiatives: Examples of good practice from other rural areas should be investigated.
  3. Community Energy Businesses (CEBs): It is recommended that the option to establish a CEB should be considered. The CEB would be a mechanism for providing employment and training opportunities while at the same time undertaking practical energy efficiency work in the area. This would help reduce bills and increase the uptake of relevant grants.
  4. Fuel Utilities: Private gas suppliers should respond to interest shown in rural districts. In addition, electricity firms should improve access to bill paying and key charging facilities in village amenities.
  5. Local Authorities: Councils should use all opportunities to improve the energy efficiency of their social housing stock. They should utilise their databases (e.g. Council Tax Benefit) to promote information about grants and schemes such as the Home Energy Efficiency Scheme to low-income households.
  6. Large private estates: Landlords managing homes on this type of landholding must focus on boosting the energy efficiency of their properties and assess the various grants, subsidies and other financial mechanisms on offer to progress this.
  7. The Home Energy Efficiency Scheme should review its delivery in rural areas to increase its uptake, if necessary through additional subsidies to installers to cover the higher costs involved.

Other themes



Find out more about our Fuel Poverty themes. Discover our projects and related reports.