Sarah Scotcher explains how housing associations in Wales are using innovation and engagement to help reduce fuel poverty amongst their tenants.
Fuel poverty occurs when somebody is unable to afford the cost of heating their home. This situation is usually caused by a trio of factors: low income, high energy cost and energy inefficient housing. A household is considered to be in fuel poverty when it needs to spend more than 10% of its income on the cost of maintaining an adequate standard of warmth in the home.
Keeping our homes warm is something many of us take for granted, but there are hundreds of thousands of people across the country struggling to do just that, with around 23% of Welsh households affected by fuel poverty.
Friday 15th February marked Fuel Poverty Awareness Day in Wales, just a week after Ofgem announced it was lifting price caps on energy prices due to rising wholesale costs, meaning that around 15 million households could see their energy bills increase by more than £100 a year from April.
Yet, for housing associations in Wales, fuel poverty awareness is a part of everyday operations, with a two-pronged approach aimed at relieving the cost of heating homes. That dual approach comes in the form of tenant engagement and a commitment to building more low carbon homes.
Fuel poverty is also a driver of the Welsh Government’s decarbonisation agenda. The Environment (Wales) Act requires that Welsh ministers ensure an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 (from the 1990 baseline). The Low Carbon Delivery Plan is due to be released at the end of March and a housing-specific report is expected in the summer. It is anticipated that a programme of retrofitting in existing homes will be set out, with the aim of increasing energy efficiency; this will reduce both carbon emissions and fuel poverty.
Welsh housing associations have been working with their tenants to help with energy costs., Valleys 2 Coast, for example, has appointed a Money Matters Team to offer support and guidance. This team helps tenants to budget, save, manage debt and claim correct welfare benefits, as well as deal with fuel bills.
Meanwhile, Grŵp Cynefin has helped save tens of thousands of pounds for thousands of households through its dedicated customer support initiatives. Energy wardens work with residents across the community, offering support and advice, from applying for the Warm Home Discount to practical tips like switching to energy saving light bulbs.
Housing associations across Wales are now building an increasing number of warm, comfortable homes, with a focus on low carbon. We are currently entering the third year of the Welsh Government funded Innovative Housing Programme, which has seen many housing associations embark on new initiatives, signalling a clear shift towards developing homes with low carbon in mind.
There is also an increased focus on collaborations, such as with Swansea University’s SPECIFIC Innovation and Knowledge Centre and the Swansea Bay City Deal’s Homes as Power Stations project. Several housing associations, including Newydd, Coastal, Wales & West and Pobl, are working with these projects to develop homes so energy efficient that they are energy positive or near energy positive, essentially creating a power station within each home. Both collaborations aim to create smarter, lower carbon, more energy efficient homes, tackling poverty while also meeting the need for more housing in Wales.
By improving the quality of homes and offering support with managing fuel bills, we can go some way to improving the health and wellbeing of tenants. This has many other benefits, including reducing pressures on the NHS from tenants with preventable illnesses caused by living in cold homes. As part of our Housing Horizons vision, Community Housing Cymru has laid out an ambition for a Wales where good housing is a basic right for all. Housing associations continue to work hard to achieve this goal, addressing fuel poverty with innovation and engagement.
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