A nice cup of tea 

On 26 May Rishi Sunak announced a £15 billion package of support for people struggling with energy bills, and although he didn’t dare say its name, a windfall tax on oil and gas companies’ current extraordinary profits.  

The windfall tax, called a temporary “Energy Profits Levy” was expected. The size of the support package was something of a surprise, a measure of the depth of the crisis the UK population is facing, and the depth of the crisis of the current government, which has, with impunity, partied while people die. The End Fuel Poverty Coalition, of which FPA is a member, has outlined numerous potholes in the distribution of these funds – operational issues for some renters, Prepayment Meter users, and others that could prevent some people from receiving what they are entitled to. We will be Below we focus on the amounts. 

The key offerings were:

£400 for every bill-payer and people on Prepayment Meters.

£650 each for the 8 million households surviving on welfare benefits, 

£300 for pensioner households, and

£150 for households who get non-means-tested disability benefits 

Many people can qualify for more than one, or even all of these sums. The chancellor has repeatedly claimed verbally that “most” people will get £1,200. The government’s website is more cautious: almost all of the eight million most vulnerable households across the UK will receive support of at least £1,200 this year. 

There was enough in the package to warrant considerable relief, and even joy at this new proof that, after all, the government can move when pushed. Some people have dared to hope that the fuel poverty crisis is solved now. But unfortunately that is very far from the case. Lasting progress will require structural changes to our homes, our energy supply and the pricing system – like Energy For All, which will guarantee that every home has enough energy, free, to meet its basic needs. Instead, the Chancellor’s handouts will enable some to eat today – and go hungry again tomorrow. Here’s the context:

  1. The starting point. The levels of poverty are now so high in this country that even sums that are high, for a giveaway only take the tip off the iceberg. The UK spends far less on pensions than other OECD countries. Over two million families last year were forced to turn to food banks, up 80% on five years ago, and in many of these homes parents were working two or even three jobs to try to get by. Missing meals and rationing heat to an hour or less a day, many have not dared to put a kettle on, let alone cook a hot meal. With UK homes the worst insulated in Europe many are paying over the odds to heat houses and flats that never really stay warm or even dry. In terms of fuel costs alone, £1200 more than cancels out the expected £800 increase next October, but doesn’t approach negating the £1,500 total with the increase this spring, let alone what could happen next January, with Ofgem’s accelerated increase timetable. We cannot forget that the £1500 is an average – it is more for people on prepayment meters, and much more for people in bad housing, forced to pay to heat the streets. And we can’t forget, either, that BEFORE these increases, even before the pandemic, 10,000 people in the UK died each winter from fuel poverty.  
  2. Aside from the increasing fuel prices, people are facing massive increases in food costs, clothing, housing costs, transportation, and also, by the government’s choice, NI increases and real-terms cuts in benefits. Benefits increased by 3.1% in April, with consumer price inflation at 9%. The Chancellor’s “generous” £650 for people on means tested benefits goes a bit over half way towards making up the £20 per week ripped last October from people on UC – and never even extended to people on legacy benefits. There’s an extra £150 for people on disability benefits that are NOT means tested, but they are also to lose access to the Warm Home Discount, worth £150.  
  3. Meanwhile, working age people who are not on any benefits will get £400, which doesn’t go far against a £1500 increase. Where does that leave people who were working 2 or 3 jobs but were still struggling to make ends meet before the need to find hundreds of pounds more to pay for energy? The Chancellor keeps saying that benefits will rise with inflation in the autumn – and inflation, he says confidently, will then fall (would he count on that if his own family were affected?) It’s true that in this very low waged economy many people in “good” jobs are also recipients of benefits. But that is by no means true of all. For the many one or two income households who earn just over the benefits threshold, there is a cliff edge to climb – they get only £400 and nothing more. Unlike a tax system that is graduated so people benefit from allowances in some proportion to what they need, your fate with the Chancellor’s helicopter money, as with so much else these days, depends on arbitrary cut off points, and luck. 
  4. The monies do nothing about the gross injustices built into the pricing system. Because of the recently hugely increased standing charge on bills, you pay more per unit if you use less energy than if you are wealthy and profligate. No matter how much you cut down you can’t avoid the standing charge, which now carries the burden of covering the costs of failed, poorly regulated, energy suppliers. In addition, people on prepayment meters – often forced to have one installed because they’ve fallen into debt  – pay more than people who can pay by Direct Debit. 
  5. The handouts, however welcome, are a one-off. They may of course be repeated if the government again finds itself under sufficient pressure. But the total insecurity of having to wait in hope of such an event will drive many to despair, with all the implications for mental illness, suicides, demotivation, and sad, hard, unnecessary decisions being made to give up hope of a home, a course, a holiday, a business plan, or even a child because people in this country just can’t count on anything.
  6. The handouts will go not only to people who need them but to people who are already very wealthy and do not by any stretch of the imagination need help with their bills. FPA’s planned “Energy for All” is also universal, but would be balanced by higher tariffs for people who are using far more energy than they need. The Government’s suggestion that individuals can ‘donate to charity’ in no way deals with the injustice of giving public money to people who may already be profiting from the crises that are pushing the rest of us to desperation. 

Meanwhile, how is this all funded, and what of the Windfall Tax? Well, a 25% levy on the extraordinary profits that energy companies are raking in from our bills is due to raise £5 billion of the £15 billion pounds being spent on returning cash to households. (Interesting that they can find the rest from somewhere.)  But at the same time, the Chancellor has promised these same companies that if they “invest in the UK” – and specifically in oil and gas – they will get back over 91p for every pound invested. In their own businesses, that is. Promised up to 2025, at £1.9 billion per year this has been estimated to give them £5.7 billion (no official figures available). The government is taking with one hand, then, and giving back generously, with the other – as a bribe to induce profit-sated multinational corporations to further drill for oil, pollute the air, water, land and sea, and destroy the climate that we all depend on. Rishi Sunak’s tax breaks could lead to more than £8bn worth of North Sea energy projects. 

In any case, a tax worth £5 billion from £13.4 to £13.6 billion of windfall profits, still leaves eight and a half billion pounds in the hands of these corporations. That money – unearned, and created by the extra high prices we have paid – will go to people so obscenely wealthy that they don’t know what to do with it, and to further destruction of planet earth. Yet that money could have made a huge difference to our bills and our health. Just £3 billion could insulate over 2 million homes.

All this on top of the ongoing enforced generosity of the British taxpayer who gives more in subsidies to the likes of BP and Shell than we take from them in taxes. In normal times the UK government taxes oil and gas producers 40% on profits from North Sea extraction. This is the lowest government tax take in the world from an offshore oil and gas regime.  Even with this temporary levy, the tax rate on oil and gas companies in the UK will still be lower than the global average. 

Out of sight of the headlines, then, the champagne corks were no doubt popping in corporate boardrooms where billionaire CEOs weighed up the Chancellor’s statement. In millions of kitchens, meanwhile, their customers splurged by finally turning the kettle on and making a nice cup of tea.

Heat and Light are Basic Rights: Energy Customers Need the Same Rights and Protections as Domestic Water Customers and We Need it Now

Fran Lobel

The current energy crisis means that millions of households will not be able to afford their energy bills or costs and will be plunged into fuel poverty. The sharpest end of fuel poverty is ‘fuel crisis’ whereby households who use prepayment meters ‘self-disconnect’ from their supply when they can’t top-up. Customers with prepayment meters pay for their energy use in advance, usually by taking a key or card device to a local shop, buying credit which is loaded to the device, and then topping up the meter with credit. When all credit is exhausted the lights go out and the heat cuts off. ‘Self-disconnection’ is the commonly understood term for when this happens, although its use is contentious due to the implication that it’s an outcome customers choose.

Self-disconnection: the sharpest end of fuel poverty

Energy suppliers’ too-common recourse to recuperating debt is to pressure customers to switch to a payment method that might not be suitable, safe or practical, without exploring alternative methods of repayment. Energy suppliers also remotely ‘mode-switch’ indebted smart metered customers to prepayment mode without adequate warning and safety and practicability checks. As a final measure, suppliers forcibly install prepayment meters under warrant where (often frightened, vulnerable customers, unsure of their rights) fail to engage with debt collection processes. 

 We have particular concerns about the effects of chronic self-disconnection on prepayment energy customers. We are also deeply concerned that energy suppliers will recuperate problem debt resulting from unprecedented price rises by forcibly installing large numbers of prepayment meters. Self-disconnection is a fate that awaits hundreds of thousands more customers who won’t be able to afford their monthly or quarterly bills.

Energy is required to support and participate in life

Domestic water utilities customers have been protected from loss-of supply due to unaffordability and debt since 1999. The use of ‘limiting devices’ i.e. trickle valves as a sanction and coercive means of debt recovery was also prohibited under the same legislation.

During the 1994 2nd reading of the Water Domestic Disconnections bill, the point was made that water is unique as an essential to life commodity as it has no substitute. By contrast, it was suggested customers disconnected from their energy supply could manage for a few days using a calor gas heater or a primus stove. 

 It’s hard now, nearly three decades later, to imagine this being considered usable advice for off-supply energy customers. Calor gas heaters and primus stoves are no longer common back-of cupboard items stashed for an emergency or a camping trip, and customers who can’t afford small cash top-ups are not in a position to peruse the Argos catalogue as an interim solution to staying adequately warm. There never has been a safe or adequate substitute for electricity; it’s always been unsafe for those who need to keep medicine in the fridge or rely on power for medical or mobility equipment to lose supply. More generally and aside from providing safe and reliable light, electricity is now essential for the phone and online connectivity required for children’s homework, study, working from home, job search, accessing medical services, advice and support services, financial inclusion, and maintaining a universal credit account. As fewer households have a landline phone, ironically, it is now usually a requirement to use a mobile phone or other chargeable device and to maintain a Wi-Fi or data allowance to access emergency support from energy suppliers.

Comparisons, in recent decades, between the essentialness of domestic water and energy supplies have eroded beyond the point of useful and meaningful distinction. 

Water prepayment meters were banned in 1998.

Water prepayment meters, known as ‘Budget Payment Units’ (BPUs) were outlawed in 1998 after a consortium of six local authorities brought a successful legal challenge to the installation and use of BPUs to The High Court. The local authorities argued that customers with BPUs were likely to suffer more frequent disconnections from their water supply than customers without, and this could lead to the spread of infectious diseases. 

The High Court ruled that multiple statutory safeguards in place to protect customers from disconnection were bypassed by the use of BPUs. The same principle and outcomes apply to energy customers who self-disconnect. It’s clear that energy customers now need parity of protection with water utilities customers from all kinds of disconnection, including self-disconnection. 

Too often not safe, not practical, & sometimes lethal

We have noted that energy suppliers are routinely non-compliant with safety and practicability rules regarding prepayment; this means that householders who take life-sustaining medication that requires refrigeration and those who use mobility aids and medical devices that rely on power face life-threatening situations. Self-disconnection is also dangerous for those who are elderly or very young, or have health conditions worsened by cold. We have noted that forced installations of prepayment meters are executed without regard to safety and practicability regulations.

Widespread destitution: from consumer debt problem to a public health crisis

More broadly, frequent self-disconnection leads to destitution and perpetuates inter-generational disadvantage. It means that families are unable to cook food supplied to them from food banks; a month’s supply of frozen food is spoiled and lost; parents can’t log into Universal Credit accounts, miss messages, and then get sanctioned; adults go to work and job interviews without being able to have a shower; children can’t do their homework after school (and boil kettles to bathe in the mornings before school).  

It is true that energy customers are now only very rarely disconnected from their supply due to debt, but this ‘good news’ message is misleading. Energy suppliers don’t disconnect indebted energy customers because this no longer a necessary sanction; suppliers use warrants and rights of entry legislation, originally established in order to disconnect customers, to install prepayment meters and let householders self-disconnect from their supply. (Alan Murdie, the long-time editor of The Fuel Rights Handbook has questioned the lawfulness of re-purposing this legislation to forcibly install a different payment method device.)

 If actioned widely in response to large numbers of customers defaulting on unaffordable bills, this practice threatens to turn a consumer debt problem into a into a public health crisis. 

The prohibition that came into force in 1999 on disconnecting households from their domestic water supply was made as a paradigm-shifting public health measure. Indebted domestic water utilities customers can face legal and other debt enforcement action, but measures that threaten life, health, and cause severe detriment to all members, including children and infants, of an indebted household are rightly prohibited.

The energy regulator considered a prohibition on all disconnections as an option in the future should this be required…….

The energy regulator consulted from 2018-2020 on improving outcomes for consumers who experience self-disconnection and self-rationing, and regulations designed to protect prepayment consumers from the kind of detriments outlined above came into force in December 2020. We have noted that energy supplier compliance with these regulations is poor and none have faced enforcement action as a result. 

  In August 2019, during the pre-statutory phase of its consultation to improve outcomes for consumers who experience self-disconnection, Ofgem noted the following: 

We note that there is currently no obligation on regulated companies which prohibits gas and electricity disconnections on all meter types, except in certain circumstances and for particular customer groups. Disconnection due to debt should only be considered as a very last resort by suppliers and disconnections due to debt are now very infrequent. At this stage, we are not proposing to introduce a prohibition on all disconnections, similar to one in the water sector, but we will consider this as one option in the future should this be required

The above was given serious consideration before the pandemic; energy customers have since been hit concurrently and consecutively with the effects of the pandemic, disruption and additional costs associated with multiple supplier failures, and, now, unprecedented price rises. The ‘future’ referred to above should be considered now and the option is indeed required.

Measures required now and an end to forced installations of prepayment meters

  • As an immediate-term measure, energy supplier licence conditions intended to protect householders from disproportionately aggressive debt collection tactics should be robustly enforced, if breached.
  •  Energy suppliers are quick to recommend prepayment meters to indebted customers as a means of helping the household to budget. Where chronic unaffordability is the underlying issue, the prepayment meter is used to self-ration rather than budget and self-disconnection is inevitable. Licence conditions that compel energy suppliers to consider the customer’s individual circumstances and ability to pay should be robustly enforced, if breached.
  • Energy suppliers should also be compelled to proactively review their prepayment customer base to check if prepayment is safe and practicable for new and existing customers and follow through with the required actions.
  • Energy customers are currently protected by a prohibition on installation of prepayment meters under warrant where the installation would traumatise the householder due to their mental incapacity and/or psychological state. We hold the view that any practice brutal to a degree to traumatise any customer groups, in any circumstances, should be prohibited and call for the practice to be prohibited altogether. 

What would a prohibition on self-disconnection look like? 

Some lateral thinking and ingenuity would be required. The water sector avoided the scale of this regulatory and technical would-be dilemma as only a relatively small number (around 21,000) water prepayment meters had been installed before the prohibition came into force.  It’s timely to consider the technical issues in relation to the spectacular take-off of FPA’s #EnergyForAll petition which accrued 240,000 signatures within days of being launched and is still gathering pace at just over 400,000 (at time of writing). 

If implemented, #EnergyForAll would ameliorate the worst problems currently faced by prepayment customers and would prevent this payment method being enforced upon indebted credit-billing customers.  As things are, prepayment customers could still be at risk of self-disconnection if they exceeded their allowance. This would mean that energy customers most likely to be low-income and have other vulnerabilities would not benefit from the protection of energy as a right in the way that credit-billing customers (far less likely to be low-income and vulnerable) would benefit. 

But technical problems have technical solutions which can be found if the right to energy as an essential-to-life and basic right is understood and implemented as a matter of urgency.

Since 1999, water companies have remained in profitable private ownership, despite predictions at the time that the removal of disconnection as a sanction would lead to ruinous levels of bad debt. Water Utilities companies have learned to engage with indebted customers and recover debt using a variety of methods including legal action, but excluding brutality. 

Energy customers need parity of protection, now more than ever. Consumer debt should never lead to destitution. 

We can’t be disconnected from water – why is it still ok for heat and light?

Fran Lobel has worked with Repowering London as an energy advisor and advocate and continues to work on energy and utilities affordability and energy rights issues. She has a particular interest in rights and protections for prepayment customers. 

#EnergyForAll Petition

https://www.change.org/p/energyforall-everyone-has-a-right-to-the-energy-needed-for-heating-cooking-and-light

Diane Skidmore 

UPDATE (June 2022): Latest information backing our Energy For All petition

The petition for Energy For All and its hundreds of thousands of signatures have made waves in the UK, shaking assumptions about what is needed and what is possible. Since we issued the call in February, the background information has changed. 

The 54% increase in energy prices came in on 1 April – and an even bigger rise is expected in October. 

The £200 “loan not loan” has been replaced by more substantial – but still far from adequate – help, even as prices of food, transport, housing and everything else have soared along with energy leaving millions still in debt and in fear of the next winter.  

The government has indeed brought in a Windfall Tax on oil and gas profiteers – but what they have taken with one hand they are giving back with the other. UK taxpayers will now make a 91p in the £ donation to these already hugely profitable corporations as a reward for investing in their own polluting, climate-wrecking industry.  

The need to reverse the huge injustice of energy pricing remains as strong as ever. 

The petition remains a crucial tool.  Sadly, the demand itself, for Energy For All, as defined below, is as up-to-date and relevant as ever – a stepping stone away from inequality, and towards a more caring way of life.     

#EnergyForAll Petition- Everyone has a right to the energy needed for heating, cooking, and light (original post, February 2022)

Energy bills have risen dramatically in the last year – and the price cap is now to increase by 54% in April. This rise will leave millions of people like me struggling with cold homes. Many of us are facing damp, ill health, darkness, hunger and misery. Before the pandemic and the price increase around 10,000 people died each winter in the UK’s cold homes. Now even more will die.  

I’m a pensioner living on a council estate in south London, and even before the recent price increases it was a struggle for me and my neighbours to keep warm. I am asthmatic, and many of us have health problems, as well as problems with our housing conditions. My grandchildren don’t even visit me because my house is too cold. I’ve been working with Fuel Poverty Action for more than ten years now. There are too many people who cannot afford or struggle to keep warm.

To end this outrage, Fuel Poverty Action is calling for #EnergyForAll.

#EnergyForAll means giving everyone a free amount of energy – that is enough energy, free, to cover the basics like heating, cooking, and lighting – to give us all the security we need, taking account of people’s actual needs related to their age, health, and housing. To pay for this new pricing system, Energy for All, we’re urging the Government to introduce a Windfall Tax on the profits of oil and gas producers, traders and suppliers, and to STOP  subsidising fossil fuels with millions of pounds every day. 

The UK is a wealthy nation, with many billionaires – now more than ever due to fortunes made in the pandemic. Many companies, including energy companies, are clocking up exceptional profits – while we struggle to pay the prices they are charging.  

No one should get ill or die because of cold homes. No one should spend days in libraries or shopping centres to keep warm. Every home should be well repaired and insulated so we don’t need so much energy in the first place. We need your help to stop the outrage of fuel poverty – please sign and share this petition!

The government says we will get £200 back – but that will be a loan which we’ll have to repay in future bills. I have no idea where that money will come from in the future. They also say most people will get an extra £150 – very welcome, but far from enough.  From April, many will see an increase of around £700 per year – more if your home is poorly insulated, or if you are on a prepayment meter, like many people on low incomes. 

Instead of filling the pockets of fossil fuel companies, taxpayers money should be used to make sure everyone can keep warm. And the pricing system should be fair. 

At present, we pay more per unit of gas or electricity if we use less of it. At present, we pay a high standing charge even when we use very little energy, or none at all.   Our new pricing system, Energy for All,  would eliminate that injustice and turn pricing right side up. 

Please join my campaign to ensure we get #EnergyForAll. 

Note: “e4a: Energy for All” is a proposal for a new pricing structure for energy, and is entirely distinct from energy4all.co.uk which supports community renewable energy projects. Fuel Poverty Action also strongly supports the aims and cooperative initiatives of Energy4All. 

We need a windfall tax on fossil fuel companies profiting from fuel poor consumers

Isabel Davies

The gas crisis is bringing misery and death to people already struggling to survive this winter.

It is the result of the government and Ofgem failing to take basic precautions for when international gas prices rise: 

  • they allowed gas storage units to close; 
  • failed to invest in meaningful energy efficiency programs; 
  • and left privatised retailers to expose consumers to volatile wholesale prices without buying in advance. 

We know that UK consumers cannot afford to pay energy companies more money for these mistakes. The money must come from those benefiting from the crisis.

In October we proposed a windfall tax on the profits of fossil fuel extractors. We argued that some part of the $65 billion they made between July and October must not be spent re-investing in fossil fuel exploration, development and extraction, which will further accelerate the climate crisis. Instead, a proportion of the excessive profits must be spent helping consumers keep warm and put food on the table. 

Analysts now forecast that the average energy bill will rise almost 50%, to about £1865, this April. National Energy Action estimates this will push another 2 million people into fuel poverty, while of course creating further pain for the 4 million people already unable to pay their bills.

Across the industry, experts such as retail chief executives, former energy ministers and belatedly the labour party are now joining us in calling the government to announce a windfall tax before consumer prices rise in April. 

We demand again that the windfall revenues from the international gas crisis are spent on helping people stay warm this winter. To ensure the poorest are reached:

  • This should be via a flat payment to each household and not means tested. 
  • The money should not be spent on funding reduced bills through VAT removal, which would disproportionately benefit the richest consumers.

Plenty of Money: FPA Speech at Winter Deaths Protest – 26 Nov. 2021 – Westminster

So, we’re back here again this year with the NPC to mark the thousands of deaths suffered by people who can’t afford to heat their homes.  

This year is worse — because cold damp homes and a rampant respiratory illness do not go well together. 

And next year will probably be worse again, because                               the price of gas has soared and it’s still going up. 

The people who pay the highest prices are the ones who have least to begin with, like people on PPMs. That has to change.

Millions of people are rationing every hour of heating. 

Pensioners are staying in bed to keep warm, or going to bed early, getting ill from the cold, and in some cases dying lonely, miserable deaths.  

This protest is not just to MARK these deaths. 

It’s not just an annual ritual to say we won’t forget them. That would be important enough. But this demonstration is more than that.  Because these thousands of deaths are totally avoidable.  

The government says there is no money to save lives.  Yet there is PLENTY of money. 

I’m going to take a risk now — because it’s hard to take in any numbers in a speech.

It’s particularly hard when these numbers have loads of zeros on the end. 

They count on us to not notice when they give out millions and take away billions — what’s the difference after all?  Just some zeros! 

But I’m going to take the risk of giving a few examples of where to look for the money we need. 

  • This spring, the government closed down early the £1.5bn Green Homes Grant scheme, which was supposed to help UK householders insulate our homes.  This scheme was so badly designed and managed that it collapsed after just six months. The money has not been replaced. The Treasury still has that money, which could still be used to insulate our homes, keeping us warm, bringing down our bills, and reducing carbon emissions at the same time. 
  • Because of rising energy prices the UK Treasury could gain an extra £1bn in carbon tax, on top of £4bn they’ve already made this year. Plus another £100 million from VAT receipts due to rising energy prices.
  • Oil corporations, internationally, are returning exceptional profits on the spoils of these extra high prices we are paying. On 4 November we wrote to Alok Sharma, the President of  COP26, demanding a Windfall Tax on this money — to be used to relieve fuel poverty.  
  • A wealth tax on the richest 1% of households in Britain – those with fortunes in excess of £3.6m – could create at least an additional £70 billion a year — even with 50% tax avoidance! 

It is worth looking closely at that £70 billion. 

A few weeks ago, at the COP26 conference in Glasgow, the international deal to mitigate climate change was nearly derailed because all the rich countries together refused to find $100 billion for poorer countries that are ravaged by floods and droughts and wildfires and famines — countries where people have done nothing at all to cause this catastrophe that is now threatening life all over the world. 

$100 billion they could not find.  Yet £70 billion pounds —  £70 BILLION — is about the same as 100 billion dollars.  That money could come from a wealth tax on just the richest 1%, in just one small country, the UK.  

The world is being driven into a ditch and millions are going cold, or dying of heat stroke, or starving, to save pennies that would not even be noticed by billionaires in their yachts and private planes.

This country, even just the City of London, has plenty of money.  

  • It is subsidising fossil fuels — those same fossil fuels that were supposed to be so cheap that we couldn’t afford to switch to renewable energy, those same fossil fuels that we now can’t afford.  
  • It is going on wealthy individuals joyriding into space, even as we are all being told to cut down on carbon emissions. 
  • Thirty UK millionaires are ASKING for their billions to be used to support people who are struggling to survive. They have told the chancellor, “We know where you can find that money – tax wealth holders like us.” 

And at the same time, Universal Credit is cut, 

Disability benefits never got the uplift in the first place, 

take home pay is hit by the NI tax, 

and the government has “suspended” the pensions Triple Lock. 

And our precious health service, that our lives depend on, is being sold off, dismantled, and starved of funds. 

Medical and care staff are leaving in droves because pay and conditions are so bad.  

Within a few miles of the obscene wealth of private individuals who have profited from contracts and price hikes during the pandemic, are millions of UK families and pensioners going to bed hungry or shivering in the cold. 

Families are rationing gas, electricity, and heating, sometimes to an hour or less a day. Children are unable to study, or play. Parents don’t know how they will get through the winter.  

Almost every health condition is exacerbated by cold. And people who are old, disabled, homeless, hungry, or suffering from a long term illness, are at risk of death. 

Deaths from fuel poverty in this wealthy country are not inevitable.  They are an obscenity. 

They’re a result of deliberate policies on housing, fossil fuels, pensions, benefits, taxes, and wages. 

This cannot be allowed to stand.

Ruth London, Fuel Poverty Action, 26 November 2021

Links: 

https://www.nea.org.uk/news/call-for-energy-tax-windfall-to-help-poorer-uk-households/

https://www.nea.org.uk/news/call-for-energy-tax-windfall-to-help-poorer-uk-households/

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-10-26/big-oil-is-about-to-post-highest-cash-flow-in-more-than-13-years

https://www.fuelpovertyaction.org.uk/press-release/press-release-oil-profits-windfall-tax-could-tackle-fuel-poverty/

https://gala.gre.ac.uk/id/eprint/33819/https://united-society365.uk/13897/we-can-afford-to-contribute-more-uk-millionaires-call-on-chancellor-to-introduce-wealth-tax/

Winter Deaths Protest!

Join Fuel Poverty Action and National Pensioners Convention: 26 November 12pm, George V’s statue, Old Palace Yard Westminster

As always at this time of year, FPA will be joining with pensioners’ organisations to mark the release of statistics on “excess winter deaths”. Each year in the UK around 10,000 people die because they cannot afford to heat their homes. That figure is from before the pandemic and it’s likely to be still higher now: Covid and cold homes do not go well together. FPA will join with the National Pensioners Convention and speak at the event on 26 November to mark these tragic, desperate, and avoidable deaths.

We will demand action. There is no shortage of money to help us keep warm:  

  • Oil corporations, internationally, are returning exceptional profits on the spoils of the extra high prices we are paying. During COP26 FPA wrote to its President, Alok Sharma, demanding a windfall tax on this money — to be used to relieve fuel poverty.  
  • The UK Treasury could harvest as much as £100 million from VAT receipts on rising energy prices. Its ‘Carbon tax’ revenues could rise by £1bn in revenue to the Treasury, on top of £4bn already made this  year. 
  • This spring, the government closed down early the £1.5bn Green Homes Grant scheme, which was supposed to help UK householders insulate our homes. But the National Audit Office found it was “botched” and collapsed after just six months. The money has not been replaced.
  • 30 UK millionaires are asking for their billions to be used to support people who are struggling to survive. They have told the chancellor, “We know where you can find that money – tax wealth holders like us.” 
  • A wealth tax on the richest 1% of households in Britain – those with fortunes in the excess of £3.6m – could create at least an additional £70 billion a year — a huge sum, around the same as the US$100 bn a year that all the rich nations together claimed they couldn’t find to support frontline countries to adapt to climate change!  

Within a few miles of the obscene wealth of private individuals who have profited from contracts and price hikes during the pandemic, are millions of UK families and pensioners going to bed hungry or shivering in the cold. Families are rationing gas, electricity, and heating, sometimes to an hour or less a day. Children are unable to study, or play. Parents don’t know how they will get through the winter.  Almost every health condition is exacerbated by cold. And people who are old, disabled, homeless, or suffering from a long term illness, are at risk of death. 

Deaths from fuel poverty in this wealthy country are an obscenity. They’re a result of deliberate policies on housing, fossil fuels, pensions, benefits, taxes, and wages. This cannot be allowed to stand.  

JOIN THE PROTEST

Friday 26 November 2021, Midday.  Please bring banners and publicise the event so that we have a good attendance.  If you can help with a portable sound system, please let us know! 

Assemble by George V’s statue at Old Palace Yard Westminster opposite the House of Lords. Then march to 10 Downing Street where a letter will be handed in.

Speakers include TUC President Sue Ferns, Lord Prem Sikka, and Ruth London from Fuel Poverty Action.

To contact NPC please use 020 8668 2840 / [email protected]

Adding insult to injury in Salford: with rents and service charges set to rise, 127 Pendleton Together residents sign up to litigation

Cladding removal image
Cladding removal. Image credit: Local democracy Reporting Service (LDRS)

For several years FPA has been supporting residents of nine tower blocks, run by Pendleton Together on behalf of Salford Council, and several tenants took part in our December conference, Making Green Come True. The blocks all had cladding identical to Grenfell Tower’s, and many other similar dangers. This autumn, after years of tenants enduring life in a tinderbox, the cladding was finally removed – in time to leave them without insulation in a freezing winter, in the middle of a pandemic. To make matters worse, many of the flats are heated by NIBE heat pumps which are simply too expensive to run.

The tenants’ determined battles against impossible living conditions, neglect and intimidation are regularly chronicled in the Salford Star, see for example Salford NIBE fuel poverty scandal hots up in Pendleton (9 July 2015 (sic)) Salford cladding issues won’t be sorted until 2022 as solicitors move in (25 Nov 2020), Freezing salford tenants stuck in Pendleton blocks (12 Jan 2021), and most recently, Salford City Council set to approve increases for freezing tenants (2 February 2021).

Now the tenants have banded together to take their landlords to court, and Rowan Rose solicitors have been gathering the bountiful evidence of illegality.  Graeme Langton, tenant in one of the Pendleton Together tower blocks and an FPA member writes:

Adding Insult to Injury

127 Tenants living in the 9 tower blocks in Salford affected by dangerous cladding, faulty windows, NIBE heating systems that are too expensive to run, fire doors unfit for use, etc., have signed up to litigation action against Salford City Council and their housing managers Pendleton Together. They claim that their properties are unfit for human habitation.

Now Salford City Council, at a meeting next week, are set to approve rent increases for all properties of 1.5% (Consumer Price Index + 1%). Not only have tenants’ debts increased due to spiralling heating costs, but their anxiety and mental health issues have increased, living in fear of their surroundings.

Yet public records show that the Chief Executive for Salford City Council pocketed a total package of £243,707 during the financial year 2018/19 compared to £198,290 the previous year. A whopping rise of over £45,000. Add this to the many Section 106 payments and planning fees waived by the council, together with no affordable housing provision and the £25,000 a week spent on Fire Marshalls, these rent and service charge increases only add insult to injury.

The Coronavirus fuel poverty crisis won’t be solved without government support

As the Covid 19 crisis unfolds, we are, as anticipated, hearing far too much about people forced into acute fuel poverty through self-isolation and/or loss of income. Gig economy workers have found themselves unable to access government support. The government furlough scheme is kicking in too slowly to help people get their bills paid now, and for those on low incomes 80% of usual earnings won’t stretch far enough. People who can usually afford to cover their needs are finding themselves choosing between adequate food and adequate heat and power. Both are crucial for health.  As the weather improves, there are still cold nights and days, extra needs for power for people home all day, money still owed from the spring and winter, and crushing anxiety about the year ahead.

The government made an agreement with suppliers to suspend disconnections and to support customers at risk. In practice, it isn’t working. What we are hearing is that companies generally won’t, or can’t, reduce bills – most will at best offer deferrals which for some just means the frightening reality of unpayable debts for the future.

Graeme Langton, from Salford says,

Help should be automatic if you’re on a low income, then you might say, ok, I can have it on for that extra hour.  It’s no good if you have to wait till you can produce the bill and apply.  You ask yourself, will I put the heating on in the hope that the government will give a bit back? What if they say no?  If you get in debt, you could lose your home.  And there’ll be interest on it, and 200% for overdrafts. Supermarkets have put prices up.  There’s no more 2 for 1 offers, instead the food prices have gone sky high.  It’s either eat or keep warm.   

In addition, there is a risk of some small companies going bankrupt, without a workable rescue plan for their customers.

To help those in crisis now, the government needs to set up an energy relief fund. This has been advocated by the People’s Energy company, an independent energy supplier that provides 100% renewable power and has pledged to give 75% of profits back to its customer-members through an annual rebate. We are convinced too that vital immediate needs will not be met without this sort of intervention. Government support would transform the implementation of the agreement reached with the energy industry, in line with our own petition.

Strings should be attached. For some energy companies, large and small, such support for customers who cannot pay their bills could be critical to their survival as well as that of their customers. We cannot forget that some of these firms have been responsible for many deaths from fuel poverty, forceful imposition of unwanted prepayment meters, a failure to prioritize energy efficient homes, and promoting fossil fuels over renewable sources of energy.  As this current crisis continues and with time, recedes, it is crucial to ensure that that model of supply does not continue to cause death and suffering.  If companies are going to benefit from this scheme, they should be required to commit to changes which will benefit their most vulnerable customers now and in the future.

These should include:

Thorough adherence to the terms of the agreement, to include short response times to customers in trouble, and a readiness to write off debts where paying them would leave people unable to meet basic needs for energy, rent and food.

Immediate free credit to users of prepayment meters so they are not cut off while they are trying to negotiate with suppliers.  This should not be refundable — no storing up debt for the future.  And standing charges should be waived — they disproportionately hit people who have cut their usage to a bare minimum, but cannot access any power till they’ve covered the standing charge.

Ambitious insulation programmes — installing safe and appropriate insulation  is the best way of bringing down bills. Government programmes were slashed eight years ago, and responsibility for this vital work passed to suppliers.  Home insulation installations  plummeted by 95% between 2012 and last year.

As is commonplace in Europe, companies being supported by government bail-outs should not be paying dividends to shareholders or huge salaries and bonuses to executives. While some energy suppliers are in financial trouble, we are coming to the easiest part of the year for them, and they are benefiting from the fact that wholesale prices of gas and oil have fallen like a stone, which has not been reflected in the price cap. Support for desperate customers must not end up as a windfall for people in no need at all.

Other companies might take a leaf out of People’s Energy’s book on customer service and response to the crisis so many people face. Their customers can expect to get through to them in 18 seconds. The emergency fund they have set up themselves raised £27k within the first day, and is helping them to start addressing customers’ needs.

But the reality is that the scale of the crisis means that government support is needed, and needed now.

New petition on COVID-19 – please sign!

change org petition photo - covid 19

Keeping the heat and lights on is a major worry now for people who may be home all the time and may have lost income.  The government and suppliers have agreed some help. You should not be disconnected — and there are also protections for people on prepayment meters.

  • If you can’t get out to top up, or your emergency credit has run out CONTACT your energy supplier for help NOW. You can find their contact details online or on your bill.
  • Your supplier can add credit to your account or sending you a pre-loaded card or key.

However, FPA are concerned that the agreement will still leave many people in the dark and cold (for the exact provisions see here and a summary at the bottom of the petition, below. So we’ve started a petition! Please SIGN and help circulate it as widely as you can.

The agreement between the government and the energy suppliers say that people struggling to top up prepayment key or card meters will be able to contact their suppliers to discuss ‘having a discretionary fund added to their credit, or being sent a pre-loaded top up card so that their supply is not interrupted.’  Others having difficulties with energy costs should also be supported by measures ‘which could include debt repayments and bill payments being reassessed, reduced or paused where necessary’.