In 2001, the UK Fuel Poverty Strategy introduced a national policy that pledged to eliminate fuel poverty within a decade. Local authorities have been tasked with translating the policy into local strategies and programmes of delivery on the ground, with duties to report on their progress. Many have produced detailed Affordable Warmth plans and programmes of activities designed to improve energy efficiency and tackle fuel poverty in their areas. The potential for sharing learning and best practice is therefore significant. The Beacon Council scheme is already a recognised model for showcasing the best examples of practice across local government in the UK and as such offers a valuable opportunity to improve collective performance. In 2002, the UK government invited local authorities to submit examples of best practice from their fuel poverty work, awarding Beacon status to five authorities rated for the outstanding quality of their activity.
Key research Question
In order to maximise the potential of the Beacon Councils’ work to improve the quality and effectiveness of fuel poverty interventions across all local authorities and their partners, a toolkit based on their knowledge and experience was developed to provide advice and guidance across local government.
Summary of activity
The toolkit includes a brief overview of the causes and impacts of fuel poverty and the contemporary policy environment. It then provides case studies of five English local authorities (Blyth Valley Borough Council, East Riding of Yorkshire Council, the London Borough of Camden, Luton Borough Council and Newark and Sherwood District Council) before providing an in-depth review of their approach to strategy development, funding, marketing and engagement, data management and the types of measures implemented.
In terms of strategy, the work of Beacon Councils indicated that a successful approach involved a dedicated lead officer, good partnership and consultation arrangements and sufficient time and funding, as well as the need to be realistic about outcomes and ensuring adequate monitoring and evaluation processes. Local strategies must be holistic, looking at wider vulnerabilities (e.g. low income) and linking households into other forms of support (e.g. benefits or health checks).
Management of information: good practice suggests that short-term and long-term performance indicators are needed, but it is not necessary for these to be highly complex. However, successful outcomes must be communicated to maintain ‘buy-in’.
Reaching fuel poor households: effective referral networks rely on partnerships with agencies that see vulnerable clients every day, but these can only be sustained with high-level support on both sides and easy referral mechanisms, and the benefits to partners must be made explicit.
Measures, interventions and funding sources: packages of efficiency measures are more successful than piecemeal interventions, and undertaking these as part of other improvement or renovation works brings added benefit.
The toolkit incorporates a wide range of recommendations in each of the four areas. These include:
All local authorities should consider a set of key questions, such as how they would obtain corporate/political support, what level of resources are needed, whether such resources should be developed internally or outsourced and how consultation should be managed.
Management of information: a number of options are presented for quantifying the scale of fuel poverty and setting baseline measures. However, exploration of how and where more sophisticated data can be obtained (e.g. income levels, health informatics, improved benefit take-up, etc.) should be considered, as this would demonstrate the wider benefits of the agenda.
Reaching fuel-poor households: consideration must be given to how those most in need may be targeted with information effectively and how partners working with vulnerable households may be best supported to identify needs and opportunities for their clients.
Measures, interventions and funding sources: local authorities should access guidance to help their decision-making, such as the resources produced by the Energy Efficiency Partnership (www.est.org.uk/partnership) or the Energy Saving Trust (www.saveenergy.co.uk). Energy advice must be provided to householders alongside the installation of any new technologies so that residents are aware of their purpose and know how to operate them effectively.